The Brand Move Roundup – September 30, 2020

We’re tracking the notable brand moves & highlighting the companies who are tackling this challenge successfully.

In early March we began reporting daily on how brands were dealing with Covid-19. But it’s become clear that the current climate is one of near-perpetual disruption, so we decided to keep on telling the stories of inspiring brand leadership and strategy amid the latest crises in an anxious world. Our goal is to provide an up-to-the-minute source of information, inspiration and insight on brand moves as they happen.

Alphabet’s Google has advised workers companywide to return to the country where they’re employed by the end of the year. During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the California-based company allowed some of its staff to move abroad for personal reasons, such as returning to their home country, and continue working remotely. That policy is now coming to an end, but may be open to review in high-risk areas. Google was one of the first major corporations to tell employees to work from home when the coronavirus began spreading in March. It said in July that it will let employees do their jobs remotely for another year, pushing back plans to re-open offices. Alphabet’s Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat said earlier this month that while employees working together in person is key to fostering innovation, the Covid-19 pandemic will inevitably change the nature of work. Other major tech companies, including Facebook and Amazon, have also said corporate employees can stay home until at least the beginning of 2021.

Disney+ is rolling out a remote co-viewing feature that will enable subscribers to watch the platform’s programming together virtually. GroupWatch will allow up to seven different Disney+ accounts to link up and co-view programming with one another on the streaming service. Starting today, users on the Disney+ mobile app or web browser will see a co-viewing icon next to the Play button on Disney+ programming. If clicked or tapped, that button will allow users to send invitations to as many as six other people. Invitees, who must have their own Disney+ accounts, can join through those invitations to watch the program together simultaneously on web, mobile or on their connected TVs or smart TVs. There’s a reaction function built into the Disney+ mobile app where co-viewers can react to programming with different emojis. “Storytelling comes alive when you’re able to share and enjoy it with others,” Jerrell B. Jimerson, svp product management for Disney+, said, “and in this moment when many are still apart from their friends and family, GroupWatch offers a way to safely connect virtually by co-viewing your favorite Disney+ stories with your favorite people from the comfort of your living room.” GroupWatch comes to Disney+ a few months after sister service Hulu rolled out its own co-viewing feature, Watch Party, to ad-free viewers in late May. That option, which supports up to eight people watching concurrently, was the first in-app co-viewing experience that rolled out on streamers. There are also several popular web browser plug-ins, including Netflix Party and Scener, which allow for web-based co-viewing and chatting.

A survey just released by the IBM Institute of Business Value identified a “culture shift” at corporations worldwide, and concluded that “executives must accept that pandemic-induced changes in strategy, management, operations and budgetary priorities are here to stay.” One big dividend from this culture shift: Two-thirds of respondents said they’ve been able to complete initiatives that encountered resistance in the pre-Covid work world. The survey of almost 3,500 executives in 22 countries found cash flow, along with cost and liquidity management, among the highest priorities through 2022. About 60% said they were accelerating the digital transformation of their organizations. Three-quarters plan on building more robust IT capabilities. The digital transformation is expected to increase the actual number of jobs, “but the skills required for those jobs are going to be very different,” said Jesus Mantas, senior managing partner of IBM Services. In a move away from the recent practice of just-in-time delivery, 40% of executives highlighted the need for spare capacity in their supply-chains. Only about half the companies will emphasize entering new markets to increase their customer base, the executives said. And 84% said that customer-experience management will be a top priority, up from just 35% two years ago.

Working Den, a website filled with tools to help remote workers maintain healthy routines and prevent burnout, has launched as a free service. Developed in the UK by freelancer Daniel Hall in collaboration with workplace consultant Bertie van Wyk, Working Den is designed for workers to use throughout their workday. It includes exercise and stretching guides, calming nature videos, playlists of background noise, mental health assessment quizzes, and a productivity timer. It also features a notification system that reduces eye strain; every 20 minutes, Working Den can remind users to look away from their screens for 20 seconds. Hall said Working Den may include a feature that pairs users up with one another to answer questions, as a way to combat loneliness.

Airline JetBlue has announced a fire sale in a bid to drum up business as it heads into the fall. The Be an Early Holiday-er flash promotion is discounting flights and hotel packages booked through Sept. 30 for trips taken during the holiday season. JetBlue saw revenue fall 90% year over year in the second quarter. The airline has since responded by unveiling new routes to Florida and Los Angeles aimed at “immediately generating cash and capturing traffic,” the brand said in the announcement. JetBlue won’t be airing any television commercials to promote the sale. Instead, the campaign will run on the brand’s owned channels and email with paid support. For the few travelers passing through New York’s JFK International Airport, the brand’s home terminal has been turned into a proverbial winter wonderland complete with a Christmas tree, menorah and an army of nutcrackers. It’s one of the rare examples of airline marketing during the pandemic. The discount – $50 off a flight and $300 off a hotel and flight package taken between mid-November and January – will see the airline generate some interest in an otherwise depressed environment, as flights have never looked cheaper during the holiday season.

Blackstone Group, one of the world’s largest owners of real estate, is making a new commitment to cut its carbon footprint. The investment firm has set a goal of reducing carbon emissions by 15% within the first three years of buying any asset or company across its portfolio. The initiative will begin in 2021 and will apply to new investments where Blackstone controls the energy systems.The firm is joining with French energy and digital-automation company Schneider Electric to track its progress. Schneider will tabulate usage, cost and associated emissions data based on monthly energy bills from each new piece of Blackstone’s portfolio. Emissions reductions will be reported in aggregate against the firm’s overall target. Private equity firms have become increasingly focused on environmental, social and governance-related issues, driven in part by pressure from the public pension funds and other institutions that invest in them. Like many of its competitors, Blackstone has been monitoring energy consumption and implementing strategies at various properties and portfolio companies for years, but it is the first among its peers to publicly set an overall target. With $564 billion in assets under management across areas including private equity, real estate and infrastructure, the firm believes it has the ability to make a significant impact on the environment by formally establishing a portfolio-wide benchmark.

Grocery delivery company Ocado has overtaken supermarket chain Tesco to become the UK’s most valuable retailer after its stock market value soared to £21.66bn. Tesco is worth £21.06bn despite controlling nearly 27% of the UK grocery market. By comparison Ocado, which is already worth more than double the combined value of retailers Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, sells just 1.7% of the UK’s groceries. Former Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy once famously described Ocado as a “charity” due to its track record of losses during the noughties. Investors have fallen in love with Ocado on the back of the success of its tech business Ocado Solutions, which sells its grocery-picking expertise to foreign supermarkets. The coronavirus pandemic has also triggered a boom in online shopping. At the height of the pandemic online food sales nearly doubled but, despite the recent slowdown, they now account for 12.5% of total grocery sales versus about 7% pre-crisis.

The Metropolitan Opera canceled its 2020-21 season because of the pandemic, but with that long break comes a reboot of sorts, making amends for a lack of more representative programming at the institution. It will open its 2021-22 season with Terence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” – the first work by a Black composer ever presented by the Met. Five productions will also be conducted by women, the highest number in a season.