Brand communications has undergone a sea of change over the last few years, primarily driven by the change in consumer behaviour and the way the consumer consumes content. Today, smartphones have become an intrinsic part of consumers’ lives who are spending much more time on their phones, surfing across websites and interacting on social media platforms. This has, in turn, led brands to revisit their communications strategy and adopt an ‘always on’ strategy. Also, with consumers being more vocal about their experiences and what they feel about brands, companies have been left with no option but to actively listen and proactively respond to customer issues.
The year 2020
The pandemic in 2020 changed the ways of life. It caused what is called the huge global reset in the way businesses operate and individuals go about leading their daily lives. Businesses stepped back to revisit their strategies and define roadmap to ensure business continuity and also maintain customer retention.
It also forced brands to revisit their marketing, communications and PR strategy. Organisations that did not believe much in digital or were delaying the move had no other option but to accelerate the shift. The brand purpose became paramount as customers gave a thumbs down to marketing gimmicks and pure-play sales pitches. Brands also realised that it is important more than ever to communicate with their customers proactively. PR emerged as an extremely important tool that cannot be overlooked or given a step-motherly treatment.
As we gear up for new challenges in the year 2021, here are a few trends that are expected to rule the charts for PR and brand communications, across businesses.
Communication with a purpose
This has become quintessential for all brands, irrespective of the scale of their business or the community they operate in. 2020 made brands realise the value of brand reputation and started putting their energies behind it. With Covid 19 impacting millions, customer behaviour saw a paradigm shift as customers decided to prefer brands with a clear purpose that they could relate to.
Hence, 2021 will be about brands defining or redefining their purpose, mission and values. Also, the year will see companies focussing more on CSR initiatives. Communication will be more humanised and employees will act as the ‘hero’ for brand communication. The focus on purpose is expected to continue for the coming years and is expected to find a key place across marketing and communication campaigns.
Content marketing will be important
A few years back, content marketing was an inconsequential approach, only leveraged by conventional brands with deep pockets and a global customer base. However, with more and more customers moving online and spending time on social media platforms, the year 2021 will witness an increased focus on curating and creating content that can help connect with prospective customers as well as engage the existing ones. The year will see increased focus on a robust content strategy in line with the brand purpose. Also, companies will leverage various forms of content- including text, creatives, videos as well as audio content to attract and engage customers. Brands will integrate storytelling with video content and leverage the same across platforms/ target audience like website, blog, social media channels, journalists, influencers, analysts etc.
Virtual events are okay
Prior to the pandemic, no one would have visualised that the biggest of business events, like CES could be organised online and one could be attending them from the comfort of his home. The year 2020 made it possible for the world to believe that virtual events are possible and doable. The offline events gave way to virtual events, webinars and online conferences.
While we do see the vaccines coming in, but there are still some months to go when it comes to doing offline events. In 2021, we will see that brands will continue to opt for online events, due to the safety as well as the cost advantage. The focus will move to ensuring that the brands can ensure such events are captivating and engaging enough.
From a media standpoint, virtual press briefing and media launches have made their mark in the second half of 2020, when businesses restarted operations. While it seemed impossible to get the required attendance or ROI from a virtual press conference, the same is now seen as a great alternate by brands. Also, communication professionals will increasingly leverage webinars as well as podcasts to reach out to a wider set of audience.
2021 and beyond will not only be about getting the right messages across. Communicators will have to focus on building the impact narrative for the brand, craft compelling stories and humanise content so as to make it more engaging for the customers. Brands need to stay away from pure-play sales pitch and craft smart communication that help put the message across.
Lending a human voice
2020 was a life-changing year in a way that the pandemic impacted one and all, across locations and cultures. It acted as a leveller of sorts. It also led to humanising content. The year 2021 will see more and more brands leveraging their leadership and employees to connect with their existing and prospective customers. Companies will churn out content that can be reusable and redistributed across channels. The year will also witness increasing use of new mediums like videos, podcasts etc.
Regional will be a bounce back
While the year 2020 was all about digital and print media shutting shop, I am of the firm belief that regional media as well as print media will see a resurgence of sorts. While a large number of consumers are moving to digital, India still prefers the print media (and more so in the tier-3, 4 and beyond) and hence, we will see existing media houses restarting regional publications or new regional media rolling out.
With work from home continuing to be an important part of our lives for atleast the first half of the year, companies will focus more on keeping their employees engaged. The year 2021 will belong to effective communication, teamwork and transparency. Organisations will focus a lot more on appreciating the good work. The managers will have no option but to be more considerate and human about work-life balance. Organisations will also focus on a more structured employee communication framework to drive higher employee engagement. Brands may also look at launching an employee communication app to connect better with employees. Monthly townhalls may be supplemented with weekly video messages of periodic podcasts to ensure employees are aligned to the brand’s overall vision and goals.
To conclude, 2021 will be a year of bounce back and rebuilding for brands across a range of communities. It will also be about agility and proactive communications, so as to ensure better consumer engagement. Brand will have to take this as an opportunity to build a credible brand- driven by sustainability, trust and digital. It is the leadership across organisations who will need to lead by example. The future belongs to brands that build a strong foundation for themselves by leveraging the right PR and brand communication channels.
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