Brand Reputation As An Essential Lifeline During The COVID-19 Tsunami

June 9th 2020

No one saw it coming. Not a single business was ready for this crisis. At least, that’s what we think. But are we right?

The past few months have been incredibly hard for our society and economy. People and businesses suffered on a worldwide scale. Not a single business was ready for the impact the COVID-19 tsunami would cause in the spring of 2020. Or were there? Are there companies who – maybe unintentionally – prepared themselves to be ready for this?

Of course all businesses suffered. Some didn’t even make it through and others are still fighting for survival. But there are businesses who came through pretty quickly. Some with real difficulty and gasping for fresh air whilst others were determined and controlled. Holding onto a remarkable lifeline: the brand reputation.

Many businesses considered their reputation as a nice little extra. But today it proves crucial in a context where consumers face economic uncertainty, disruption and changing expectations of commercial organizations. More and more, consumers choose brands that offer more than pure products and services. They choose leaders they can trust. Brands that believe in ethical entrepreneurship and care for people and the society.
McDonald’s is an example of a company who defied the COVID crisis thanks to its strong reputation. “Quality, service and cleanliness” have been at the core of the brand since day one. Not just a promise, but something McDonald’s Belgium has been working on for the past 40 years. With ups and downs, but successful without a doubt. Their growth proves this, but also the fact that it was able to re-open during the corona crisis. As a trustworthy and credible place, that guarantees safety.

Good intentions are good. A good reputation is better.

Monday, June 8th, hotels, restaurants and pubs opened again, with safety and cleanliness as key elements. Credible communication of the safety efforts was crucial. It is obvious that businesses with a good reputation had a big commercial advantage there.

Reputation: much more than communication

Not a single person doubts McDonald’s saftey promise. The company has proved over all those years it can truthfully claim it. And it isn’t because of branding via campaigns but thanks to the way it practices what it preaches. In all layers of the organization. This is necessary in order to create the campaigns that aren’t just credible, but that also have an impact on the reputation and on the financial results of the company.

From brand promise to brand credibility

How to build a strong reputation that helps in crisis situations like these during the lockdown? Everything starts from a strong, credible brand promise. What follows are 3 principles that help build a strong reputation. 3 principles that helped McDonald’s during the spring of 2020.

1. Stay loyal to your promise: sacrifice business results

Stay loyal to your brand promise, even if it impacts turnover. Small efforts that help short term profit are bad for long term credibility. And this will damage the reputation.

How did McDonald’s apply this? Health and safety of their employees have always been top priority. This was very clear when they decided to close all restaurants mid-March before the government ordered restaurants to close down. Did this cost money? Of course. Will it generate revenue in the long term? I guess this was already proven when the drive-ins reopened.

2. Internal before external

The COVID crisis showed once more what the importance is of your employees. They are the ones who have to put theory into practice. They need to guarantee the safety and showcase that brand promise to the consumers, day by day. In a nutshell: a company is as strong as its own team.

How did McDonald’s apply this? When the restaurants re-opened, it was crucial to get full commitment from the employees. After extensive training, each employee could decide whether or not he or she felt ready to start working again. An important choice that led to strong engagement and enthusiasm when they reopened. This resulted in thousands of ambassadors who carried out the McDo brand promise. Invaluable for a brand and company.

3. Transparent and open communication with all stakeholders

It is a misunderstanding to think that brand reputation can only be steered by brand communications. The proof is in the pudding. The consumers are suspicious by nature and will only believe the promises once they have experienced them. Openness and transparency are key. Always and everywhere. Also when facing difficult stakeholders.

How did McDonald’s apply this? McDonald’s has its ‘open kitchen philosophy’, where literally everyone is welcome to inspect the kitchen for hygiene and cleanliness. Also during the reopening of the drive-ins, McDonald’s invited the press to come and discover all the new safety measures. An approach that resulted in mass press coverage and in an unseen amount of people who visited the McDonalds. Ready for their first Big Mac Menu after 2 months lockdown.

McDonald's DriveIns

Laure Miquel-Jean is Strategic Director Reputation & PR at TBWA. She has been working for McDonald’s for more than 10 years and helped them recently with the closures and reopenings of the Belgian restaurants.

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Laure Miquel-Jean Strategic Director Reputation & PR

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