Kindness, empathy... and a long, hard look at ourselves

Like for about a year. Every day. On Zoom. Or Teams. What do we see? That slightly disconcerting mirror image that’s been starting back at us has slowly forced us to reappraise life’s priorities. As well as our covid hair. And the bookshelves behind us.

Even in the brutal world of new business, one of the heart-warming things about the business impact of the pandemic has been how clients stayed loyal to their agencies at first. Annoying. But heart-warming. ‘Oh they’re really struggling but we want to support them’. It sort of kills your pitch stone dead. But you couldn’t fault it.

That kindness to each other is more contagious than Covid, and has become the defining feature of our confinement. And we now expect that kindness to be reflected back at us by the businesses and brands we invite into our lives. Consumers may be stressed, worried and volatile but they are newly empowered and idealistic. Post covid they are quite prepared to boycott businesses and create their own social movements if they feel they are not being listened to or that the businesses they use aren’t behaving in the correct way. This isn’t an opinion. It’s a data-driven fact.

In a poll of 400 consumers, we asked respondents to list the three things’ businesses need to do to be seen more favourably. The top five responses were: 

  • Be fair to their employees (64%)
  • Be more open about their commitment to the environment (52%) 
  • Actively help the vulnerable in society (48%)
  • Support the local communities (46%)
  • Support the education of young people (28%)

That’s a pretty clear signal. The research, which was fielded by our research partner Catalyx, also asked those same consumers how they would react, those brands and businesses didn’t cut it. The results clearly show that if brands do not live by these principles then it’s going to hurt.

  • 49% agreed people should boycott businesses that don’t reflect the things they feel are important
  • One in five (19%) said they will boycott brands that disagree with their principles (this rises to one in four among men and over-55). 
  • One in three (33%) plan to show more loyalty to brands they do agree with. This rises to 45% among 18-24yos

So kindness and consideration and love for your fellow man, at long last are seen as a real benefit. Far from being a weakness, they can bring competitive edge to brands. This is not about sad piano music and saving the world (that’s someone else’s job), but for a brand to want to make a difference. That’s not too much to ask. Especially as you can plot a link in consumers' hearts between making a difference and making a buck.

So, the comms we make need to contain more kindness. But what about the environment the agencies make them in? Well, that world has changed forever. People talk about going back to normal, but just remember for a moment what ‘old normal’ was. That strange machismo-soaked world, where ridiculous hours are seen as a rite of passage - where you gain kudos in some surreal ‘iron-man’ (deliberate gender usage) trial of endurance to stay up for 72 hours straight, fulled by a diet of Deliveroo and Becks. Please let’s not go back. Let’s all move on.

We believe that all of us who run a brand or agency have to stand up for our principles. But those principles don’t have to cost you something. We are on the road to being certified as a B-Corp. Because ethics matter. We offered free psychiatric therapy to all our 300 members in the middle of lockdown. Because mental wellness matters. And throughout the lockdown we carried on paying contractors early and didn’t furlough anyone or let anyone go. Because people matter. We want to see a world where kindness and empathy and humanity, far from being gentle, are actually seen delivering competitive edge.