What a couple of weeks, huh? As the sky falls, we’re at home watching the internet go through the five phases of denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and meme-ing while our inboxes flood with corporate COVID-19 announcements.
At KW Content, we’re observing brand response to COVID-19 as a sign of how invested they are in their community. Being “the most invested” isn’t about being first and it isn’t about being the flashiest. Brands that get their customers are humble, thoughtful, and human on social media. What does that look like? Friendship, humanity, and really great social skills.
Certain brands have been more opportunistic than we’d have liked them to be. Equally, true leaders have emerged. Let’s take a look.
allbirds is a sustainable lifestyle company that makes shoes and socks out of premium natural materials. One of their key brand messages has always been that the entire world is connected, so we should live and operate with a global conscience.
Their first COVID-19 post on March 14 expressed employee support while their brick and mortar stores were closed. They also clarified that their online business was still running. Then they offered an important piece of real talk: “As the COVID-19 situation changes, our plans may too.”
The next day they did something so simple, so powerful, and so under-tapped. They asked their community, “what would you like to see from us in this time? Cute sheep for a moment of respite? Virtual lunches with members of our team? Ideas for fun activities to do at home over video chat with family and friends?”
The internet wants cute animals right now. Ao for the past week allbirds’ social content has been a balance of lighthearted cuuuuuuute animal photos, and action. On March 21st they announced that they were donating shoes to healthcare workers.
Overwhelmed by the response (12x their typical engagement on Insta, at least), this post took down their email system and call center. But they stayed in touch with the community through their social channels. The next day, they followed up that they were doing their best to respond, and that if they were unable to provide a pair of shoes they sincerely apologized and would try to find other ways to support the community.
They updated their community that they had distributed $500k in shoes and offered a new solution: “while supplies last, if you purchase a pair of All Birds in the US they will also split the cost of donating a pair of Wool Runners. Or if you would like to simply donate a pair, we’ve created an option that allows you to do that too.”
What’s the moral of this story? allbirds is a mission based brand that focuses much of their content around sustainability in a fairly dirty market (footwear). In 2020, one could argue that it’s a lifestyle company’s responsibility to facilitate positive action. By taking action and activating their community in support of healthcare workers on the front lines, they were taking a risk.
They made a move, they were taken by surprise, and they needed a pivot. They were up-front and honest with their community. And created another way that their customer base could give back and continue to help. Solution-oriented and trusting of their community instead of too scared to do it in the first place.
Our favorite sustainable fashion brand Reformation acknowledged their community’s probable exhaustion and anxiety with the COVID-19 situation. 365 days a year, Reformation flexes conversational tone of voice better than most (meaning they talk to you like a friend would) and they didn’t skip a beat here. In one swoop they updated their audience, acknowledging things could change, and then — just like a friend — connected with vulnerability:
“We’re not sure exactly what is appropriate for a company like ours to be talking and posting about right now. What’s resonating with you? Do you still want to hear about new collection launches and sustainability related stuff? Or do you need a break?”
The people still wanted their product, so that’s what the people are getting. Their social content has been light hearted at times, but relatively normal sustainability stories within product features. Plus, an adorable video of alpacas doing a bad job social distancing, their employees’ pets working from home and content of young Keanu Reeves just for fun, which generated above average conversation.
What’s the moral of this story?
Reformation understands that the most important job of social media for brands is personification. Social is where your brand must be expressed with human characteristics. Their commitment here has won them such a solid bond of trust with their community, that they have asked and received consent to continue to sell their products without coming off as insensitive.
L.L. Bean has been inspiring their community to get outside for 108 years. So their drumbeat has stayed in line with their brand ethos, that “the outdoors is still the best place to find perspective and connection – and to help us all feel better.” L.L. Bean focuses on the importance for everyone to get outside. As simple as going outside for a walk or looking out the window to enjoy nature.
On March 16th they posted a letter to their customers from their President and CEO announcing that they would be closing all stores explain that “by making this decision now, we can better ensure the safety of our employees and customers…during this period, our social channels will focus on simple ideas and images that inspire and remind us of the restorative power of the outdoors.”
Now, L.L. Bean is using their massive distribution center to pack food for pantries across the state during the pandemic. They’ve partnered with Maine’s largest food bank. And their employees are sorting and packing food boxes that are being distributed to all 16 counties. The best part? They didn’t post about helping the food bank on their social channels, though NPR picked up and shared their efforts.
It means a lot to us that you weren’t icky and self-congratulatory, L.L. Bean. We’ll see you in Freeport at COVID-19’s earliest convenience.