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Do Brands Really Care About Us?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been writing about lessons and takeaways from the current crisis. This week, I’m channeling a post I wrote years ago called Do We Care About Brands?, which I shared again recently on social media.

After re-reading that, it had me asking, “What about brands? Do they really care about us?”

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care-Theodore Roosevelt

I think Mr. Roosevelt was on to something.

Recently, brands have told us a lot about what they know about these uncertain/challenging/unprecedented/trying/tough/difficult/[insert adjective here] times. They’ve all spent millions of dollars on commercials and advertising to tell us the same thing, with the same somber music filling our heads. They’ve told us that their commitment to delivering a great experience remains strong. They’ve told us how much they care about us, how much they want to help us, and that we’re all in this together. They’ve even told us about how they have always put people first. They’ve told us all the things that should make us think that they care about us.

While they purport to care about us, tone deaf ads are constantly airing. While 30 million people (or more) are unemployed, others have taken pay cuts, and small business (and more) owners and solopreneurs are struggling to keep the lights on, car manufacturers are continuing to sell cars. With deferred payments for four to six months. Because they care about us. Windsor was advertising prom dresses last week on heavy rotation on iHeart Radio. Who’s having a prom this year?! Stop. It’s all tone deaf!

I love how they are suddenly realizing (at least for advertising purposes) that people are (at) the core of the business, that it’s all about putting people first, as if it’s never been that before! But here’s the thing…

Do they really care about us? If we tug at the human heart strings, people will listen. But is that real, genuine, or authentic? They didn’t position themselves, communicate, advertise, and message this way last year, or even three months ago. But we’re supposed to believe they care about us now. (My advice: Stop spending money on those dreadful ads and, instead, spend it on your employees. Then we’ll start to see how much you care.)

Why now? Why don’t brands advertise like this (on a human level) other times, instead of shoving their sales, promotions, deals, acquisition, acquisition, acquisition down our throats? (Even Coca-Cola has halted much of its marketing because they’re not seeing an ROI. “Limited effectiveness” is how they refer to it. Shocking. Insert eye roll.)

Advertising is the tax you pay for being unremarkable. – Robert Stephens, co-founder of Geek Squad

How about giving us a reason to buy? or a reason to stay?

And don’t even get me started on the brands who took Payroll Protection Program (PPP) funds meant for true small businesses, not for publicly-traded companies with other funding options. People remember this stuff. People will remember. They will remember Shake Shack, Taco Cabana, Ruth’s Chris, the LA Lakers, and 90+ other brands that asked for funds they had no business applying for, other than to be greedy and opportunistic. (Some flat out admitted they were going to use the funds for capital improvements or to pay down debt because PPP loans are at a much lower interest rate.)

This week’s lesson is that brands are learning (in reality or opportunistically) that business is about the people. The new post-pandemic normal must be that people – employees and customers – are at the core of the business. They always have been, but brands must embrace that realization and reality! They can use it to their (competitive) advantage – in a real and authentic way.

While this pandemic has opened eyes, will they remain open?

Actions speak louder than words. Do they really care? Or are they simply doing what is mandated, so that customers (and employees) feel a sense of caring, safety, and security? Here’s an example from David Hamman that makes me question this even more: “Help Not Allowed.” And you’ve probably seen the comments and memes about people joking about the airlines, e.g., when I need to to check a bag that’s a pound over max weight and they want to charge $75 for it, are we in this together?

How will brands begin to prove that they are really helping us? That we are really in this together? That they really do care about us? When will the experience begin to speak louder than words?

Only time will tell. In the meantime, I’m not holding my breath…

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. -Maya Angelou

Related: Great Change Is Preceded by Chaos