Getting communications fit for recovery – where to start?
The call to keep up communications has rung out consistently throughout 2020 — and not without good reason. As noted by marketing and branding pundit, Mark Ritson: if businesses want to retain their share of voice and market, they must maintain steady communications.
So far, doing so has often meant sticking to largely standard messaging and methods of connection, with some adjustments. During the initial nationwide lockdown, even Ritson advised brands to hold fast; not straying too far from pre-pandemic advertising campaigns and communication. But as the global situation continues to evolve, a change in approach is required.
Instead of focusing purely on ensuring continuity, businesses must start considering the long-term and taking learnings from the recent chaos to build communications that will be fit for the recovery, and whatever comes afterwards.
Here are three of the key starting points:
Increasing agility to ensure survival
No business can anticipate the unpredictable but optimising their agility will put them in a better position to manage unexpected events. This is the key lesson Jason Teitler — brand lead and senior vice-president of communications at Special Olympics International — has taken from the crisis, and it’s one that every organisation would be wise to consider.
As COVID-19 has shown, communications have a crucial part to play in sustaining relationships and revenues when sudden turbulence strikes; helping companies stay front of mind and closely connected to their audience. But success depends heavily on how well they adapt — as highlighted by Teitler, getting agile communications right isn’t just about being fast; it’s also about keeping messages clear, consistent, and genuinely relevant.
Achieving this means covering multiple bases of preparation. At a starter level, for instance, creating a single store of information that’s accessible across the organisation will make it simpler and faster for different teams to streamline internal communications, fine-tune external messaging, and ultimately stay on the same page. But to align their communications with the current climate and customer needs in a short time frame, companies will also need to ensure they are informed by accurate and up-to-date insight.
Of course, harnessing real-time data to guide effective business communications isn’t new. But at a wider communications level, it can be easy to underestimate the importance of bringing in technical support: tapping advanced technology to determine which tactics and narratives should be applied in the moment. A recent global survey of chief marketing officers (CMOs), for example, shows only 58% feel their stack has been fully utilised during the pandemic.
It’s therefore essential for businesses to adopt a more data-driven approach for all communications by leveraging analytical tech to identify what customers want right now and adjusting messages accordingly; be that providing information about changes to customer services or serving messages that tie in with real-time requirements and concerns, such as fraud refund guarantees for financial services.
Taking creative to new horizons
Since the outbreak began, consumers have not only increasingly leaned towards digital, but also channels that meet their desire for authenticity and connection, such as social media. Many companies are planning to follow suit — with over 78% of CMOs set to increase their social investments next year — but, crucially, few are aiming to change their approach. According to the same CMO study, just a quarter are ready to allocate their budgets to new ways of working.
While this caution is understandable in today’s unsettled environment, any firms hoping to boost the value of their communications must be willing to explore new frontiers; particularly when it comes to how they engage audiences. In fact, moving out of what Gartner calls ‘the basecamp of certainty’ could even help address many of the restrictions coronavirus has placed on communications spend and production.
TikTok’s head of regional business for South East Asia, Arjun Sarwal, recently pointed out that although consumers have increased their appetite for social, they aren’t being enticed by the usual highly polished type of business communication delivered on social; plumping instead for “authentic and raw creative”. So, as they follow their customers to digital channels, it will be critical for companies to focus on adapting messages to their environment by embracing the demand for less produced content and unorthodox techniques, such as filming their own mobile videos.
The Drum’s Don’t Make Ads, Make TikToks challenge is a perfect example of what this looks like in practice; generated on mobile for mobile by real users: see the now infamous Tim Delany reworking of “Perfect Day”. The added advantage of this approach being that as well as communicating with customers on an equal level, it also offers way to keep content flowing while they wait for a rise in budgets and the return of production studios.
Mixing the right PR formula
Finally, improving long-term success will demand greater synchronicity. As many businesses have found this year, a lack of joined-up messaging can cause multiple issues; from internal confusion to customer frustration. The good news, however, is that forward-thinking businesses are already turning their attention to breaking down silos between key pillars of communications — including media, marketing and public relations (PR) — with an especially strong emphasis on public affairs.
Research reveals over three-fifths (60%) of UK firms are readying to reinforce awareness of their offerings and brands by making PR a core element of their communications mix. But as they link PR efforts into their unified messaging, it will be worth keeping in mind the sage words of one marketing professional. For Jessica Banham — group marketing and brand manager at civil engineering firm Aarsleff — it’s paramount that the urge to respond to what’s happening now doesn’t mean reducing focus on long-term branding building.
While keeping their current narrative under control is critical, organisations also need to lay the necessary foundations for growth. PR activity needs to be the right blend of agile and anchored; with communications programmes able to shift with changing priorities and events, but always designed to deliver results that take companies closer to hitting their future goals.
The road ahead may still be uncertain, but effective communications will be critical to steer businesses through. As businesses look towards the future. it will be vital to ensure the lessons of COVID-19 are consistently recognised and applied to get communications in better shape than ever and optimise company success, especially when it comes to agility, authenticity and robust PR guided by long-term goals.
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