If there was a common term to describe the ongoing pandemic of Covid-19, it would be “unprecedented”! The Corona Virus brought with it not only harm in medical and mortality terms, but also affected the global economy, at large. Commencing from when the first wave hit till now, there is a general state of chaos and uncertainty, given that the world has faced its first unknown challenge at a universal level, in recent times. There are various organisations across sectors, businesses and geographies that have felt the heat of the pandemic in financial, production, employee loss and misrepresented brand positioning terms.
In such a situation, one of the critical tool for a company to engage with its various stakeholders – internal as well as external – is effective communication. Communication is the asset that establishes a brand’s positioning, exclusivity, recall and consequently, its values and ethos. Clear communication for a brand helps to reinforce consistency in its messaging, thereby distinguishing it from competitors, de-cluttering the minds of consumers and giving them a clear picture so as to enable them to make informed decisions. Not only does it showcase the brand’s offerings and strengths, but also offers an insight into the brand’s proposition, values and ethics, and hence positioning it as relatable as well as reliable in the minds of the consumers.
To communicate or not to communicate?
While the purpose of communication is important for organisations when businesses are running, as usual, it becomes indispensable and an imperative in times of crisis, such as the Covid-19 pandemic. Crisis always leads to uncertainty and loss of faith for consumers and hence brands need to re-strategise its communication in order to be effective in the wake of such new challenges. To quote our first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, “Crises and deadlocks, when they occur, have, at least, this advantage, that they force us to think.” As is the tenet of overcoming the challenges posed by change, one needs to adapt and re-strategise in order to survive and, eventually, flourish.
While every brand has been impacted uniquely, the most common impact is the requirement of modifying business objectives to meet the challenges posed by Covid-19. To fulfil this, the communication objectives, strategies and even tools and platforms are required to be redefined in order to deepen a brand’s connect with its consumers. The primary aim of communication objectives is to assist and drive the achievement of business objectives. Hence, the first step during such times of uncertainty would be to define what the brand now stands for and what is its end objective. Once the communication objectives are drawn, the next step is to focus on the strategies that would help achieve the objectives in the most effective and efficient manner. The target audience needs to be redefined depending on which function of the business has been impacted the most, negatively– supply chain, HR, finance or operations in case of products and brand image, delivery, or offerings, in case of services.
Increase of brand and communication synergies
The brands need to constantly engage with all its stakeholders and reassure them of rising up to the occasion. Empathy is the key here and it is vital for the brand to communicate its emotional and humane side to its customers and employees. They should encourage employees to share their challenges, enable access to their superiors who are in a position to assist them, use positive reinforcements wherever possible to keep morale high, and most importantly maintain clear and open lines of communication about cost-cutting or downsizing, in order to eliminate corporate grapevines. Content, commonly referred to as the heart of the communication, has to be realigned to address the threats and simultaneously reinstate brand strength and reliability, internally and externally.
Interestingly, there are some organisations that have outperformed in the pandemic, either due to the nature of its business or because of its ability to adapt to changes quickly, primarily startups. For such brands, communication should be focussed on showcasing the highlights and brand values, reliability of the brand even during crisis situations and finally, its unwavering focus towards its consumers that drove them to give stellar performances at a time when a significant number of organisations were shaky with their performance. This would increase brand loyalty among its consumers and prompt potential customers to consider the brand with a more positive intent of engagement.
Leveraging the media
It is also pivotal to take note that one of the key stakeholders for brand communication is the media. Since the pandemic, a substantial part of the population has unsubscribed newspapers due to the unchecked fear of the spread of Covid-19. Therefore, news consumption has increased in online and social media platforms. Products and services launch as well as press conferences for important announcements are now being conducted virtually. Hence, it is imperative for brands to be present and engage through multi-platforms. Not only does it position a brand as proactive and address customer issues, but it also increases the brand recall and demonstrates its efforts to care for, and stay connected with its consumers during disruptions. Sharing timely, accurate and relevant information, via all media platforms would reduce chaos and address potential and existing speculations, among stakeholders. The importance of pre-empting and resolving crisis effectively is amplified due to the increased brand presence on social media, where every consumer and the potential consumer could be an influencer.
In a nutshell..
With time, as businesses are stabilising and looking to grow, new strategies would have to be created and the existing ones redefined to keep up with the dynamic the landscape of disruption, and consequently, evolution. Correct narrative, impactful messaging and leveraging technology to communicate through relevant mediums, would definitely go a long way in ensuring business continuity, that is all-pervasive of SWOT, as well as position the brand as a socially responsible member!
Authored Article by Gaurav Patra, Founder, Value360 Communications.