There was a time when a great product experience was the only thing consumers really expected from a company. However, over the past few years, consumers have been demonstrating an increased awareness for what companies are doing and saying, and how they’re involving themselves in societal issues. The current environment has accelerated this, putting brands and their leaders under a microscope.
So much of a company is now exposed to the public—from how they respond to the pandemic and racial injustice to who they donate campaign funds to—nothing is behind closed doors anymore. Consumers vote with their wallets, meaning they purchase from brands that align with their values. What we’ve been seeing over the past few months is a dramatic shift toward increased transparency and accountability, with brands becoming more vocal about their values and contribution to both cultural and societal issues.
In this blog, we’ll be exploring the impact COVID-19 has had on communications, and the changes we can expect moving forward.
In light of recent events, consumers have increased the pressure on companies to make statements and companies have increased their willingness to be vulnerable. For example, a lot of companies will preface their statements with, “We don’t have the perfect answer” or “We don’t know the right way to respond.” Brands aren’t painting an idyllic version of themselves anymore, they’re exposing a bit of their humanity and admitting they may not have all the right answers, but they’re trying—and that shows an increased vulnerability. They’re embracing the complexity of the situation and this kind of response has been well-received by their audiences.
Trust is a key factor to all communications today. Consumers have to decipher and process an incredible amount of information every day to figure out what has meaning for them and what is truthful. As communicators, it’s our job to communicate in ways that are more impactful than just driving our client’s narrative. We need to think about how we lend our voice to the conversation in a way that’s congruent with the brand, and that’s aligned with what our consumers expect to hear from us.
We do this by making sure our communications stay true to our client’s values. We think about ways our clients can enter the societal conversation in a way that’s authentic and humble, finding a way for them to contribute with respect and understanding, because that’s what is expected of them right now. The companies and brands that have executed this well are prepared for these moments. It doesn’t matter how big the moment is or how heavy the expectations are from consumers, if you have your true north already, you can very quickly develop your messaging based on what you stand for.
What do consumers expect you to be doing? How do they expect you to show up? If you don’t know, ask. Consumers will tell you. It would be a wasted opportunity to not gather that information and then use that feedback to catapult you into the post-COVID era.
Finding the Balance
Something that has been incredibly important during this sensitive time has been finding the balance between saying too much or not enough. As communications professionals, this discomfort is difficult to bear.
There’s a risk in saying nothing and there’s a risk in saying something, but overall our clients are being cornered into re-evaluating their brand values and ensuring that their actions align with them. No statement is a statement. Brands have a platform so not using it to say something speaks volumes. But, at the same time saying something comes with its own risks, such as not having a brand history that supports what you’re saying, not sounding authentic, etc. You have to be willing to take a risk and know that you might receive some backlash, but you can mitigate this by having really good audience insights and social listening.
COVID-19 has been an acceleration of a lot of things that we saw coming. To remain authentic and build trust among their audience, brands need to have congruence in terms of their output. From the C-suite, to the marketing campaigns and so on, everyone needs to have an authentic voice coming from the brand.
If you need help developing or finding your company’s voice, contact us.