2021, “Pause-itivity” to “Positivity”!
Sujit Patil, Vice President and Head Corporate Brand and Communications Godrej Industries Limited and Associate Companies
2020, where the “pause, watch and act” strategy prevailed is behind us now. 2021 for the optimists should be an opportunity to go behind “positivity” like never before!
At Godrej, we went back to the communications drawing board, understood what really matters, rejigged our communication strategy, and redefined our goals. I am taking the liberty to share some thoughts and trends that lie on the intersection of my own analysis of the year gone by, the aspirations for the year ahead and our focus areas.
Time to Listen more and engage deeper
As brands grow in repute and size, there is a tendency to start getting unidirectional in communications. Going forward, corporate and brand behaviour will be watched more closely. Not only what CEO’s say, but also employee views on social media about the organization and other issues would be critical! In uncertain times, emotions run high, and brands often get caught up in the currents and counter currents. Constant monitoring and appropriate engagement through responses is key. If your listening tools and ORM platforms are rusted, the vulnerability of getting hurt on the reputation front will be high.
Dawn of Authenticity laced with Empathy
Purpose, empathy, and authenticity will be in and how! 2020 reminded us all that we need to focus on what matters to us the most – on personal, societal, and professional levels. And regardless of how great a story you must tell, if you don’t tell it with authenticity and with empathy, you are never going to build a relationship with your audience. Often, something which is deemed purpose-driven could also be construed as opportunistic behaviour by your TG. A case-in-point was our free distribution of sanitizer’s that was called out by certain people to be opportunistic during the pandemic. Tonality will matter more.
The twilight of ‘spray and pray’ strategy of branded content
Whether for storytelling, crisis mitigation or influencer engagement, without data you are going to just spray and pray. Also, owing to the exposure to fake news and branded content, there is a cognitive ad-blocker that switches on every time a consumer today sees content that looks like tall advertising claims. Therefore, stories you share with audiences must be factual, data-driven, and more inclusive. One way to do this is use research-driven narratives to tell your stories. The truth is that in the times of shrinking editorial spaces and rising fake news, media has skewed its trust towards data-driven stories. This is where research-driven narratives have made an ethical breakthrough. Also, with shrinking media rooms, relations with journalists will garner more significance.
Era of regional, hyperlocal content and micro-influencers
Historically, our audience has been one of the most outward-focused – we were keen about national and international events and news. The pandemic, however, made us also focus our attention on hyper-local news. What is happening closer to home or office? Is there a night curfew or lockdown? Are cases increasing? There has also been a rise in the number of effective micro-influencers who are subject matter experts and not necessarily with huge following but have a significant influence. It’s a no brainer and I am particularly aiming to enhance our outreach in regional media in regional languages with a focus on micro markets with micro-influencers and publications.
Sunrise for PR thought leadership
With corporate scrutiny at its peak leading to vulnerability of coming in a crossfire of media, political parties and trolls, this is a great opportunity for the PR industry to make a mark and gain more voice as corporate reputation becomes even more vulnerable! An indicator of this is the chaos across the world. While governments are making good strides in controlling the pandemic, I feel that the effectiveness could be higher if the planners have more Psychologists, or Social scientists and most importantly “Communicators” on board. It would certainly help avoid a lot of chaos and confusion due to miscommunication and confusing narratives! I see a lot more that PR can own up going forward.
Spotlight on direct communication channels
The pandemic brought in attention towards direct and owned communication channels. Customer experience and brand ethos being the core of an owned media platform strategy, it brings brands, influencers, and consumers together to co-create content and engage wider audiences. “Being heard” is one of the most precious aspects that audiences seek today from brands. I believe one should make audiences the protagonist and not limit the engagement to transactional purposes. The audience must feel engaged to be part of the story. No wonder, in the first half of the year, Godrej direct communication channels such as Godrej L’Affaire, VikhroliCucina and Design Dekko, organically touched over 75 Million social media accounts. They generated close to 150 Million impressions by partnering with over 50 brands and over 200 influencers across food, beauty, travel, fitness, lifestyle, fashion, health and well-being, as well as design and architecture genres.
Zoom, the new ball room
Video calling has become a way of life. From product launches, press conferences, to conclaves and team reviews, everything has been seamlessly done with high cost efficiencies. It’s here to stay. With electronic almost replacing physical, modes such as podcasts, video channels and campaigns based on AR/VR, AI based data analysis and decision making will see a spike. Of course, all these can never replace the in-person experiences but will only add to the effectiveness of communications.
I think the PR and communication streams of organizations have come of age and the pandemic has proved that one glue that kept stakeholders; internal and external, together, was Communications.
2020 has helped us prioritize on what really matters. A focus on these seven themes, building competencies around them and enhancing the prowess that already exists in our PR arsenals can help us set a positive tone for how we build and manage reputation, going forward.
2021 could be the year of “Resurgence” for PR and Corporate Brand Communications!