Back in the 1950’s, brands were about me (the product) and all my wonderful and futuristic features. Then came the 1980’s, which ushered in the era of you (the consumer) and how my product can better your life and lifestyle.

Recent times – accelerated by the pandemic – are showing us something new. More than ever, brands are expected to serve us (society) and have a positive impact on the world at large.

For brands to make it in this environment, it will take two things:
1. An understanding that your company exists to serve a purpose bigger than maximizing shareholder value.
2. A willingness and ability to stretch and adapt as market needs call for it.

At Madison, we’re big believers in the concept of stretching – always shifting to meet customer needs, always striving for improvement or growing our skillset. In fact, it’s one of our “Madison Ways.”

Three examples show how, during the COVID crisis, brands can stay true to their larger purpose while stretching into something new.

Baldor Specialty Foods is stretching by redefining their role. This New York-based wholesaler supplies fresh product to food service clients like restaurants and schools. During COVID, they’ve also begun taking individual orders to help people feed their families. Dispelling any charges of opportunism, the CEO makes clear that “there’s no money-making here.” This is not a long-term strategy; instead, Baldor is redefining their role to keep the food supply running.

Meanwhile, Guinness stretched the meaning of their purpose in an early messaging campaign. The brand has long been synonymous with celebrations and pub gatherings. Not the best association right now. The campaign reminded people that some things are more important than beer, food and music – that we should all find way to stay connected with loved ones, even if we can’t do it in person. Instantly, the brand expanded its purpose to support shared humanity, raising a pint to lift each other up.

Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt hotels are among the brands who stretched by solving, not selling. During the most critical and hectic early days, these hotel chains opened their doors to health care workers. While dealing with a tidal wave of cancelled reservations, they turned to providing a very necessary solution. And in the process, learned an incredible amount about hospital-level cleanliness. The brands are now well-positioned as safety and health protocol leaders in post-COVID travel.

Thanks to the changes these brands have made in response to a crisis, they will never be the same. That’s the nature and the power of stretching.