Put people, purpose and principles first

In times of crisis, getting the balance right for both individuals and businesses alike has never been so critical or challenging. Collaboration, empathy and a strong brand purpose are key says Antonia Wade, chief marketing officer at Capita

by John Stern
Last Updated: 30 Jun 2020

We will all look back and ask ourselves as employees and employers, consumers and citizens: how did we respond during Covid-19?

This has been a public health crisis affecting every single person in the UK directly or indirectly, with many different approaches on how to respond – some good, others less so. For example, a number of brands continued to issue their business-as- usual marketing emails, which didn’t take into account that everyone was locked down in the midst of a global pandemic.

Employee first

At Capita, we employ around 63,000 people globally, of whom around 45,000 are in the UK. We have had surges in demand for our services but our immediate response had to be employee-first, before we even started thinking about how we communicated to clients how we could help them manage the new challenges Covid-19 was surfacing.

From a strategic perspective, we wanted our CEO, Jon Lewis, front and centre talking about what we were doing to protect the lives, and livelihoods of those people who work for us.

In the first few weeks, we moved around 22,500 to work from home, which for many of our people was exceptionally challenging. We also run critical national infrastructure for a number of clients and enabled successful home-working for them, thanks to the phenomenal work of our technology solutions team. We manage customer support for some of the UK best-loved brands, who have received overwhelming numbers of inquiries. Our people have had to respond to these in quite an unprecedented way in some cases, while of course dealing with an ambiguous situation themselves. We’ve also had clients ask for help in ways that we weren’t anticipating.

Purpose, proposition and principles

Purpose is deeply rooted in culture and doesn’t change – it is part of your identity. Propositions are your offer to the market that change depending on market demand – the critical thing is to make sure you don’t merge the two.

When I joined Capita in February last year, we developed new brand attributes aligned to our brand platform ‘Obsessed by better’ that expressed our view that everything can be improved through passion for clients and employees underpinned by our purpose. Those brand principles have helped shape our tone of voice and how we should communicate with the market. They ensured we didn’t stray into awkward territory.It is a challenging balance but there will be some companies that look back over this period and wish perhaps they had remained truer to their brand.

You have to listen carefully to your clients and offer options. We tried to enable our salespeople with really good information, particularly about where we had business solutions that could be repurposed. We were using a much more human-to-human filter rather than doing a big push out into market.

When Covid-19 started to emerge and everyone was wrestling with so much uncertainty, we went for a ‘business unusual’ offer. After five or six weeks, it was clear from talking to clients that there was a shift towards thinking about the next phase of response.

So we moved to a different pan-Capita campaign of ‘Shaping tomorrow together’. ‘Shaping’ because the future is still undefined and we’re all still dealing with shocks. ‘Tomorrow’ gave us a bit of breadth in terms of timeframe – for some people tomorrow is literally tomorrow but for others it’s 2021. And ‘together’ speaks to the importance of collaboration and working closely with clients to solve problems. As a major employer in the UK, we’re facing challenges ourselves so we felt that we actually part of the discussion, as well as informing it.

Empathy and resilience

This extraordinary working situation that we have all faced isn’t going to change overnight. Even if we are all back in the office by October, I anticipate a kind of mourning period. We have all been touched by this in some form or other from a health perspective but many companies have made furloughs and redundancies and let go of contractors. So whatever environment you’re going back to is probably going to be different to the one you left.

There is a balance between doing what’s right for the organisation and what’s right for the individual. It’s vital to build resilience and empathy in teams, making sure that you are the kind of leader by whom you would want to be led in a time like this. It’s challenging because the business needs you to be high-performing, particularly in marketing when we’re seeing massively increased demand, but many members of your team may be working in a sub-optimal environment. Working from home is fine for some but not for others and it’s important to set new frames of reference so people understand what they can expect from you. Otherwise, you’re trying to play with new toys in the old way and it’s not going to work.

One element of feedback from my team was the realisation that often you don’t leave your desk all day. I sent a list of commitments to my team, one of which was to turn hour-long video meetings into 45 minutes so that we will get 15 minutes back. Then there are things like giving permission to switch your video off. I always put mine on so people automatically assume they have to as well.

Digital transformation

From a marketing point of view, the transformation to digital channels has been accelerated. I read recently a claim that in the next three years, the channel strategy of going to market will die. The separation of sales, marketing and digital will cease and everything will be aligned into a buyer journey of new business and renewals. Already we’re seeing around 57% of decisions being made before they even reach sales while McKinsey says around 85% of B2B customers would rather renew online and not even engage with sales. All of that was happening anyway but Covid-19 has expedited the process. Sales teams are waking up to the real insights that you can get from digital channels. Companies who have not mastered those channels are going to fall behind quite rapidly.

For a long time, B2B marketing has wanted a seat at the table and our time has now come, because I think people are assessing marketing’s value differently. But it will continue to be hugely important to getting the balance right between your purpose and proposition for your brand and your campaigns.

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