Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – these four elements form what is known as the VUCA world. This phrase has found a new meaning with the onset of COVID as it somewhat captures the pulse of the emerging world, which is tormented especially by the uncertainty and volatility. These are not normal times, these are times when we are re calibrated towards survival, so building a brand becomes a more challenging during these times.
In uncertain times, the only tool that can be effective towards establishing trust of a brand, which is the cornerstone for building a brand, is strategic communication. So with this arsenal of strategic communication a leader needs to build the brand, build the trust, with the customers and key stakeholders in these COVID times.
Stratcomms – then and now
Every society, every civilisation, every race, devised their own way to strategically communicate to its people towards building their brands — it can be about achievements, about the divine right to lead, as well as claims of religious authority of the king to lead the people. A few examples of strategic propaganda are a clay tablet found in ancient Iraq promoting more advanced agricultural techniques or the pyramids, obelisks and statues by Babylonian, Egyptian and Persian leaders.
So as we can see, historically, strategic communication has been used to drive key agenda, including growth and brand building. Things have not changed in today’s emerging VUCA world, and all it takes is to incorporate a strategy to transform strategic communication into a growth driver and a brand builder.
Steps for using stratcomms towards brand building
As it is explained in my book “How to Communicate Strategically in Corporate World”, the first step towards strategizing is to do a SWOT analysis wherein you identify organisational strength, weakness, opportunities and threats that are needed to build its brand and drive growth. And then you do a similar analysis for strategic communications. Then comes the key role of aligning the two. For communication to play a strategic role in building a brand it is important that communication aides the company in achieving the strategic objectives utilising the strengths and opportunities available, leveraging on this alignment.
For a leader, the next step towards building brand and thus driving growth is to identify the target customer and cluster them as per their attributes.
For example, a client can be divided into two segments such as existing and potential. Then you have other stakeholders such as internal customers or employees, promoters and partners. Once the key stakeholders are identified then a leader needs to further drill down and identify how to reach key decision makers in each of these segments so that the brand attributes can be shared. This is a key step towards laying the foundation of brand building.
The target audience classification needs to be very exhaustive as in today’s emerging VUCA world, only targeted and customised communication work.
The identification of key clients needs to have an alignment with the business needs of the organisation so that it can achieve its strategic objective of building the brand.
What’s the narrative
Once a leader has clarity till the last level of communication it is time to identify the content wherein the leader will communicate the brand attributes. Relevance as well as packaging of content holds the key to engagement of a key stakeholder.
The steps become easy once a leader puts himself or herself in the shoes the stakeholder. For example, a CXO will not like to see a pitch document, he/she will be more interested in very crisp one or two pager knowledge pieces on business trends. This will help you become relevant to the CXOs. Similarly, when handling media you have to be careful of the relevance of news that you want them to publish which will help build the brand. The news needs to have a wider appeal to the readers of the publication. While it may be the cover story of your internal magazine, the same news may not be relevant at all to an editor.
In some cases a leader may have to share the same news across multiple target audience but then the same news needs to be packaged accordingly. The internal magazine cover story may be reduced to a line in CXO communication.
Therefore, both packaging and content matter while sharing the brand story.
Strategy remains the key
In brand building, the name of the game is strategic alignment to the organisational goals. Every communication – media, branding, corporate, financial, internal, social media, etc. – needs to have the objective of enhancing the business of the organisation and building the brand. Every communication needs to have a strategic alignment with the overall brand story. It is very important for a leader to not be confined to a silo and always keep an eye on the big picture. The thinking needs to move from tactical to strategic.
The objective of a leader has to be to convert communications into a growth driver for the organisation.
The need of the hour is adaptive strategy. In this VUCA world where uncertainty is playing havoc every strategy needs to be revisited. This strategy that is characterised by adaptive planning, early adoption, evolutionary development, continuous improvement and a rapid and flexible response to change. Therefore communication, especially leadership and brand needs to adaptive and evolutionary.
On Stratcomms during COVID Crisis
These are the COVID times that has hit the economy real hard. So this is the time of crisis and thus crisis takes centre-stage.
There are two types of crisis – one where the organisation is the only one impacted, let’s call it traditional, and the other where the industry or overall economy is impacted, just like the Covid times. The latter is an opportunity and not a crisis.
Let me elaborate.
There is no denying these are hard times. Economic growth has taken a hit, industries across sectors are making losses, some are even shutting down, people are losing jobs and livelihoods. Wherever you look there is negative news. So now even if a company is not cutting down on the workforce, it makes a good story. Even if a company is not cutting salaries, it makes a good story. And if an organisation is managing to grow and give bonus to its employees, it will make a great story. In good times these stories are in abundance and so lost in the crowd. Everyone has become fatigued with negativity all around and so they want to hear something good in the air.
So, this is the best time to build the brand.
The only caution that a leader has to maintain is – there needs to be a lot of sensitivity and empathy in the way the news is communicated. It is critical to be aware of the ecosystem and placing a positive story sensitively in a negative environment is an art that leaders have to master.
Stratcomms is playing a key role in the growth of an organisation via building its brand. The need is alignment of overall strategic objective of the organisation with the stratcomms objective. This alignment will boost the growth of an organisation via building its brand, especially during these Covid times. The need is of survival and stratcomms can provide that support by sending out the right message to the key stakholders – promoters, investors, internal as well as external stakeholders, and existing and potential clients. The brand building will build an ecosystem wherein the organisational growth can be achieved.
In these tough times every bit of positive brand-building story, which usually gets lost in a crowded news space, gets prominence in media. So leaders need to make the best use of such crisis using the right mix of empathy and sensitivity.
Never let a crisis go waste…build your brand!
The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.