Hearts First: The Value of a Brand Promise in 2020

Just like personal trials, hard times for your brand tend to show you what you’re made of and the same was true for us at GS&F. Our brand promise—“We bring out the best in each other”—was pressure-tested under everything 2020 threw our way, from economic changes and social injustice to a tense election cycle and, of course, a global pandemic.

“I can’t imagine going through 2020 without our promise and values as the cornerstone for our decisions,” says Emilie Guthrie, VP, Director of Account Management. “It provided us the North Star for all conversations and behavior throughout the year.”

When brands define and live by who they really are, they can weather even the toughest storms—and often come out better on the other side.

Building a Brand Promise

A brand promise keeps you looking forward. It lights you up and motivates you, even when hard times threaten to take their toll. “Brands have promises because they transcend a product or service,” Guthrie mentions. “Consumers care more than ever about your brand’s promise and the authenticity of it.”

That means a brand promise isn’t as simple as an inspirational statement or a quick nod to what your brand sells. In fact, according to Accenture Strategy, 62% of consumers look to brands to take a stand on relevant issues. Essentially, consumers expect to see brands demonstrate what they stand for.

“It took us dedication and quality time to get to our promise and our values,” says Laramey Lawson, EVP, Director of Insights & Engagement. “But the process allowed us to get to a brand promise that actually reflects who we are.” With a brand promise fully integrated into our work, both internally and with our clients, we can display what we’re all about to the watching world.

Sudden Changes

 As we realized the upheaval of 2020 was here to stay, our brand promise guided every step. We transitioned to a dispersed workforce, helped our clients navigate their own business challenges, and kept up with a world changing by the minute.

We worked to empathize with our clients given the circumstances we all shared, and we brought our hearts-first mindset to the table in continuing to produce great work. Sometimes, too, we simply scheduled a Zoom happy hour or sent a care package. We showed up in ways our clients hadn’t asked for—not only as a service for them, but as Friends, too.

“We invested our time to do that because it was the right thing to do,” Guthrie adds.

Responding With Intention

A brand promise isn’t something you write once and bring out only in presentation decks—it’s something you live and breathe as a brand. Internally, we had some hard conversations this year, but we kept our promise at the forefront. “We repeated it to one another to make sure we lived up to it,” Guthrie remembers.

“Throughout the process, we were always trying to be human,” Lawson says. “We were wanting to be authentic to who we were with every decision and step. We had to be creative and pivot quickly, but it all went back to bringing out the best in each other.”

Kindness During Tough Times

What does it look like to live out our brand promise on a typical day in 2020? At one point, it looked like dozens of our Friends volunteering to load up their cars with Tennessee Titans yard signs and blanket the city in Titans blue. Other times, it looked like our strategy team dedicating time to research ever-changing new trends so we could stay in lock-step with our clients.

That same generosity of spirit was felt among our teams, too. Porch drop-offs of coffee and snacks were common. Distanced visits became the norm. We shared tips and tricks for working from home and balancing family life. Zoom yoga sessions kept us moving. And sometimes, even just a daily “How are you?” over Slack kept us motivated and ready to take the next step

What Now?

This year has brought much more than a pandemic—it’s brought many considerations to the forefront that brands may not have had the impetus to pursue.

“I think every brand needs to use this moment in time to be reflective. To either refine—or redefine—who you are,” Guthrie says.

“Now the expectation is diversity and inclusion, humanity and empathy,” she adds. “Those weren’t words you’d usually hear in business, but now you hear of companies hiring Directors of Empathy.”

When we carry our brand promises forward, whether they’ve been established for years or were redefined as a result of the year’s trials, we can further pave the way for meaningful change, recover from losses, and offer our hearts first in all we do.

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