Living your brand purpose during a pandemic

As I reflect on the last 5 months and recognizing we are still in the middle of a pandemic, I find myself asking: have all the rules of marketing changed or have the series of global events forced us to lean further into specific areas? Marketers have always worn many hats and among a few: business partners, brand guardians, digital transformation agents, purveyors of the company’s mission and value proposition, P&L Owners, and the list goes on. But perhaps the most important role marketers play is acting as the voice of the customer and that requires being good and active listeners. 

I don’t mean to say we weren’t listening to our customers at all. We might have even asked ourselves daily how we can best serve our customers, but have we been asking ourselves what our customers want from our brand beyond product, service and value? As my fellow retail marketers may agree, we have lots of data about our customers. We can infer their age, gender, income levels, shopping habits, preferences, what size they wear, and so much more. Many of our customers at Harry Rosen are even connected to store associates who they have known for years and some even decades. But I start to wonder if we have created a meaningful relationship between our customers and our brand. I think to answer this question one must start with asking what is your brand’s purpose and values? This is especially timely because it’s not enough to just tell your customers who you are but the question of whether your brand lives its purpose and values is under more scrutiny than ever. Then factor in that customers now demand transparency, humility, and actions that illustrate true empathy for social issues that are affecting our local communities as well as the global stage.  

At Harry Rosen we started the journey to transform our business prior to the pandemic. Despite the fact that the retail apparel industry has been hit hard with store closures during the lockdown (most of us starting in and around March 16), we’ve continued to evolve and pivot our plans by leveling up our eCommerce platform and continuing our digital transformation. We’re also investing in our brand and we decided to do this in a way that marries purpose, values and social consciousness. We’ve had a deeper look at our brand purpose to help our customers feel good and do good, and we questioned how we can better bring this to life in our own brand actions.  

Here’s an example of how this manifested for us. During the first week of the lockdown, we picked up on stories of the pending shortage of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and asked ourselves how we could help. Despite challenging and uncertain times, we came up with the idea to produce designer facemasks to help with the effort to flatten the Covid-19 curve. Within a few weeks, we partnered with the manufacturer of our Harry Rosen Signature dress shirts to repurpose our 100% Italian cotton shirt material and resources to produce some handsome-looking non-medial facemasks. 

We reached out to dozens of healthcare institutions and donated thousands of masks. Many of our masks went to healthcare staff supporting frontline workers and they expressed their elation with being able to treat themselves to something special in their day. We posted our story organically on Instagram and LinkedIn in the hopes of encouraging others to do the same and we were surprised by the quick and positive sentiment from our community. At that point, our eCommerce business was 4X compared to last year but store volume was down to virtually zero so we had to brainstorm ways to keep the program going. Requests to purchase our facemasks started to come in so we pivoted again and offered the masks on a “buy one, donate one” basis where all proceeds were reinvested into the program. For several weeks we sold out every time we put them on our online shelf so we kept issuing more styles and kept donating. We have now graduated to selling masks as a regular SKU but the original idea was rooted in living our brand purpose, the way we brought the idea to market reflected our values, and we listened and engaged with our customers throughout the entire journey. The initiative translated into improved brand affinity, higher site traffic and an extremely rewarding experience for our customers, healthcare beneficiaries and our team at Harry Rosen.  

Despite the unprecedented challenges the world is facing, I am fortunate to wake up every day energized by our brand purpose and look for ways to feel good and do good. If you have made your way to the end of this article, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to read this post and I hope you stay well.


Author: Trinh Tham

Trinh Tham is the Chief Marketing Officer at Harry Rosen.

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Tags: retail, pandemic, COVID-19, business transformation, brand