The novel coronavirus or COVID-19 has disrupted our lives and with that there has been a lot of speculation about the conversations taking place around how brands are communicating about the new normal with their audiences. Keeping this in mind, The School of Communication and Reputation (SCoRe) has been hosting a series of webinars every week called #SCoReTalk, which have been supported by Reputation Today. On 20th May, 2020 SCoRe was back with the 5th edition of SCoReTalk with its first ever International Panel and the theme “Brands Across Geographies Preparing for Beyond the Lockdown”. The discussion was moderated by Tuhina Pandey, Communication Leader, India & South Asia, IBM and the panel consisted of accomplished members of the public relations community, namely, Douglas Dew, Regional MD, Corporate & Public Affairs, APAC, BCW, Esty Pujadas, Partner & President, Ketchum International, Margaret Key, CEO, Asia, Middle East & Africa, MSL and Tarun Deo, MD, Singapore & Southeast Asia, Golin.
The main focus of the discussion was what the playbook for brands would be as they prepare and transit into a post-lockdown scenario. Keeping this in mind, Douglas Dew mentioned how breaking the status quo and breaking habits has been highlighted during the pandemic. He also introduced the discussion on catapulting into a digital existence. He put forth that there have been so many silver linings and positives of this otherwise difficult situation, this statement gave a positive head-start to the discussion.
He further went on to mention how our role as communication and public affairs counselors has become more important now. This is the time to help clients understand the macro trends that are re-shaping the world, for example, understanding the geo-political dimension, and the impacts of nationalism and populism and the rejection of globalisation. There is a need to navigate Asia’s rise as people want to know about the shift of power from West to East which has been impacted by COVID-19. Hence, for the next ten years, for many of us the story is going to be about navigating Asia’s rise and the geo-political consequences and opportunities of that.
Taking the discussion forward Esty Pujadas talked about the shift in consumer behaviour, she talked about how audiences are resetting their priorities now. She mentioned three points here which were:
- Greater appreciations for macro issues like the environment and togetherness as people are getting closer through the virtual world by communicating with one another.
- The appreciation for the frontline workers has been highlighted during the pandemic.
- There has also been persistence in the price sensitivity, value has become paramount to our decision making and for brands it is about connecting with this evolving mindset, they need to connect to the larger purpose.
She then mentioned about the thirst for information during the pandemic, but at the same time the media is going through a shift. Hence, it will be important for them to re-imagine, re-invent and re-define themselves. Companies and media need to engage people with positive transparency as the audiences do not want diluted bad news but they want information on how to get out of this. The use of digital then becomes important as people want the information instantaneously.
Margaret Key then spoke about how there is a new sense of how we live together in this world as it has been three weeks since people in Korea have started going to work again. Everything from the client perspective is moving digitally, very quickly and e-commerce businesses are rising for small and medium sized businesses. The pandemic has further accelerated digitalisation. From the tech standpoint it now maybe the golden opportunity to bridge that digital divide.
She further spoke about how the trust in the Korean government is at its highest now as the communication is now happening top-down and it may be interesting to see how that will translate for businesses. The Korean population is now glued to the earned traditional media; therefore, there has been an increased trust in earned media.
Tarun Deo talked about his observation on the impact of COVID-19 which is that it is clearly a seminal event in our lives with everyone going through some form of isolation. The striking thing about this event for him is that the impact of the seminal event has been unequal. He spoke about the inequality in how businesses have had to deal with it; certain industries have been affected more than others. Keeping digitalisation in mind, he said that the option to go digital in some regions is a viable one but there are several parts of the world where that option is unavailable.
He went on to mention that depending on the local environment and expertise, there is a need to dial up or down an advice for clients by answering a few questions which could include who are the celebrities and what is the value proposition. Nevertheless, it is a good time for communication professionals.
One major aspect that was spoken of during the discussion was co-branding and about how governments are coming together during this pandemic. Shared agenda and coalition has been engineered successfully. Brands and governments instead of competing have been partnering. However, there is a need for the governments to find a balance between safety and economy by calling out the right experts.
In conclusion, the panellists shared the quintessentials of a brand playbook for the times to come were:
- Purpose-driven communication
- Data-driven communication
- Trust- and value-driven communication
Brands will have to sell less and show more, a push strategy will not work now. Another important takeaway was that government relations are here to stay and lastly, the audiences need to be kept at the core as their needs matter the most. However, what we need to keep in mind is that the over-arching trend now is that all communication needs to happen through a COVID-19 prism, as it is here to stay.
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