The year 2021 began on a high, with individuals and companies having high hopes that the new year will turn the tide in their favour, especially after the forgettable 2020 that was marred by the pandemic. Companies have been revisiting their budgets and rolling back salary cuts. The overall sentiment is optimistic and more so with the vaccines coming in. The world believes that the worst is behind us.
However, it won’t be that easy. 2020 managed to create a global crisis, that cut across countries and cultures. It impacted one and all – whether someone was in a developed country or a third world country. It changed the way we live our lives and go about running businesses. As billions experienced fear, anxiety, anger and other hardships, there was no one who was spared. Also, a large number of businesses like small setups, hospitality companies, travel and tourism etc. came to a virtual standstill.
Communication in 2020
Communication professionals had a tough year in 2020 with unpredictability being the norm. From crisis communications around layoffs, business losses etc., to defining purpose-driven campaigns, working on brand messaging that was hard-hitting, as well as relaunching brands (with the human angle at the core), there was never a dull moment for the communications industry.
Communication professionals were expected to maintain a fine balance between brand/ product messaging and human connect. While it was important to push content around the product, it was equally important to keep the customer reassured. This was once in a century kind of event and hence, there was no defined playbook to follow. Communicators had no option but to think on their foot and keep evolving their approach based on the response from the target audience.
2020 saw communication being reinvented- with brands thanking the frontline workers, communicating the need to stay safe in the times of the pandemic and supporting communities. The year saw new channels emerging (digital became extremely important as print lost out), the leaders leading from the front and communicating more often with their target audience, and brands focussing on communication that could touch each and every possible customer.
In the process, communication was seen as an extremely important lever for businesses and gained the much-awaited importance, and in some cases, a seat on the decision-making table.
2021 and beyond
While we have bid adieu to the year 2020, there is a lot of rebuilding that needs to be done. 2021 will be all about cementing the relationship, rebuilding businesses, connecting better with the customers and talking about the brand’s larger purpose.
Brands need to understand that customers will evaluate them on multiple parameters, beyond the quality of their product or the health of their business. The year 2021 will see customers preferring to opt for brands that have a human connect, a larger brand purpose and are committed to the society at large- irrespective of the industry that they may belong to.
A cohesive narrative that plays well across channels is very yesterday and hence, will no longer work in the current scenario. Communication will need to be customized to cater to a specific audience or in line with the specific channel.
The year 2021 will see communication strategies led by the brand purpose and values. Here are some of the key ingredients:
- Values are the key: Values will be the essence of what a brand does. They won’t be just a tick box for the organisation or a section on the website. Instead, 2021 will see brands actively leveraging on values to share their perspective, or connect with their customers. Values will lead the human side of conversations for brands
- Sustainability cannot be something you do sometimes: Sustainability will not be about a vanity piece of information for the brand to ride on once every six months. It will become the core part of any business in 2021- in how brands build, deploy or sell their service. Organizations have realized that a long-term action plan is imperative for their success and hence, sustainability will move from ‘good to have’ to ‘key element’ in business strategy
- Building relationships: 2020 saw brands investing heavily on connecting with customers and building a relationship of sorts. 2021 will be all about building more engaging relationships with customers and driving value-based conversations with all stakeholders (internal as well as external). Brands will not invest for short term gains like a sudden surge in social sentiment or visibility, or that cover story in a leading publication. Instead, they will define strategies with the long term goal of building an engaged customer base and a strong community
- Employees to be aligned with the brand’s long term vision and values: It is important to have a clear identification of a brand’s values. However, it is equally important to ensure that the brand’s key ambassadors i.e. their employees are in sync with the brand’s long term vision and values. The employees should also be aware of the fact that they play a critical role in communicating/ delivering the vision and values. This will help create a positive brand sentiment and ensure customer delight. There are numerous examples of this across industries-from restaurants that make you feel special because they serve an experience and not just a meal to banks and financial institutions that help businesses grow or power individuals to improve their lives, as they lend money
- Culture that is beyond high-performance: Mostly organizations focus on building a high-performance culture where the focus is on delivering your best. 2020 made organizations realize that the success of a business is a function of how we work and also the kind of people we attract. 2021 will see organisations focus on building a culture around purpose and trust. Also, companies will focus a lot more on collaboration and overall well-being.
To sum it up, 2021 will be all about building on from where we left in 2020. Communications has the opportunity to become an important function across organizations. Communicators should focus on not only doing the expected in terms of communication and connecting with stakeholders but also focussing a lot more on long-term brand purpose and leveraging values with the objective of crafting a high-impact brand story. Communicators will don numerous hats including media relations, employee engagement, driving public opinion, public policy and ensuring engaging customer communication.
2021 could be the defining year for a new era in communications. Let’s see how it pans out.
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