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Suffering that Heals: COVID-19 Brand-Aid

Does this mean turning a blind eye towards the sufferings and focusing only on the positive?


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Anuj Kapoor

3 years ago | 4 min read

Article by Jubi Taneja and Anuj Kapoor

The nationwide lock-down led to significant improvement in air-quality. Picturesque photographs of pristine clear water of the Ganges, blissful sight of clear blue skies, chirping birds and soothing sunsets were all over social media. Humans started exploring the beauty of living a simple, minimalist lifestyle.

Rekindling old hobbies to picking up new skills - humans were on a mission to make the best out of lock-down. It was all based on the assumption that the lock-down and COVID-19 was a temporary phenomenon and it’s a matter of weeks and things will be normal again.

That’s the textbook way of looking at life’s adversities in a positive way. The positive affirmations, looking for an opportunity in dreary circumstances and being a glass-half-full person is the suggested way of dealing with any difficulty in life.

We are not supposed to think about the emotional, mental, and economic effects of COVID-19. We don’t need to ponder over the plight of jobless, starving migrants, closing local businesses, or dwindling supply chains. No negativity, no suffering - talk positive!

Does this mean turning a blind eye towards the sufferings and focusing only on the positive? The authors of this article suggest embracing suffering and in fact, promote suffering as a cure. We collate a set of techniques (and term them as brand-aid) that can help brands sail through tough times. Brand-aid comprises brand biographies, brand communication, brand community, and brand sustainability.

1. Brand Biography: Many of you have come across emotionally touching stories of Mary Kom, Phogat Sisters, Gunjan Saxena, Abraham Lincoln. Platforms like the Humans of New York, Humans of Bombay, reality TV shows have brought a lot more stories of the common public. What is the common thread joining these?

We feel a lot more connected to the protagonists in the story via their sufferings and their attitude of converting suffering into opportunity. This is called the brand biography. Researchers define brand biography as an unfolding story that chronicles the brand’s

Jubi: PhD Student, University of Utah, USA & Anuj: Assistant Professor (Marketing), IIM-Ahmedabad, India

origins, life experiences, and evolution over time in a selectively constructed story. Many contemporary brand biographies contain underdog narratives that highlight the company’s humble beginnings, hopes and dreams, and struggles against adversaries. We suggest leveraging stories of brands and related sufferings.

The idea is not to focus on the sob stories, but, rather, dignified and respectful suffering i.e. stories around their motivations, humble beginnings, employees’ pains - everything projected as a quest towards providing the customers - a seamless, warm experience during turbulent times.

This is a chance for local businesses to build emotional connections with their regular customers. The local bakery owner’s struggle to collect raw material for the neighboring customers, local farmers’ wait for the helping hand in the form of migrant laborers, these day-to-day struggles are etched into the biographies of the brands.

The brand biography of the infrastructure company, Jaypee Group, suggests, ”a story of grit and gumption; of struggle against incredible odds; of dreams, and the striving and self-belief that turned them into reality”. Similarly, the brand biography of Godrej Consumer Products Limited, a personal care products company, suggests: ”Ardeshir Godrej, founder of the Godrej Group, learns the first lesson of success: failure. Not one, but two of his businesses go bust. Then, he sets up a lock company and what follows is the stuff of legends.”

2. Brand Communication: Let’s try to make everyone feel stronger during these challenging times and unite together to fight with this struggle.

As they say, sometimes all you need is moral and emotional support to make someone feel good about themselves. Research suggests that the simple usage of ‘I’ over ‘We’ by the frontline employees leads customers to perceive the employee to be (a) more empathetic and (b) and acting in the interest of the consumer.

Researchers further argue that telling a customer “I am working on that” conveys a greater sense of ownership than “We are working on that,” which can imply a diffusion of responsibility. Surprisingly, the use of “you” to symbolize the customer as the recipient of the agent’s actions — such as “I can look that up for you” — doesn’t improve satisfaction, empathy and warmth towards the brand.

Undoubtedly, we are together in this struggle, but we need to learn to take responsibility and ownership to reduce suffering for others.

3. Building Brand Communities: The established and digital savvy brands are leveraging e-commerce aggregators to showcase their products, but for the ones who don’t, a parallel platform and community website is needed to sell their products.

Another way out is using Whatsapp Business. It’s as simple as taking high-quality pictures of products and sharing with the contacts list. It’s the same WhatsApp, but here the aim is to connect the customer with the business rather than friends and family.

Selling through such social communities fosters shared product experience (e.g. Nike + Run Club), distributed customer service (e.g. Apple support forum), and above all, a sense of community and warmth among the users - shared suffering brings people together.

4. Projecting Brand Responsibility: It is also the time when business owners need to rethink about new product offerings. For instance, clothing/handloom stores can start selling fabric masks. They can outsource the making of masks to the local tailors, boutiques, artists, etc. so that they too can get back on their feet and start making money.

When companies like Tesla, can shift their focus to building ventilators for the coronavirus patients from the car parts, why cannot a local steel manufacturing company make use of this opportunity? This will project the brand as an assuage of suffering and project them as a responsible brand.

The authors hope that this brand-aid kit can help assuage the suffering from the local brands and will help spread real positivity (by not running away from suffering but by embracing it).


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