Communication at the Center of EVERYTHING, including BRANDS

29 Sep 2020
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Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart”.

The term Communication stems from the Latin word, communicare, which means “to share”.  It is the act of conveying meanings from one entity or group to another through the use of mutually understood signs, symbols, and semiotic rules.

Many people believe that the significance of communication is like the importance of breathing. Indeed, communication facilitates the spread of knowledge while it forms and nurtures relationships between people.

The advent of Covid-19 has changed communication giving it an even bigger role to play in our daily lives. While vast amounts of information and communication existed prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, with social media, email and other digital channels leading the wave; tracking information and updates wasn’t a matter of life and death for most of us. People stayed up all night following news and social media online or waiting for updates on TV and radio like they were waiting for a Mike Tyson fight. Many found it difficult to differentiate between real and fake news; they consumed and believed almost everything and anything that came before their eyes. In their defence, the good quality of some of the fake news items made it difficult to easily differentiate. Brand communication was also massively disrupted and brands struggled to find the balance. Some found their plans overtaken and rendered irrelevant, others chose to just keep their heads down until the dust settles, some took terrible wrong turns demonstrating tone deafness or trying to openly leverage the tragedy on the back of fear and panic. Some brands however found wonderful ways to connect, show care and demonstrate their organizational and/or brand purpose through a variety of ways including moving pieces of communication, CSR, PR, internal communication and more.  More than ever we saw in many practical examples the power of purpose driven action and communication.

As the impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt right around the globe, we've seen a pattern of brands—some who were badly hit and others out of fear and uncertainty—holding back when it comes to PR and Marketing. While some experts have suggested that brands should not be shouting from the rooftops at this time; we have seen other brands win with the right activity and messaging. Should brands ‘go dark’ and can meaningful relationships be built and maintained with stakeholders even during a crisis?

Effective marketing focuses on how to conceive, communicate, and deliver stakeholder value — and this has never been more relevant than in the current crisis. It’s important for brands to; ‘Think education, not just promotion.’ At the start of Lockdown 1.0, we sent out a mailer to our clients, sharing  our recommendations on how to approach engaging stakeholders in these Covid times. These tips included avoiding being and appearing opportunistic, to give comfort, consider acts of kindness and contribution, help people pass time and engaging virtually. A great example of communication that worked is Nike; the brand put out a campaign encouraging people to 'play inside' as governments globally enforced social-distancing measures. True to Nike's brand archetype, the key message was an inspiring and rallying call to action that said, "If you ever dreamed of playing for millions around the world, now is your chance" – compelling, right? That hit home. It actually did more than just hit home; it sat on my couch and had tea!

The corona virus pandemic has put the business of communication front and center. We receive daily updates, on multiple platforms, from our Government, organisations and brands trying to keep us engaged and equipped with information to help fight Covid. Brands have come to the party with campaigns tailored to their products and services, pushing through to drive business in difficult economic times. The market has so far been responsive and advertising talking Covid-19 had their eyes and attention. We’ve seen emotional connection and relevance as well as backlash swell more swiftly than before, and fuel passionate conversation especially on social media and 1-on-1.

It is critical that brands and organisations carefully consider their stance on communication and engaging stakeholders. Embracing proactive and responsive action and communication will offer more benefit than being silent or irrelevant to stakeholders. Investing in communication experts that will advise and support this journey can also be a power move, providing access to expertise to augment your own where it is needed.

 The Covid-19 pandemic has proven the power and impact of content as people continue to demonstrate appetite for engagement and content of all type. Post the outbreak, or in our “Next Normal”, as has already been coined, as we navigate living with Covid in our midst, brands have to figure it out in real-time. We need to move swiftly from “What just happened here?’ to crafting ways to maintain consistency and relevance in how we pursue our organisational goals by engaging stakeholders and showing up in the market.

Article written by Seeletso Reikeletseng; Account Manager at Incepta Communications.  A problem-solving brand custodian with a vast experience in the advertising and communications space; Seeletso is driven by the need to find disruptive ways to strategically build and grow brands.