We’ve been in various stages of lockdown for only a short while but pre-COVID 19 feels like a different universe. During these weeks we’ve seen not just changes to household income and spending patterns, but also more fundamental shifts in beliefs and behaviours. A recent survey by McKinsey & Co highlighted some changes in consumer behaviour that demand a different approach by corporates. There are some important impacts on corporate- community partnerships.
The importance of local community
In a year that started with bushfires and floods and progressed to a global pandemic, the Australian spirit of mateship has driven strong community collaboration in the face of shared adversity. As it became a life-threatening activity to ride on public transport or visit a large shopping mall, Australians have withdrawn into their local communities and have been actively supporting local businesses to survive and thrive. My local café has appropriately distanced queues along the pavement collecting coffee and the neighbourhood florist is thriving by selling Mother’s Day flowers from a counter at the door. There is a resurgence in buying local, whether in person or online, and people are prioritising local businesses that have an investment in sustaining the local community.
For corporates, especially the big global brands, that poses a challenge in how they portray their community credentials. A partnership with the right charity, that works meaningfully with the community, can be the vehicle to demonstrate their community commitment. In the UK, Boots the pharmacy chain, has a store in every high street nationwide. It is working with local charity Hestia to offer safe spaces, advice and support in stores for those experiencing family violence. The local stores have become a refuge for those encountering the surge in domestic violence during the COVID-19 crisis.
Refocusing on values and social responsibility
Hands up who’s wearing multiple hats at the moment? Yes, I can see all of you juggling the roles of home schooling, chef, personal trainer, office worker and entertainer during the lockdown. Mixing personal and work lives has meant that people have been re-examining what’s really important to them. For some, they’ve celebrated replacing the long hours spent commuting and working with breakfasts with a loved one, morning exercise or sharing a new baby’s milestone moments.
That refocus on core values has meant that consumers are seeking similar, aligned values in corporates and are expecting that companies demonstrate their social purpose in meaningful ways. Partnerships with charities have been an ideal vehicle for expression of that social purpose, especially to address the urgent needs during this crisis. Suncorp donated $1 million to The Smith Family to help address digital inclusion for disadvantaged students and Heinz UK provided 12 million free breakfasts to children who were going hungry whilst schools are closed. The corporates that are stepping up and living their core social purpose and values are building a valuable bank of consumer trust for the future. The charities that are thinking strategically and looking for values aligned partners are well placed to take full advantage of this trend.
A desire for real connections
My street is awash with teddy bears in the windows. Small ones, big ones and well-loved ones, they’re a community initiative to give children out walking the thrill of a bear hunt. The desire for real, human connection is even stronger for the fact that we’ve been deprived of our normal activities for the past weeks. Online platforms and social media have not replaced the deep-set desire for real social connectivity. That’s why you’ve seen enthusiastic participation in community activities like ANZAC Day’s dawn service in the driveway, shopping for elderly neighbours or clapping for health workers.
The challenge for corporates is how to create those meaningful connections with their employees, suppliers, audiences and customers. A charity with rich content and inspiring ways to connect with a cause will be a valuable partner for the right corporate. That could include innovative ways to mobilise staff to connect and fundraise such as MS Research Australia’s May 50K or providing relevant and expert content such as Beyond Blue offering mental health support through Medibank and others. Charities that can offer opportunities to create real social connections to a corporate’s key stakeholders will be extremely attractive for corporate partnerships.
New priorities shaping new purchasing behaviour
Have you ever been in a shopping mall on a Saturday afternoon and seen people in a frenzy of buying stuff they don’t really need? It’s like the herd effect of consumerism. But in the COVID-19 environment, people are making more deliberate shopping purchases and making more conscious decisions with a tighter budget. That means corporates will have to work harder to stand out in a competitive environment for the consumer dollar, whether online or in store. Consumers are making active choices to favour corporate brands that are providing quality service and are not perceived to be profiteering from this crisis.
Corporates need to be authentic and relevant in the current environment, which creates opportunities for partnerships with charities that reflect the expectations and priorities of their consumers. Notice the many donations made by Coles and Woolworths to charities providing food and essential items to the most vulnerable community members, which provide a useful balance to their soaring profits during the crisis.
As Australians emerge from the first phase of the COVID-19 crisis, it’s clear that things won’t snap back. Instead we’ll go forward into a world that has a new focus around values, connections and meaning. It’s exactly what charities do well and why corporate partnerships will be more important than ever before.
If you’d like to know more about corporate partnerships and want to get ready for the new normal, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.