When Big Changes call for Big Decisions, Brands Need to Make Sure there’s a Reason—and an Authoritative Voice—Behind Them

The unprecedented impact of COVID-19 has resulted in some drastic decision-making in recent months, and it continues to drive constant change and reaction across many industries. In travel, where it has brought business to a literal standstill, the latest change is that hard-hit airlines are now filling planes to capacity.

While the criticism they’re receiving is understandable, so is the motivation behind their decision: These companies have laid off tens of thousands of employees and are losing tens of millions of dollars a day. And despite the new rules, the road to recovery will be long and bumpy: Research by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies finds that 72 percent of Canadians say they’re not comfortable flying since this decision to relax in-flight physical distancing.

But travel is not the only industry that is seeing pandemic-related decisions apparently being reversed. A COVID-19 guide released by Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children recommends not keeping kids home from school this fall, and not enforcing strict distancing or masking. The guide’s reasons include the fact that distancing “is not practical and could cause significant psychological harm”, and “if worn incorrectly, [masks] could lead to increased risk of infection”.

At first glance, these recommendations seem counterintuitive given everything we know about the pandemic; however, they make sense in a school/classroom context. They also have a leading healthcare authority standing behind them.

While healthcare and travel are two very different sectors, there’s a lesson here when it comes to making bold, potentially controversial statements, in any industry:

  • Position an authority behind the message—a recognized expert who can speak on the brand’s behalf and give credence to its message.
  • Lead with the authority—not with the brand. Make the authority the medium.

In the case of the airlines, it might make sense to deliver their message by way of an expert on high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, given the research that shows they can catch more than 99 percent of airborne COVID-19 particles.  

The goal is to lead with intellectual authority. More than ever, the pandemic is forcing brands to “put themselves out there”, making it all the more critical that their communications continue to be intelligent and relevant.