The Update: How 2 brands adapted in the early days of the pandemic
In the second installment of our series, The Update, Google’s Masha Fisch, head of marketing, digital transformation, talks with two radically different brands that had a common response to COVID-19. George Hanson, chief digital officer at Panera Bread, and Alex Tshering, SVP marketing at Figs, share how staying true to your values can help overcome unforeseen challenges.
Editor’s note: We acknowledge the hard times the world is going through, from COVID-19 to racial injustice. Please visit The Keyword to learn more about Google’s response to COVID-19 and how we stand with the Black community.
In this episode of The Update
I talked to George Hanson from Panera Bread restaurants
and Alex Tshering from FIGS,
makers of premium medical uniforms,
and heard how two radically different brands
found a common response.
As the world is changing around us,
it’s clear we are all seeking advice and reassurance
for life's big and small decisions.
Globally, search trends for “should I buy”
are up by more than 100%.
But for Panera Bread, this uncertainty didn't just lead to a drop in consumer demand.
The necessary social distancing measures taken to combat the pandemic
fundamentally jeopardised their ability to serve their community.
To meet this business challenge, they first had to address the human impact of these changes.
How were you feeling in that moment?
How is your team feeling?
It was really emotional.
I mean, it was emotional hearing the stories in our cafes,
hearing the stories in the communities we serve.
Like this was impacting us on a human level,
and that's really what we paid attention to first.
We had to make really fast decisions
about how we were going to pivot.
We were still able to filter
all of our decisions through the principles of how do we
protect our employees and our customers?
How do we protect the brand and then how do we emerge stronger?
By creating clear filters for decision making,
Panera Bread was able to adapt to rapidly changing consumer behaviour
and identify new opportunities and demand.
Year-on-year, search interest in online grocery shopping
and grocery delivery had increased 23%.
We also took a step back and said what are the needs of our customers right now.
And you know, like many of us
they had challenges getting groceries.
And each week the level of discomfort of physically going to a grocery store
was clearly a problem crying out for a solution.
And so we within a couple of weeks,
made the decision that we are going to help
open up our pantry
and start providing a grocery service.
But with 39 million My Panera members,
the next challenge was communicating
basic information about the cafes to their customers.
Information like when is my local cafe open?
What services are provided?
And is drive-thru pick up available?
All these dynamics were changing rapidly over the last four to six weeks.
And so we knew that that was a primary window in which customers could know
how and when they could access Panera.
And so our KPIs were really about awareness and access to the customer
whenever they were searching for Panera or food near me.
And the Google insights
that the Google teams have provided has really shaped
how we have tailored our messaging to customers.
By listening to signals from their community,
Panera opened up a new ordering channel
that captured dynamic customer demand
and positioned them for the next phase of recovery.
In the middle of all of the heads down decision-making that we had to do,
there was always a component of looking forward
and looking beyond.
Knowing that this brand is here to stay and
how do we then ensure that it thrives and grows.
Meanwhile, for Alex Tshering, the SVP of marketing at FIGS,
a young direct-to-consumer startup
that supplies premium medical uniforms,
taking care of their community took on a completely different meaning
as their community became the front line
during a war against a global pandemic.
What was going on with you,
with your team at FIGS overall
in kind of the first few days of the COVID pandemic?
When we saw this and you know,
it kind of trickled in.
At first I was like, oh, it's not a big deal.
Oh, it is a big deal.
Oh, it's crazy.
And so we kind of escalated as
the world of COVID really escalated as well.
It was a little chaotic here because you know,
we want to do everything to help.
During this period
the demand for all health-related retail was surging.
Videos related to DIY tutorials and “how to” with face mask in the title
have been viewed more than 60 million times
since the US declared COVID-19 a national emergency.
For FIGS, this urgent need made them realise
that serving their community went far beyond
simply serving paying customers.
One of the immediate things that we did
during COVID is we’ve
donated about 30,000 sets of scrubs nationwide.
We've been delivering
care packages to emergency rooms and hospitals around the country.
I think right now, we're shipping about a hundred a week and that consists of
some compression socks that we sell
and we've worked with a lot of different partners
to kind of fill those up with goodies and snacks and stuff to get them through the day.
Throughout the crisis
FIGS regularly engaged with their community of healthcare workers
and used social listening
to identify an unexpected opportunity.
While most brands had taken a sombre approach to their advertising,
their community was craving some levity.
We put together an ad where
we had a woman and she was in a hurry, you know,
and she had her scrubs on and she was
in a rush on a coffee run.
We pivoted and put some dialogue in there that just really talked about
we made this before COVID.
We get it, you know, there's a lot more important things than coffee.
And so we want to let you know that we're giving back
and we got you.
We're very in touch with our community. We talk to them
on a day-to-day basis
and you know just hearing them on the front lines, understanding what they're going through
is crucial for us and it's always been
really in our DNA to listen to them.
I’m always going to do in my mind
what's right and what's true.
I like to live by that and I expect
all our team to really live by that as well.
So, you know just ride it and stay true to what you believe in
because we'll get through this for sure.
In the midst of all of this change, both Panera and FIGS managed to focus on their core values
which allowed them to display active empathy
by responding to their communities’ needs in real time.
You don't always know if you're making the right decision
the best you can hope for is
that you're making the best decision.
And the best decisions usually
are mostly connected with really rooted, grounded
principles and values
that really transcend
difficult times and challenging times.
It's such a great time and opportunity for us to just
really show that we're here for you.