Is the Coronavirus re-shaping how we define effective brand leadership? When you Google “leadership,” 3,330,000,000 results come up: charisma, influence, innovation. The list goes on.

Heading into week 4 of social distancing, many have expressed concern over their newly imposed work-life balance, or lack thereof. Some are trying to work from home, schedule (another!) Zoom conference call, homeschool their children, eat healthy, go for a run, endlessly wash their hands, FaceTime their friends, and more.

We might be able to simplify our definition of successful leadership: authentic empathy. The same holds true for brand management in the age of the Coronavirus. Consumers will remember that they received a mass email or a broadly targeted ad, reminding them to buy the latest merchandise. (“No, I don’t need a new cocktail dress if I’m painting rocks with my toddlers for the unforeseeable future.”) 

Consumers are taking note. Being customer-centric has never been more important. Some brands have adapted quickly: their messaging expresses genuine concern for their consumers and are contextually relevant. Amex’s OPEN division, known for Small Business Saturday, has launched an evergreen campaign urging consumers to #StayHome and #ShopSmall. Nike also reminds consumers to stay inside and appeals to their inner athlete.

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Other companies, like LVMH and The Estee Lauder Companies are trying to build brand goodwill by manufacturing and donating hand sanitizer, a new non-beauty category for them. And Starbucks is offering free coffee to “frontline healthcare workers,” including police officers, fire fighters, paramedics, nurses, and hospital staff. It’s not a discount code or free shipping with your next purchase — these are relevant and thoughtful responses to the national emergency.

In fact, “fashion [is] no longer just waiting for the government to swoop in and save it,” writes the NYTimes. Anna Wintour and Tom Ford are re-purposing their CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund (a Sept 11th fundraising initiative) and have renamed it “Common Thread,” which will support those in the community impacted by COVID19.

It’s time to show brand leadership. Consumers will remember and (hopefully!) remain loyal to the companies that appeared authentic and demonstrated empathy. There’s no better moment to put the customer first.