A New Reality for Brands

A note from our president.

Kate Watts

By Kate Watts
President of Atlantic 57

March 30, 2020 | 4 minute read

COVID-19 has confronted us with a profoundly sobering global crisis and a series of unknowns about the legacy it will leave on the world. Teams across industries are in overdrive as they respond to the volatility and emotions of the COVID-19 crisis. Our sense of urgency is elevated, and so, I imagine, is yours—people will remember us for the actions we take now to stem the crisis and to build resilience in communities across the world. People will also remember the kind of people we were as we responded to the challenges across our personal and professional lives. 

We are already living in a new reality—one that we have no reference point for. As The Atlantic’s editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg put it recently, “There’s really nothing to compare this to in our collective lifetimes.”  

At Atlantic 57, we’ve been discussing at length what it means to provide service and express empathy in this moment. The Atlantic newsroom, for example, has launched an all-hands-on-deck response to COVID-19 that I believe represents journalism at its best. 

Our team at Atlantic 57 was eager to make its own small contribution. As a firm dedicated to brand evolution and endurance, we wanted to explore how brands can navigate not just the current moment, but also the fundamentally altered world that awaits when we emerge from this crisis. This was the genesis of Altered, a platform exploring the impact COVID-19 will have on brands and what they can do now to foster resilience in a changed world. Let me begin with a few thoughts and recommendations of my own for how we can take immediate action:

Pivot from service to civics. Intuitively, we know that the best customer-centric experiences become category leaders. In this new reality, however, connection to your customers must go deeper. From global to micro communities, people are seeking meaningful human-to-human connection to endure this crisis. Brands are expected to become more personal, empathetic, altruistic, and self aware. Your ability to deliver social impact, tangible thought leadership, and a consistent expression of indelible core values must take center stage. To become a contributing member of a community and not just a member of an economic ecosystem, your customer experience has to include a component of civic engagement.

Be free of politics and silos. Brands must create a whole new playbook. Bust up the bureaucracy. Break down silos. Do whatever it takes to empower your employees to operate nimbly and unencumbered. Brands will endure when well-worn methodologies are already in place, teams trust one another, hope is a guiding light, and leaders empower the folks on the front line to drive momentum in the moment. It is in remarkable times that remarkable leaders emerge from all levels of an organization. 

Do not stray from the bigger vision. Now is not the time to rethink your brand position or set forth a new north star. Instead, make modest, but high impact adjustments in real-time and find new applications for your brand as the crisis evolves. In the midst of volatility, your brand will pivot and evolve organically if you simultaneously anticipate customer needs while staying true to an unwavering brand vision. If your brand falters instead, once the crisis settles, ask yourself if your vision was clear, accurate, or bold enough.

Make haste slowly. Be responsive, incisive, and committed. Remember, this is a marathon with sprints throughout. “Micro disruptions”– seemingly small changes to institutional processes, products, or services that have broad implications – and ground-breaking innovations will fluidly emerge every day, perhaps every hour. Oftentimes, crisis yields phenomenal creativity and ingenuity, especially if you provide your employees ample space to breathe, replenish, and perhaps lament. 

In this series, you’ll find pieces from Atlantic 57 contributors exploring the long-term implications of COVID-19 for brands across industries. Uzra Khan grapples with the pandemic’s implications for an already-fragile news ecosystem—and maps what brands can learn from its trailblazing, zigzag path. You’ll hear from Jonah Burlingame on the danger of waiting to return to business as usual, and how experience strategy will help brands emerge stronger and more resilient than before. 

You’ll read about the new paradigm of brand-consumer trust from Rob Peckerman and learn from Julie Dixon about the lessons brands can learn from how cultural institutions are responding to the crisis. 

As time goes on, you can expect to hear from voices across our network offering perspectives on what the future may hold for brands and consumers alike.

It is my hope that this series helps brands and marketers process the uncertainty that lies ahead. We hope those who engage with it find themselves more prepared to navigate their brands through this crisis and help them emerge full of resilience.

russell.vea

Kate Watts

President of Atlantic 57

Kate became president of Atlantic 57 when The Atlantic acquired her experience design firm, Faire Design, in September 2019. Prior to Faire, Kate held the role of president, U.S., for Huge. During her decade at Huge, she proudly built the industry's most talented team and delivered the world's most exceptional experiences for startups and Fortune 100 brands alike.

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