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2020: Be ready, take action and read the room

5/02/2020

It’s only one month into 2020 and what an eventful one it has already been. Extreme events, geopolitical tensions and citizen protest movements are dominating the news agenda, not to mention the ongoing argy-bargy in domestic politics.

In a time when it is going to be harder than ever for businesses and brands to get cut-through, consumers and stakeholders have even higher expectations. They want to see concrete evidence that brands are human and are taking a stand on the issues that matter.

Here is WE’s guide to ensuring your communication and marketing hits the right note, and leads to the most effective brand and business outcomes, this year.

As we closed out 2019 there was no doubt about how crowded the news agenda was. Against a backdrop of ongoing debate about climate change, a multitude of Royal Commissions, political and economic corruption, the impending US impeachment proceedings and unpredictable foreign policy, we always knew that, in 2020, it was going to be tough for any brand to get a word in edgewise and create real impact.

Then Australia burned.

The full impact of the firestorm that has raged through our country and continues with unprecedented force and magnitude is unknown. Issues such as the failure to plan for and manage climate change, and growing lack of trust in political and other leaders, have been thrown into sharp focus.

What’s clear from recent events is that while we may not know what the next disaster will be – whether ‘natural’ or geopolitical – there is no doubt that it’s coming. It’s also clear that, despite all the noise out there, it’s an opportune time for brands to have an authentic voice and lead with purpose.

The question is: as a business, how are you preparing and pivoting your communications and marketing strategies to lead, create cut-through and navigate through the unexpected?

Here are our top tips to consider when planning and developing communications, reputation and brand strategies into 2020 and beyond – that will, above all else, help protect and strengthen your brand and business.

Be ready and flexible

As consumer expectations evolve, so should your strategy. Have a robust plan, prepare for the worst case, and be ready to pivot.

The hard truth is, when bushfires rage, Royal Commission findings shock the nation, or a political leader fails to hear the tone of the nation, being heard and understood will be hard regardless of the sector in which you operate. Whether communicating with audiences directly, or through social or traditional media, competition from extreme events is likely to be the new(est) normal.

Any meaningful and successful communications plan will recognise these challenges and focus on strategies whose tactics, timing and messages demonstrate that your organisation not only understands the challenges, but is ahead of the curve and anticipating your customers or other stakeholders’ needs. Know what’s coming, and be prepared with the kinds of campaigns that are likely to make a positive contribution and add value to the wider environment.

Jumping on opportunities quickly, and being brave enough to tap into culture or national conversations – like Coca Cola did by creating their ‘Share a Coke with the Firies’ cans at the height of the bushfire crisis – will be critical. Likewise, you might also need to suddenly hit ‘STOP’ on an announcement to avoid clashing with something that is suddenly breaking news, and may also have to factor in increasing regulation across Australia or government enquiries.

More broadly, do you have the right plans in place to protect your business in an incident or crisis? Thanks to the power of digital communication, businesses are now judged in real time – not only on the issue at hand, but on how they respond to it and whether they were prepared to do so. Alongside risk analysis, having critical incident and reputation management plans in place, and simulating crisis preparedness scenarios, is how you create a truly resilient business and brand.

Tangible action – and fast

Purpose-driven activism becomes table stakes.

No matter what else you do this year, you need to take action.

WE’s 2019 Brands in Motion research showed that 72% of Australians expect brands to take a stand on issues that matter to them. Brands need to find their purpose, cultivate it and learn how to connect the values they cherish deeply with those of their consumers. The new decade will usher in the next phase of the purpose evolution, with consumers’ expectations continuing to skyrocket regarding how business purpose manifests.

However, it is no longer enough to express your purpose, or simply advocate for change. In an increasingly unstable world, consumers expect brands to take tangible action that drives impact over the long term – not just in the here and now.

With an increasing distrust in government, people want businesses to be transparent when it comes to regulating their own industries, helping society navigate the practical and ethical implications of innovation, and above all, translating business purpose into positive action in the world.

This can be seen in brands engaging in everything from lobbying for legislative reform or financing solutions on issues that matter to their stakeholders, to fundamentally shifting their business models to effect change, regardless of the result for their bottom line.

It’s about being brave enough to abandon organisational self-involvement and instead look outward – to recognise, acknowledge and respond positively to these local and world events and growing concerns. Factoring purpose driven action into everything you do (hint: it’s no longer enough to create a CSR program and hope for the best) is vital.

Read the room

Listen hard, look outwards and be ready to respond.

In 2020, to remain relevant in a time when there is an increasing trust deficit, brands have to ensure they are aligned with what matters most to their customers, employees and key stakeholders.

Hear their voices and carefully gauge their sentiment of major social issues. Understand what will resonate with your audience and what makes good business sense for you. This will help you avoid potentially deadly accusations of ‘tone deafness’ which have already caused significant political and corporate damage this year.

Be willing to have a voice on what matters to your business and your customers, and ensure you at all times relate opportunities back to your core purpose and business strategy. What’s important in this is making sure you know what your key stakeholders are saying - at all hours and across all mediums via media tracking and social listening - and utilising research and other metrics to find other important insights.

When it comes down to it, to create impact and relevance, and protect reputation in 2020, it’s about taking action, getting the right plans in place that take local and world events into account and preparing for the worst. Show empathy and do what you do best.

How can you make meaningful contributions with long-term impact – not just headline grabbing initiatives that give you 24 hours of relevance?

That’s how you create brand and business excellence in 2020.