The Communicators’ Assembly Point 8: Communications by Unicorns

Unicorns are now orchestrating new stories in India’s startup line-up. And, it clearly points to the fact that India’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is gathering force and setting new inroads into the business universe. 

Startups or “unicorn” enterprises have been rewriting headlines. And conversations flit around how important it is to attract investors. When you’re building your startup brand, shaping the narrative with a clear communications plan lets you build your circle of influence. How do most successful unicorn companies today, leverage their communications strategies – to help maximise their valuation?  

The focus of the discussion was on ‘Communications by Unicorns’ at the 8th edition of The Communicators’ Assembly Point, where communication leaders from this sector shared their views on Navigating Reputation in the Post COVID era. Kicking off the interaction was Arpit Garg, Vice President, Adfactors PR, who was the moderator. The participants were – Amrit Anand, Sr. Manager & Lead – Public Relations – ‎Paytm Payments Bank; Meghana Bangalore, Communications Lead at Udaan; Prasidha Menon, Global Head of Communications at OYO and Sunil Param, Sr. Manager – Communications at Pine Labs.

Fascinating world of startups

The world of startups is indeed, fascinating, dynamic, constantly changing and disruptive, but how does the communication toolkit for unicorns look any different, questioned Arpit.  

The basics of communication hasn’t changed said Amrit. Several companies started adapting to change. The present normal is a “state of fuzziness” as we are communicating in bits and pieces, he added. We still don’t have enough information about COVID-19 to arrive at any conclusion. Therefore, communication strategy is evolving and new developments are happening every day. And “this is the best time for us to become better communicators”. While Meghana was firm that we have moved on and it’s important in these unprecedented times, to restore confidence and give an assurance of quality and well being. In messaging, our craft has to be consistently aware that we might be hit again! We need to “reimagine”. It’s more agile marketing now, and we need to “think on the go”. The consumer will not be loyal to a particular brand, but the values & trust of a brand will matter in the post COVID era. “We now have a new set of celebrities – our frontline workers and housekeeping staff are the new celebrities”, pointed out Meghana,

Technology in communication 

What is the role of technology in communications? The shift into the digital, which is the new normal, has been fast. We need to adapt quickly to the changing world. The elevator pitch also needs to be refined, felt Sunil as we have not lost the plot. As a communication team any announcement is to be done across the length and breadth of the country, like they did when they launched an app recently. We alternated our messaging to talk more about tools and technology during lockdown; and we should adapt to continuous changes where communication plays a huge part.

In the sector that OYO belongs to, “we talk of zero-touch hospitality now,” said Prasidha, for it’s time to rethink now how the company wants to go forward, and what innovations to adopt – for customer expectations have changed drastically. It’s a question of how to build an ecosystem, where both we and the customer can survive. There is a lot of change in the communication (the narrative itself), and what is upfront is how do we remain relevant, empathetic and honest. A lot has changed, and technology has played a huge role, she said. 

Developing effective communication strategies to stay relevant

In these times, what about developing an effective communication strategy for millennials and employees? The time calls for helping employees understand the bigger picture and show them how they are an integral part of solving the problem, and millennials love solving complex problems, shared Prasidha. 

What would one recommend for communicators to stay relevant? The ingenuity with which communicators have responded is what’s needed to stay relevant was Sunil’s strong belief. “Be agile and sincere in communication and it can help us tide through any eventuality”. 

Brands have to be ‘woke’ brands and they have to take a stand. There’s no comfort sitting on the fence, and brands have to connect. Brands have started supporting social issues like putting a profile picture with black spot to support #blacklivesmatter, Sunil pointed out. “Today, reputation is the key, how we safeguard and build it, is in our hands”. 

Brands need to find a balance between showing their vulnerable side and their authoritative side, felt Sunil. Brands stand for a purpose, and if they do not walk the talk, there is a problem, observed Prasidha and added that for the business itself, as communicators, we can create opportunities. “We need to be the voice of reason to identify these opportunities but we need to act in a responsible way!” 

Any new avenues to communicate?

With the lines of communications disrupted, are there any new avenues opening up, to reach out to the masses? 

The entire economy is at stake currently, and the first strategy for every organisation is to put every communication in the right perspective. The role of communicators has definitely evolved, observed Amrit. Trends have been identified – like millennials still prefer communication in the regional language, but all of them have jumped on the digital bandwagon. Being relevant is very important. As far as OYO was concerned as a company, it has been very comprehensive in terms of communication. We took some tough decisions, disclosed Prasidha. 

Will the communication of brands have a role to play from the business recovery point of view in 2021? Of course, it will add up to the trust the brand has built, said Meghana. Communication needs to adapt to the needs of the day, and not remain as a set template, for we need to be agile and adapt accordingly, was Sunil’s way out. 

Disrupted media is the new reality 

With disrupted media, where print is not in circulation, how do we select media for brands? According to Prasidha, two things have become important – traditional media, and self publishing has become very critical and it’s important to choose the right platform now. For OYO, it’s more about self publishing and usage of social media platforms for effective communication. 

How do brands ensure social messages are not an attempt to get on to the bandwagon? It has to be a well-thought out process, so that the campaigns can move in the right direction, organically, according to Prasidha. And, for the brand to look genuine, you need to build the right social message and share the real situation as Meghana shared, for they did not create anything promotional around their brand. 

Reliability & adaptability 

Reliability and adaptability stood out for brands during the pandemic. It may not have immediate business outcome, but will certainly have an impact on the brand reputation. Expressing the fact she is happy to work with a management which understands reputation and business priority, Prasidha explained that “reputation and business priorities need to make a handshake somewhere”. In start-ups the respect for communication professionals and how they can impact the business happens faster, she felt. 

How do you strike a balance between authority and vulnerability? It’s better to keep quiet, was Sunil’s final word. 

What values should market leaders radiate?   

As a market leader, a brand needs to inspire the people around, so that it steers the company to success. What values should market leaders radiate, to lead by example? There were different views that emerged.  

Amrit: Trust is most important. Be honest.

Meghana: Engage, adapt & build from experience.

Sunil: Be firmly honest & accurate (it’s a golden phase for communication now – for both internal & external stakeholders!). 

Prasidha: Timely, relevant, honest communication. 

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Shree Lahiri on EmailShree Lahiri on LinkedinShree Lahiri on Twitter
Shree Lahiri
Shree is the Senior Editor at Reputation Today and hopes to move from one focus area to another in the editions that will be released this year. Having worked in Corporate Communications teams, she has experience of advertising, public relations, investor and employee communications, after which she moved to the other side – journalism. She enjoys writing and believes the power of the pen is indeed mighty. Covering the entertainment beat and the media business, she has been involved in a wide range of activities that have thrown open storytelling opportunities.

She can be reached at: @shree_la on twitter

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