Let communications lead the brand story
The COVID-19 pandemic has possibly been the greatest test of communication professionals’ abilities and at the same time, perhaps, their biggest opportunity to demonstrate the power of communication, writes Rashmi Soni, Vice President & Head of Corporate Communications and CSR, Vistara.
The pandemic has created a seismic shift in many aspects of our lives – from the way we operate and communicate, to how we travel or shop. Few of the changes it has brought may be somewhat unwelcome, such as social distancing, face coverings, travel restrictions, etc. On the other hand, it has also been a shot in the arm for some changes that the world desperately needed. Case in point: acceleration of the adoption of digital and automated systems and processes across industries. Clearly, the pandemic has resulted in significant changes in consumer behaviour. How, against this backdrop, can communications take the centerstage in leading the brand narrative? And what does this mean for the future of communications?
Build greater credibility
With all that the world has gone through in the last couple of years, it is even more crucial for organisations to enhance their credibility among stakeholders. Meaningful, practical, well-timed information dissemination and engagement may not shoot up sales immediately, but it’ll have long-term positive implications on the brand and its business. Therefore, there’s going to be a great amount of focus on communicating, not what you do as a business but how you do it. From demonstrating revised SOPs for operations, promoting greater awareness, explaining how your company cares about the health and safety of its employees and the people they serve; to its learning from the crisis and how it displays agility, etc., everything matters.
The single-biggest issue that PR and Communication professionals often face is targeting. Our consumers are everywhere, and they access content on diverse platforms. They could be consuming news or information on social media platforms, or in podcasts, or just through Whatsapp updates. Today, communicators need to be able to work on different formats and be able to push relevant communication on most suitable platforms. Even the way we communicate throughan app notification contributes to brand building.
Digital content consumption has rapidly increased in the year 2020, thanks to the global lockdowns. Even the pre-existing industry trend of the shift to digital news consumption saw a massive jump, with social media playing a bigger role as an aggregator. Customer relationships are being built digitally, regardless of which industry you’re in, and this trend will not lose its importance as we start to return to some semblance of normalcy. Data Science and analytics are going to play a much larger role in communication than it ever did, offering unprecedented analysis about consumers, and helping brands connect with them in much more personalised manner. Traditional ways will still work, but will require some improvisation. At Vistara, we conducted surveys to understand how our customers felt about flying after major lockdowns and during the pandemic. Our award-winning #FlyingFeelsSafeAgain and #FlyerCODE campaigns, which were mainly driven on digital platforms and through PR, were devised to address customer apprehensions and concerns.
Think closer home before global markets
Gone are the days when we were only interested in what’s happening in our country and in the rest of the world. In recent years – and this has been reinforced by the pandemic – regional and hyperlocal news have caught our attention more than ever. Before checking the number of COVID cases in the US or UK and comparing them with India numbers, we were all checking what was happening in our own PIN codes! This is going to be a huge part of the future of communications.
Regional news outlets, community communication, micro-influencers, have gained great significance in that sense, which means as communicators, we need to engage them as much as the national and global stakeholders. Consumers are increasingly preferring to consume content that is more relatable for them, has direct impact or influence.
Continue to create fresh content
As we increasingly adopt a digital-first approach, social media and other mushrooming platforms will remain key to communications. A robust communications strategy will include identifying new features, trends and opportunities that integrate seamlessly with the brand’s broader communication objectives. We saw many unique, never-seen-before brand collaborations during the pandemic and are likely to see more associations taking place amongst like-minded brands across sectors to cross-promote each other and reach a larger target audience. Lay’s ‘Heartwork campaign’ is a brilliant example of such collaborations, which we at Vistara were delighted to be part of.
As we embrace the new trends in communication, it is important to not lose sight of the fundamentals. The pandemic has triggered a change in consumer preferences and priorities, however, they still deeply value honesty, transparency, and relate to brands that resonate with those values. In times like this, to truly stand out, being transparent and keeping communication channels open for consumers will go a long way. As we shift from crisis mode to normalcy, staying relevant and meaningful will remain key.