The economic effects of the South African 21-day shutdown due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic will be felt for a long time to come.
Even before the entire country was put into lockdown by President Cyril Ramaphosa, the economy was on its knees. Forcing business to shut their doors for three weeks is akin to pointing a 50mm Desert Eagle to the collective temples of most South African businesses and squeezing the trigger.
Smaller companies will be the hardest hit; many of them, will simply not survive.
With stress and anxiety levels going through the ceiling, it's easy to be lured into focussing almost exclusively on the short-term pain, but this crisis will pass. When it does, brands will then be scrambling to restock, retool, replenish and try to return as quickly as they can to normal. But it's going to be difficult to turn your trading back on when a large percentage of the country emerges from the catastrophe unemployed.
How big brands treat their suppliers and employees during this time however, will largely determine how quickly and successfully they will be able to recover themselves.
Big companies need to bear in mind that they do not function in isolation. They are not separate from their value chains or customers.
If you neglect to honour and respect the relationships that you have so painstakingly built over the decades with your suppliers in particular - only to let them down during times of crisis - you are indirectly sticking a knife into your own heart thinking that it'll help you survive.
From a recent AdAge opinion piece, 'Mark Cuban has suggested that how brands treat their workers [and suppliers] in this crisis will define them “for decades”; in the marketing arena, they will also be defined by how they communicate with their customers, how direct and honest they are, how “authentic” they are and how they demonstrate what they stand for through their actions.'
What should big brands be doing?
So the solution is to strictly be guided by your values. Honour the relationships that you have with your suppliers - do everything that you can to pay them on time, to keep them in business, to honour your agreements. Now is the time to pull them in closer - not to close the door in their faces.
Look after your employees. Communicate with them, be open and transparent with them. Keep them in the loop with how things are going and where they stand. Bring them into your strategic planning sessions, value their input and perspectives - treat them with dignity and respect.
So how you treat your partners now will determine how successfully you will be able to get back on you feet ones the lockdown is over. This is a vital test that you can't afford to screw up.
Don't be a dick to your most vital partners - or yourself. The world is watching how you handle yourselves and we will not forget.
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