In a world brimming with constant change and uncertainty, the rules of corporate communication are undergoing a profound transformation. During her insightful keynote address, Rebecca Wilson, EVP – International at WE Communications, unveiled a fresh perspective on the evolving dynamics of corporate work. With the compelling theme, “It’s Personal – The New Rules of Corporate Work,” Rebecca Wilson examined the pressing need for brands to align with the personal, urgent, and real concerns of today’s individuals.
A Paradigm of Urgency
Today, we are grappling with a myriad of existential threats – like a precarious global economy, soaring inflation, the dire impacts of climate change, and the looming uncertainties of an AI-powered future. These challenges are prompting people to instinctively reach for the metaphorical oxygen mask to safeguard their survival. In response to these mounting crises, our needs have become more immediate and personal – intensifying the urgency of addressing them.
Expectations & Commitments: The Gap
Rebecca Wilson pointed out a critical gap in the corporate world. While brands increasingly feel the pressure to be part of the solution in these tumultuous times, many remain steadfastly focused on larger, longer-term commitments. In contrast, the anxieties of most individuals are immediate, personal and unrelenting. This ‘disconnect’, characterized by the dissonance between the immediate needs of people and the topics companies predominantly discuss, signifies a rapidly changing communications landscape. To navigate this new terrain, brands require a revised rule book.
Unveiling Global Insights
To shed light on these evolving dynamics, Rebecca Wilson introduced the results of their annual Brands in Motion research, conducted on a global scale. The comprehensive survey encompassed fifteen thousand participants across seven countries, including Australia, Germany, India, Singapore, South Africa, and the USA.
Pivotal Concerns & Expectations
One of the most striking findings of the research is that the anxieties of individuals are increasingly focusing on core concerns. Issues such as the cost of living, sustainability, employee welfare, and artificial intelligence have ascended to the forefront of their worries. These matters are causing high levels of anxiety across various demographics and markets, as more people prioritize their immediate needs.
Growing Expectations from Brands
In the face of these escalating concerns, people are looking to brands, along with the government and media – to provide stability in an increasingly volatile environment. The role of brands in society is expanding, and individuals expect companies to be responsive to their immediate needs.
The Impact on Corporate Reputation
In the midst of such volatility, here’s a reality check. A brand’s management of its corporate reputation can be the make or break factor. Traditional communication approaches and long-standing corporate reputation strategies must evolve to align with these new expectations. Brands that fail to adapt risk appearing tone-deaf and out of touch – potentially losing both customers and employees.
Adapting to the New Rules of Reputation
The future of corporate communication is upon us, and brands must adapt to the new rules of reputation. So, what has their research uncovered? One notable revelation is the increasing presence of “purpose cynics.” To elaborate, this group believes that brands should not be involved in societal issues and suspects that brands with a societal stance are primarily motivated by profit. This skepticism has grown in recent years.
Opening Up An Opportunity for Greater Transparency
To counteract the surge in cynicism from various stakeholders, transparency emerges as a powerful antidote. More than half of the survey respondents expressed a desire for increased brand communication, during times of uncertainty. Approximately three-quarters of participants concurred that brands should be transparent when communicating their actions in response to emerging societal issues. Transparency not only applies to performance and purpose but extends to how employees are treated within the organization.
The Glassdoor Effect
The change in norms around discussing issues like pay and benefits reflects the “Glassdoor effect,” where social media, crowd-sourced rating sites, and evolving cultural norms have driven an increased focus on employer-employee relationships. Transparency in this regard is especially critical, specially as how employees are treated is now intricately tied to a brand’s corporate character.
Consumers today are demanding that companies take a stance on pressing issues -such as the cost of living and the climate crisis. Simultaneously, they still expect brands to address social issues like diversity, equity, and inclusion, gender equality, and human rights. This dual expectation sets a high standard for brands, which are now being held accountable for a growing list of purpose-related expectations.
Four New Rules for Brands in 2023
In light of these shifting dynamics, Rebecca Wilson uncovered four new rules that brands must adopt in 2023 to safeguard their reputation and success:
- Prioritize Personal and Immediate Concerns: Brands must focus on addressing the personal and immediate concerns of individuals, particularly those related to the cost of living and sustainability. These concerns should be addressed authentically to foster a stronger connection with consumers.
- Transparency Is Key: Transparency is a powerful tool in winning over skeptical stakeholders. CEOs being transparent about their progress in achieving commitments, especially in areas like reducing carbon footprints and employee well-being, can help build trust.
- Elevate Employer Reputation: A brand’s reputation as an employer is now inextricably linked to its corporate reputation. How a company treats its employees significantly influences brand loyalty and purchasing decisions. Brands must actively communicate their employee-centric initiatives.
- Maintain a Strong Stance on Social Issues: Even as immediate concerns like the cost of living gain prominence, consumers still expect brands to continue addressing social issues. Brands, particularly in APAC, are making substantial strides in addressing and actively communicating their actions on these issues.
To conclude, the corporate communication landscape is evolving rapidly, and brands must adapt to remain relevant and trustworthy. The key lies in prioritizing personal and immediate concerns, embracing transparency, recognizing the vital connection between employer and corporate reputation, and maintaining a steadfast stance on social issues. By adhering to these new rules, brands can navigate the complexities of a rapidly changing world and ensure their long-term success. As Rebecca Wilson aptly concluded, “Make it brave. Make it real. Make it personal.” Indeed, the new rules of corporate communication are inherently personal!
In a Fireside Chat with Usha Iyer, Director, Corporate Communications, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories she highlighted the stress on social impact has increased today. So, what constitutes Corporate Reputation? It is a sum of so many things, noted Rebecca. It’s at the heart of organizational culture. It can have incredible power if used well; on the other side, it can be the downfall for an organization!
What are some misconceptions about Corporate Reputation? It’s the perception ‘I can control it all. And there is the need for transparency which came up through our research, she noted.
Customize your approach, Usha Iyer stated and asked – Is there a difference in terms of brands or companies in India? What’s interesting is that India is very advanced as far as social impact goes, was Rebecca’s strong belief.
When wondering whether more companies are opening up, Rebecca’s honest answer was – “I am seeing an ‘openness’ but they wary. It’s a tough position to be in”.
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