Moral v commercial

Lucky Generals' Katie Lee on conscious capitalism, community and the power of tech

Who knew that making gut reactions was so tiring? One of the most considerable business impacts over the past month has been the need to make decisions based on instinct rather than precedent or research. And such important (and frequent) decisions too - where people’s wellbeing is the end result.

While leaders have always had to balance the moral versus the commercial impact of business, that’s been called into play more now than ever before.  Of course, everyone right now is scrutinising their discretionary costs and trying to pin down income wherever possible.  But this crisis cannot just be about protecting the bottom line, we have to protect our people and our clients. In the face of the unknown, we have to change the way we do business - we need to do the right thing and come out the other end with a loyal workforce and an agency built for action.  We need to balance the short-term with the long-term and emerge stronger.

I wonder how many other leaders are having these thoughts or conversations at the moment? In these extraordinary times, does a traditional capitalist society really work? The structures that always seemed so secure are now feeling like a pack of cards and we are only beginning to realise the consequences of practices like zero-hour contracts. We will emerge from this fundamentally different from a forced moment of global introspection.

People will quickly have got used to a life where they’re out less and spending less. They will, therefore, be more mindful of the brands they choose and having reset their habits will suddenly see how conscious capitalism is an appealing (and not impossible) way to live. It won’t come as a surprise that the first thing I did was get a refund on my travel pass - a final victory in the face of all those missed meetings and bedtimes. However, I haven’t asked for a refund on my gym membership because I love the team there and want to support them however I can. I won’t be the only one to vote with my wallet. Looking at the boycott against Sports Direct for their appalling treatment of zero contract hours workers during their closure, but also deeming themselves essential to the health of the nation while increasing the price of their equipment by up to 50%, you have to wonder how they will survive when people look to consume less.

There will be a renewed sense of community as people meet their neighbours, love their homes and their high street and the security within them. This will give added momentum to the sharing economy and those brands and companies disrupting particular categories. Exciting social entrepreneur brands like Olio, that were just beginning to make some noise, will get a kick start from this community spirit that people will want to preserve once the crisis is subsiding.

And we will all have witnessed the power of technology to connect us in a meaningful way, both professionally and personally. And potentially for the first time, we will be grateful to the generosity that technology can provide and how it can work for us, rather than us be a slave to it. Whether that be the life-saving 9am Joe Wicks PE classes for kids, or the virtual drinks that I have had with friends who I’d been meaning to see for ages. For someone who loves their sofa as much as I do, that’s a habit I’m sticking with.

Once we’re out of this crisis and the fear and uncertainty that comes with it have lessened, we will see the positives that have arisen. The fact we’ve given our planet a mini-break is just the start and we will start to look for companies and brands that effectively balance the moral and commercial. At Lucky Generals, we’ve long talked about a shift in collective mindset from one of dog-eat-dog competitors to root-and-brand collaborators (see Andy’s piece Here’s to a Decade of Cooperation) and as ugly as this period is, it will surely have accelerated companies’ arrival at this mindset?

Our work with the Co-op is already demonstrating the power that lies in new-world marketing - where cooperation and competition are equally important marketing levers rather than a choice at brief stage. And this will become all the more important as we start to shift our own mindsets from that of consumer to citizen.