SOME THOUGHTS ON THE FUTURE TASKS OF PR AND MARKETING
Getting out of the lockdown, we all quickly realised that there is no longer a return to the “old normal”, but that a new reality of life is emerging. Of course, the house across the street still looks like the house you know, and the office building next door is simply an office building. But no one will let you into the house without a Corona test anymore, the office building is largely empty, and the acquaintance you see on the street greets you with a mask and great distance. Welcome to the new reality of life!
We have entered a long phase of global recession. Freedom of movement and assembly is restricted and only slowly being relaxed. Short-term quarantines loom again and again. Consumers are cautious, keeping their money together and focusing on creating a living environment where they feel reasonably safe. Many prefer to work at home. And businesses will continue to be very cautious with all measures, even at the first signs of recovery.
IT’S NOT EASY, AND EVEN LESS SO IN THE BUSINESS WORLD, TO DO THE RIGHT THING
Even if managers like to cut budgets for marketing and communication in times of crisis: PR and marketing have a crucial role to play in the new reality of life. This is because it is about developing appropriate storytelling, communication and marketing strategies. The ability to focus and articulate not only the company purpose and brand, but the business idea itself through the lens of a radically changed society. This will be vital in the coming months of recession, pandemic and the emergence of the new reality of life.
QUESTIONS ABOUT QUESTIONS ABOUT QUESTIONS
Companies are now being given the task of re-evaluating business models, products, markets, delivery channels, marketing and communication strategies and even employees. They will ask themselves
- whether they should build on what they have now or rebuild what they already have.
- whether now might not be the right time to do things differently.
- how they should now follow a digital-first strategy and adapt their business model accordingly.
- whether the products and services that customers stopped buying during the crisis will ever find buyers again and to the full extent.
- if one of their products was also successful during the crisis, whether the other products should not also be redesigned to reflect and support the benefits of the successful product.
- whether the positioning the company stumbled into during the crisis should not be maintained.
- how they want to deal with home office experienced staff in the future and how they want to retain them.
- how in these times customers and employees will identify and engage with the customer or company brand.
STAKEHOLDERS MEASURE A COMPANY BY ACTIONS, NOT WORDS. THIS HAS NEVER BEEN TRUER THAN IN THIS CRISIS.
Consumers and customers expect companies to place even more emphasis on their contribution to society, even before the global economy recovers. Boards and CEOs must balance the desire to advance their purpose and reputational legacy (which they did or did not do during the crisis) with the fundamental requirement to increase profits and control costs. In other words, purpose versus pragmatism. The communicator’s expertise and access to the right insights and data are central to success in this delicate situation.
So far in this crisis, most corporate communications functions have been primarily reactive: market briefings, employee, customer and supply chain communications. They have been less proactive in demonstrating empathy and making important contributions in times of crisis. But this is exactly what stakeholders want. This is a task we should not only address quickly, but also orchestrate and evaluate very rigorously. For this is how companies largely ensure that well-intentioned statements of intent are not discredited by ill-considered customer and operational actions.
For some organizations, short-term survival is the only item on the agenda. Others are peering through the fog of uncertainty and thinking about how to position themselves once the crisis is over and things return to normal.
THE QUESTION IS: “WHAT WILL THE NEW REALITY OF LIFE LOOK LIKE?”
While no one can say how long the crisis will last, what we will find will not look like the normality of recent years. It is becoming increasingly clear that our era will be marked by a fundamental split: the pre-COVID-19 era and the new reality of life that will emerge in the post-viral era. In this unprecedented new reality, we are witnessing a dramatic restructuring of the economic and social order. Discussions and debates are already underway about what the new reality of life might entail and how different its contours will be from the one that has shaped our lives so far.
Understandably, no one is currently trying to draw up timetables for the path to the new reality of life – we all know that this is difficult and that many false starts and wrong paths are pre-programmed. But one thing is clear, our task as communicators and marketers can be described as follows: to help shape the path into the new reality of life, to accompany it adequately, to reformulate the storyline and communication for each stage of the path, to be able to react quickly to changes.
We have already seen many significant changes in communication strategies. Brands are pivoting from paid to earned and shared media. Now social and content strategies are in high demand. Companies will develop communication plans that work across all stakeholders and geographies and are both appropriate and cost-effective. But now more than ever, less, done well, is more.
NOTHING STAYS THE SAME IN THE NEW REALITY OF LIFE
Of course, the basic principles of successful marketing and targeted communication remain. Market and audience analysis, social context, behavioural change, product packaging, pricing and distribution – we have to re-evaluate all of these when market conditions change. And to put it bluntly, the very need for continued social distancing changes pretty much everything most companies do and produce. Why? Let’s ask the following questions:
- Are machines for manufacturing designed in such a way that employees can work on them with distance?
- Can employees on production lines keep enough distance?
- Would you enter a sharing vehicle in which someone else had previously sat?
- Would you try out new headphones in a department store or slip into a suit there that someone else had tried on before?
- Are trains, buses and trams designed in such a way that they can be entered without worry and with sufficient social distance?
- Does the operation of your machines also work with gloves?How do you want to produce safely if even one sick employee can paralyse the company?
- Do you still need your large office building if most of the employees prefer to work in a home office?
- What will customer meetings look like in the future?
- How should sales work in general?
- If sanitary facilities in restaurants already cause discomfort, how will employees in production feel?
- How do you prevent air-conditioning systems from becoming a virus breeding ground?
These are only a few questions, but they will cause more than a headache. Unfortunately, there are many thousands of these questions! You can imagine what this means for you and what tasks will come up for communication alone.
EVERYTHING WILL CHANGE
You think all this is exaggerated? Unfortunately, you are wrong. Even if the epidemic seems to be under control in Germany, it still breaks out again and again, leading to local quarantines. Globally, we are only at the beginning of the epidemic. It will take many more months before we get it under control there. And for years, new outbreaks will continue to emerge there as well. That’s why everything will change: work, travel, daily movement, shopping, internet use, social interaction, brand relevance, politics, everything.
It can be said that business leaders are facing massive challenges. They need to protect and rebuild their companies in a recession that has no clear end in sight, support their employees and all those affected, and also already plan for the time when markets are stronger, and companies are fitter again so they can perform better than the competition.
WHAT THE NEW REALITY OF LIFE MEANS FOR COMMUNICATION AND MARKETING
There will have to be significant restructuring and redeployment within marketing and communications teams and departments. Staff will need to apply their skills in new areas or develop new skills. Agility and responsiveness are among the most important future requirements.
Brands should be as aligned as possible with the general mood as the very first thing. It is no longer just about “selling”, as few companies and consumers are currently buying anything other than the essentials. Rather, it is about the caring, the caring company where customers feel they are in good hands. It is becoming increasingly important to focus on the theme of “support”. It is about
- providing support for customers, suppliers, the neighbourhood and, of course, frontline employees and their families.
- giving support for the environment and future life.
- giving perspectives.
- to be guided by humane visions.
Currently, there is no time to be completely silent as people want to know what the brands they respect are doing. There is a risk of destroying the trust built up before Corona. Sharing information about company initiatives to support key stakeholders, especially employees, interests the media and the world. Political, market and customer intelligence, including social listening, should be strengthened.
Such initiatives need to be told in a factual, humble, humane and non-self-aggrandizing way. In doing so, companies should focus on a limited number of stories that are truly important, relevant and consistent with the company’s core values. The right tone of voice is as crucial as empathy in corporate communications. In fact, this crisis will permanently change the way companies communicate.
But it will be a challenge to maintain a human tone, because we can expect that some companies will inevitably collapse or face an existential crisis, lay off employees, say goodbye to suppliers and disappoint customers. We communicators will have to work hard to encourage leaders to maintain their open and empathetic attitudes as they go through this painful phase, both internally and externally.Companies will want to know how they can use the products and services they already have to address challenges they have never faced before. For example, car manufacturers could help cities give people more space by developing modern integrated mobility concepts and implementing them together with cities. This could then be the first step in the transformation of car manufacturers into mobility corporations. In other words, if brands have expertise that is relevant to current challenges, then it is more than legitimate to communicate and make this knowledge more available. So it will no longer be just about product communication, but additionally about social communications.
WE HELP WITH THE TRANSFORMATION
In this transformation process and the path to the new reality of life, we support companies in their marketing and communication work. For example:Grasping and understanding the new needs of customers.
- Developing new communication strategies and action concepts.
- Intensifying cooperation with marketing to adapt and redefine brands and services.
- Make adjustments/revisions/relaunches of the brands and corporate website.
- Plan and implement content-based communication campaigns.
- Adapt internal communication to the new situation.
- Adequately accompany the measures that can be implemented by the company itself.
- Develop rapid response systems for communication in an uncertain time.