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

Recent events – like a global pandemic – have shown 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.”

A few recent examples show how brands can stay true to their larger purpose while stretching into something new.

Baldor Specialty Foods has stretched by redefining their role. This New York-based wholesaler supplies fresh product to food service clients like restaurants and schools. During the pandemic, they started 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 was a short-term strategy for Baldor to redefine their role to keep the food supply running.

Meanwhile, Guinness stretched the meaning of their purpose in an early messaging campaign. Their brand identity has long been synonymous with celebrations and pub gatherings. During the lockdown, the campaign reminded people that some things are more important than beer, food and music – that we should all find ways to stay connected with loved ones, even if we can’t do it in person. Instantly, their brand values expanded 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 early days of the pandemic, 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 safety and health protocol leaders in 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.