When Companies Rise with Flood Levels, So Can Consumer Perception

Julie McBride
VP, Research, Media and Content
Kantar Millward Brown

A few weeks ago, ahead of Hurricane Florence, my mom evacuated her home in Myrtle Beach, SC with her husband and two dogs, Al and Seamus. They boarded up the house and hit the road – destination: Savannah, GA. A few hours after they left, a news article came across my Facebook feed about a casino in Atlantic City, NJ announcing they would be taking in hurricane evacuees for free. I thought to myself, “Wow, how cool is that?”, and quickly let mom know. Unfortunately, they were going in the wrong direction because she’s got some incredible luck with slot machines :). The casino owner said, "It's the right thing to do," and "We've got plenty of rooms and we'll let people stay until the storm has passed." As a brand researcher, this got me thinking. What kind of impact does this gesture have on how consumers perceive a company? Would this lead to an increase in future bookings and sales?

With the increase in natural disasters in recent years, many organizations have stepped up to play their part in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). For Hurricane Florence alone, companies across many categories did their part.  U-Haul offered 30 days of free self-storage for those who were soon-to-be impacted by rains and winds. Airbnb implemented its Disaster Response & Relief Program, as home owners opened their properties to evacuees free of charge. Anheuser-Busch and Miller Coors delivered hundreds of thousands of cans of water to needed areas. Delta, American, United and Southwest airlines waived fees, including those for flight changes, bags and pets, for those impacted by the hurricane.

It would be difficult to quantify the direct impact that disaster relief has on brand health metrics or sales, as there are so many other simultaneous factors in play. However, a study conducted by Cone Communications in 2017 linked CSR with consumer shopping decisions. 87 percent of consumers said they would purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about. The report also revealed that communication needs to be a priority – not just the actions taken by a company, but success and failure as well. 79 percent of consumers said they were more likely to believe a company’s CSR commitments if they share their efforts along multiple channels. According to Sustainablebrands.com, a “strong, consistent narrative is essential to further gain creditability in the eyes of consumers and companies should look to take a multifaceted approach to communications. Now, consumers are no longer just asking, ‘What do you stand for,’ but also, ‘What do you stand up for?’” It seems to reason that aligning resources with consumer interests can lead to long-term trust and brand loyalty.

Ultimately, Mom, Tom, Al and Seamus made it safely to Savannah. They stayed at the Baymont Inn and Suites, a franchise owned by Wyndham Worldwide. The hotel was packed with other storm evacuees, and, in particular, dogs. My mom was very excited about this – “I have never seen so many dogs in one hotel at a time!” she said. “Thank God hotels are finally realizing people need to travel with pets. It amazes me how policies have changed for the better in the last few years.”

I swear I didn’t coax her to say this, and I was just happy that they had a place to stay out of harm’s way. And with more companies stepping up their emergency response plans, and the communication of these efforts, I am encouraged by the help they are providing to communities in need…dogs included.