Picture: 123RF/melpomen
Picture: 123RF/melpomen

We have a new time stamp: Before Corona and After Corona. Covid-19 has created fundamental changes to the way we live, work and think. Two significant implications come to mind for brands in this new era: a requirement to drive purpose-led organisations, and accelerated digital transformation.

Humanity has just been dealt a body blow, leaving us feeling vulnerable and anxious, questioning the very core of our personal existence. This creates an opportunity for brands to step up and provide utility, assurance and hope. It is done through aligning an organisation with an ambition beyond profit to one that creates shared value by also making the world a better place. This builds customer trust, which is in deficit at the moment.

Digital transformation is now no longer an option as customers’ requirements to trade and engage seamlessly at any time and from anywhere becomes a reality.

How then, do brands navigate this time?

The anchor for any brand should be its organisational purpose. Good organisations know WHAT they do, great organisations know HOW to do it but the best organisations know WHY they do what they do. Even better is when that WHY is inextricably linked to creating a more sustainable world. Google’s purpose is to organise the world’s information, Nike wants to bring out the athlete in all of us. At Vodacom we use our technology to connect customers to create a better future. Purpose helps steer organisations in times of crisis. In chaos, the speed of decisions and alignment are critical. Organisations that do not have the North Star that purpose provides will find themselves with decision bottlenecks, unable to execute effectively.

Why is this important for brands? Brands ultimately have to build trust by ensuring that communication and customer experience  are congruent. Having a clear purpose safeguards this congruency as everyone is singing from the same proverbial hymn sheet. 

Many initiatives born of Vodacom’s purpose have met fundamental needs at this time. Our free digital school platform, e-School, which gives access to the entire public school syllabus, from grades R to 12, now has more than 1-million registered users.

Another example of purpose in action is that Vodacom made a decision six months ago to consolidate all free services into one social compact platform to make it easier for customers to understand and get access to these services. ConnectU now has over 500,000 daily unique visitors accessing services such as zero-rated education, health, job and government function sites. This initiative would have been necessitated by Covid-19, but was already in the pipeline to manifest purpose. Likewise, Nike’s fitness app, Nike Training Club, has experienced a 100% increase in subscriptions this year in the US, as Covid-19 keeps people indoors.

This segues into the matter of digital transformation. Who is driving your organisation’s digital transformation? Your CEO? The CTO? Or Covid-19? I suspect for many organisations Covid-19 has accelerated the digital evolution of the enterprise. Customers who have sidestepped digital channels now have no choice but to adopt them to get access to services. My mother is now shopping online from two different retailers for weekly groceries and I doubt she will ever default to driving to the shops for everything again.

Online shopping is only the tip of the iceberg. DStv has made its DStv Now app available to people who are not customers, and news services such as CNN, eNCA and other popular programming are now streaming through this platform.

I have no doubt that initiatives like this, across many industries, will create irreversible change in customer behaviour that will be sustained beyond Covid-19. Amazon’s share price hit record highs last week as global stock markets tumbled, which illustrates this shift. In crisis new behaviours and connections are made, and the adoption of digital tools and channels will accelerate. The implication for brands is that customer experience becomes a core competency and an expression of brand utility. Chief marketing officers must evolve to become chief customer experience officers.

There has never been a better time to be part of the brand function. Organisations are looking to build trust as customers hold them accountable now more than ever before. Purpose gives brand professionals an opportunity to dig into the gut of a business and play an active role in how the business plans and executes what it does so as to be honest with what is said in communication. Digital transformation has now accelerated to the mainstream, giving brand professionals another opportunity to drive an essential commercial delivery platform.

Covid-19 has come with a lot of pain, but as the saying goes, never waste a good crisis. Brands can now drive the commercial evolution of organisations into a new era.          

Vodacom will be at the Future of Media 2020 conference, which is brought to you by Arena Events. For more information about the conference visit https://arenaevents.africa/events/future-of-media/

  • Abey Mokgwatsane is the managing executive of brand, communication and sponsorship at Vodacom.


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