January has long been known as the time for creating new plans and pushing for change in our personal lives. The same goes for our professional lives, as we set new priorities by embarking on new projects as much as driving forward older ones.
2022 is set to be a unique year in the comms world, as after two years of riding the wave of the pandemic, we are finally starting to see light at the end of what has been at times an incredibly dark tunnel. Although, that light is not the ‘normal’ pace of business as we experienced it pre-2020, nor should it be. We should celebrate the developments that have come out of this difficult period, taking what we have learned from a moment of crisis to put our best foot forward for our campaigns in 2022.
Some things to consider in your comms planning.
Investing in sustainable climate action
As consumers and investors alike increasingly value strong action when it comes to the environment, brands can no longer afford to announce a climate target and call it a day. Businesses are being scrutinised more than ever for their action on climate change and must therefore ensure that their operations are consistent with what is being communicated externally.
To put it simply, a climate-centric PR campaign will not work unless it’s authentic. However optimistic your external communications, if these are not backed up by a firm commitment which can be measured regularly and fairly, external stakeholders will easily see through the mirage. Today’s consumers and investors are used to seeing companies take misguided, vague climate action, and demand more as a result. Businesses that have little-to-no experience in this area should see this period of mounting pressure as an opportunity to possibly seek expert counsel from consultants, start building a narrative that is relevant to their business and back up their decisions with concrete action.
Navigating the waves of social media regulation
Social media has progressively become a core part of any good communication strategy, but as its use becomes more widespread, so does its regulation. Facebook whistle-blower Frances Haugen’s testimony before the US senate in 2021 shed light on the damage that has been caused by the social media giant to its users, leading to legislation such as the Online Safety Bill in the UK being strongly considered by lawmakers.
The bill mandates that social media platforms have a duty of care towards their users in protecting them against potentially damaging content, which is absolutely a step in the right direction when it comes to more responsible social media usage. Companies must ensure that they keep their finger on the pulse when it comes to regulatory changes, as increased legal scrutiny often results in new user guidelines. Businesses not only need to ensure that social media as a communications channel is integrated into their overall communications strategy, but also need to comply with new guidelines.
Maintaining synergy through employee comms
Hybrid working continues to be favoured by the vast majority of businesses, having taken on board the benefits of a blended model over the past two years. Most companies are putting trust in their employees to choose the approach which works best for them, whether that be coming into the office every day, or on a less regular basis. As a result, teams are often working with a mix of colleagues dialling in virtually, and physically present in the office.
Hybrid working allows staff to fit their work around their lifestyle more than ever before, which can lead to increased productivity and certainly boosts employee wellbeing. But, at the same time, it can naturally lead to a fracturing of teams. Any divide is certainly not the fault of the business, nor the individual staff involved, but rather a natural progression brought on by inconsistent face-to-face contact. But the response is not necessarily to revert to mandated physical working, which is not always possible these days. Companies must instead focus on improving their internal comms strategies, ensuring that messaging is clear, and any change is regularly and effectively communicated to staff. This will be more important than ever in 2022, as hybrid working is solidified as part of our reality, and no longer is acting as a temporary measure implemented during the pandemic.
A New Year is the perfect time to reconsider your comms campaigns and building your brand’s reputation. Want to learn more about how you can shape your greatest asset? Download our guide to reputation management here.
Data floods us with an incredible amount of insight on people and our behaviour. Online retailers, for example, can see age, demographic, how long customers spend on each page, where the mouse hovers, what’s in a person’s basket, what’s abandoned… and so on. But what data like this doesn’t tell you is the why. Of course, you can do surveys and find out what your customers are thinking, but be careful. Is that what they’re really thinking or are they saying something that seems like the right, logical answer?
For instance, when you think of glasses, what’s the most important part? The lenses, to be able to see, right? So, with this logic, lenses should be the determining factor when buying glasses, yet the frames are the big sellers. It’s the frames we care about the most when selecting glasses. Why? The frame is the emotional connection to the glasses, which makes you think things like “do I look more intelligent?”, “do these accentuate my facial features?”, and “I hate glasses, so I want the most subtle ones”.
We have to look beyond what people say. I was reminded the other day of the brilliant Henry Ford quote: “If I had asked what people wanted, they would’ve said faster horses”. And of course, we all know that’s not what Henry Ford gave them, instead it was the first mass-produced automobile in the form of the Ford Model T In this scenario this focus on speed was actually about time gained. The Ford Model T allowed the average person to own an automobile and, as a result, spend more time with friends, family, acquaintances, etc. I mean, just look at the many car adverts out there that show good times with family and experiences. The adverts are rarely ever about the features in the car.
Think gain and maintain
Now, we’re not all trained psychologists, but it’s worth spending some time thinking about how you communicate benefits for your organisation. Whether that’s the benefits to employees, or the benefits to the customer. Often, we find ourselves talking a lot about pragmatic benefits, for example, how this solution or product will enable growth or success. And in some cases, it’s not about communicating a ‘gain’ but communicating about what you ‘maintain’. Take a new learning platform as an example – you may get some whizzy new features, but it also offers your employees a way to stay and grow within the company.
It’s worth looking at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – most of us are very familiar with this – but have it in front of you when you’re thinking of communicating benefits. In the B2B space, you’ll often be looking at the ‘Esteem’ category which includes achievement, respect, confidence, status, and recognition. Of course, it’s important to communicate the impact on an organisation, but to tap into the needs of the human buying the solution, you need to think at an emotional level. Why are they really considering this purchase?
There are also psychological beliefs that you may think you know, but you don’t.
The words seamless, frictionless, easy, intuitive are bandied around a lot. But actually, there are moments where frictionless isn’t the best option. Think about relationships, the more time you put in, the more invested you are. That’s not to say make everything difficult, but there are occasions where it’s important to create a relationship over time, particularly when trust is an important factor to make that sale.
As simple as you may think you’ve made something, it’ll still be open to interpretation. Remember the white and gold dress, or was it blue and black? It should’ve been a simple thing, but our differences in colour perception created huge disagreement. Your brain makes quick decisions, quick judgement calls, and that can often lead to misinterpretation.
When we sell, we think we should just communicate the positive. But that’s not always the right approach. Like a story, something bad may happen before the good, that’s what creates the arc and the intrigue. It’s worth communicating the negatives, along with how you’ve removed these as a brand. The brain is wired to assess for risk, so it’s best to be authentic and transparent. That also creates an honest dialogue, and we all appreciate honesty.
We all have split personalities. We’re ourselves, our avoided self (who we don’t want to be, the days we see all our flaws) and our ideal self. So, you may carefully analyse the personality types you’re communicating to, but bad news, these are personalities that are in constant flux. It means careful positioning, framing and use of language, knowing that it may not hit the spot on the wrong day at the wrong time.
Hopefully this has got you thinking in terms of how you communicate the benefits of your products, services and/or company. Now, although this is psychology at a really basic level, there are organisations out there that can dig a lot deeper and help develop psychological insight. This piece was inspired by a webinar run by InnovationBubble, who are a whole team of psychologists specialising in different areas.
We’ve all been through quite a year with a lot of change. So, ask yourself, how are you relevant now? And are you communicating that in the right way?
It seems like a lifetime ago that we saw a wave of ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ memes sweeping the UK. However, many of the communications from Boris Johnson and the Queen have had a decidedly wartime tone, so it seems fitting to bring them back into the spotlight again.
During the ‘Great Pause’ we’ve ‘Kept Calm’, and now there are mutterings of ‘A Gradual Return’ which won’t be big and won’t be fast. The worst thing that you can do is ‘Carry On’ as you were, and pretend that nothing changed.
Because at the risk of sounding like one of the glib ‘experts’, a lot has changed, and perhaps most importantly, people have changed. On the flip side, change is stressful, and people hate uncertainty, so many communications leaders (and I daresay our PM is included in this group) have been struggling to strike a balance between keeping plans flexible and presenting a stable vision of the future.
So how can (and should) you change your plans and recast your thoughts, being mindful of everything that has happened? It would be wrong of me to offer ‘concrete’ answers, because every single person’s experience will be different, and every organisation has adapted in varying degrees – but at the same time, we’re also conscious that during stressful times, it can be hard to see the big picture, so here are some prompts to help you keep your thinking straight.
Planning from the End
Boris Johnson’s announcement on the 10th of May left a lot of room for manoeuvring, especially if the UK sees a ‘second spike’. However, with the news that some of the technology giants will be working from home until Christmas, it’s fair to say that it’ll be at least Q4 before we see a return to anything resembling what we’d usually call normal.
However, this does give us a firm timeline; marketing and communications staff should plan for a linear return to (a new) normal over this period. Of course, there will be spikes and dips – especially if or when we see another outbreak – but you can plan for that too.
And before you think of what to communicate, it’s important to think of who you’re communicating with. To help keep your thoughts in order, here are a few starters for ten.
Your staff and partners are the single most important group to communicate with, and they will have had a very broad base of experiences during lockdown. From parents caring for children, to new recruits working in small flats, everyone has been managing differently. However, there are a few constants in what they’ll be looking for.
– Clarity: Although government guidance may be less than crystal clear, there’s still time – and a need – to give concise, well-reasoned guidance to staff about working patterns, support during work hours, and an anticipated timeline for any changes. With the furlough scheme potentially extended until September, now is the time to plan how to communicate with staff, as well as making sure that non-furloughed employees understand where they stand, and also feel appreciated.
– Plan from the end: You also need to plan back from the end of the lockdown; as my colleague Charlotte said in her ‘Communicators dealing with Sudden Change’ Playbook, people might not remember what you did, but they’ll remember how you made them feel. Were you inspiring, honest and did you treat them fairly? Or were you indecisive, secretive and sneaky? How will your current communication plans make them feel – and how do you need to plan for this? It’s perfectly acceptable to be firm and fair, but do be realistic: you may need a plan for re-hiring if a number of staff decide to leave, for example.
Customers, Prospects and Partners:
Covid-19 will undoubtedly have affected your customers, whether that’s the general public or other businesses. Unless you’re the likes of Zoom or a hand sanitiser manufacturer, experts like Sir Martin Sorrell have advised that you can’t ‘spend [on advertising] your way out of a recession’. Similarly, a number of pieces of research have suggested that whilst consumers don’t want brands to stop advertising during this time, they do want brands to be more sensitive to their needs – in some cases, switching to advice and wellbeing messages, rather than offers and promotions. With that in mind, it’s important to consider:
– New priorities: Many customers will have shifted to what’s truly important – for example, essentials and products that can be used at home, like family technology, loungewear and indoor sports equipment. It’s important to remember that this won’t last forever, but making it easy for customers to find what they need will absolutely be remembered post-Covid.
– Content consumption: Customers may well have changed how they consume content – for example, not many of us are commuting past billboards anymore! At the same time, with general stress levels higher than before, it’s important to be concise, clear, and unless it’s constructive and necessary, not present overly negative views – we’ve all heard them on the news and social channels!
– Reassurance: Many customers, prospects and investors will also want to know that if they’re buying from you – whether it’s products or shares – that you’re a stable provider. What has Covid-19 done to your 3-year plan, for example? Does your company roadmap still feature the key products and services that you promised last year? Is your company financially stable, and what are your ambitions? Staff may be blindsided by these questions during sales or marketing meetings, so it’s important to be prepared for them.
Where do we go now?
Coronavirus has meant a significant rethinking of business plans and processes, but now that a phased return to ‘normal’ is in sight, it’s time for you to keep calm and to get back to planning, working out what your phased return to normal will look like.
And whatever you do, remember our two principles of good communications during Covid-19 – be kind, and remove uncertainty where you can. If your communication ticks these two boxes, you’re safe to proceed, but if not, it might just need a fresh pair of eyes or (better yet) a fresh brain.
We have a wealth of assets that can help you set out your communications plan, whatever the audience. So regardless of the audience and the changes you’ve been through, we’ve got you covered – and if you’d like to discuss further how you can keep calm and carry on (differently) please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
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