Written by: Christina Farrelly
In 2020, the COVID-19 virus forced businesses to close, the public to stay at home, and events to be cancelled or downsized as they shifted online. Simply put, the year was about businesses surviving, whether that meant transitioning to remote working or exploring completely new business models, products and services. Financial services businesses were not immune to the health and economic crisis, and many were deeply impacted. Now that we are on the cusp of the new year, we need to shift our thinking from survival mode back into growth mode and start planning how to use communications and marketing efforts to fuel growth in 2021.
As the process of easing restrictions and restarting the economy continues, business leaders need to be thinking about what 2021 looks like in terms of rebuilding the momentum which may have disappeared in 2020. Following on from our recent webinar “Top 5 financial services PR trends for 2021”, we are sharing our thoughts on how you should approach your corporate narrative and personal/brand messaging in light of COVID-19 and an increasingly complex world of reputational risk.
Things change quickly these days – keep pace with community standards or be left behind
While many hypothesised that the challenges of 2020 would provide some level of generosity towards brands, the opposite has rung true. 2020 has been a year of increased scrutiny for brands and key public figures. In the era of Black Lives Matter and the Me Too movement, the pressure for brands to have a voice in social issues is growing.
However, while the community embraces these social movements and adopts higher standards of behaviour quickly, Australia’s business and political elites continue to lag behind in understanding what is, or is not, appropriate behaviour. Being out of touch with community standards has ultimately been the downfall for many Australian business leaders.
It’s never been more important to have a finger on the pulse and to know in real time if there are any gaps between how you communicate your brand values, what your business is actually doing and what the community expects your business to be do. At BlueChip we see social consciousness as a fundamental part of any brand or communication strategy. Overlooking this aspect of the strategy poses a massive reputational risk to a business, big enough to remove the possibility of significant growth.
Case study: how did brands manage their messaging around Black Lives Matter?
Take the massive Black Lives Matter movement for example, the brands that managed Black Lives Matter best, what did they actually do?
The brands that retained respect and support during Black Lives Matters were:
- Speaking up and showing support
- Taking real and meaningful action e.g. donating money, creating programs which lift up black businesses
- Supporting improving education around these issues – they used their platform for good and shared educational content with their large audiences
- Lifting up the existing organisations and people, rather than making any effort to become a face of the movement
- Putting out messaging that is authentic and transparent, not perfect
- Linking the movement to their brand values
- Considering the impact of any products/services/portfolios
- If there is room for improvement, outline the real steps you are taking to improve the culture at your organisation
And the brands who faced backlash from their response (or lack of) to Black Lives Matters?
Some of the worst brand fails were due to:
- Taking tokenistic action or simply
- Silence – this is seen as complicit
- Speaking empty words – there must be action backing this up or it’s simply not good enough and was at times seen as worse than staying silent
- Appearing opportunistic, it shouldn’t need to be said but any kind of effort to profiteer from a human rights movement is obviously wrong
You’ll find that the above dos and don’ts are very applicable for dealing with many other scenarios.
It’s so important for brands to be clear on their values and messaging and to be regularly reviewing the corporate narrative and all outgoing communications to make sure that they are staying relevant and aligned with evolving community standards.
If you are reading about Black Lives Matter or the Me Too movement and find yourself unable to make any links back to your brand values, you may need to consider: what does that say about our brand if we don’t value diversity and other issues which are top of mind for the wider community?
What will COVID-safe brand building look like?
We have spoken about the importance of constantly re-evaluating your brand messaging to keep up with community standards, but what impact has COVID-19 had so far on brands?
We have seen less importance placed on communications looking sleek and polished, instead people have been favouring short, transparent and frequent updates. This might even look like the CEO shooting quick videos on mobile in order to keep clients and contacts in the loop with any information and to remain present during a crisis.
Many leaders freeze in a crisis. While continuing to communicate when you don’t have all the information yourself is challenging, going silent is the worst thing you can do. Leaders who went silent in 2020 will need to carefully consider how to repair their image and relationship with customers in 2021. For leaders who did not disappear, approaching brand building in 2021 will certainly look different.
As Zoom fatigue grows, we are noticing more desire for face-to-face connection. We are seeing that small group events are being well-received. Virtual and part-virtual, part-online events will absolutely continue to be a part of our world for the foreseeable future as capacity limits and social distancing requirements mean that many large-scale events are simply not viable to return to their physical formats.
While the format might be different, the benefits of engaging in events remain as strong as ever: networking with like-minded professionals, keeping in touch with industry news and the forefront of new developments and products in financial services, and the opportunity to showcase your brand to a new group of people.
COVID-19 has been a period of intense change and disruption so being able to access networking opportunities where you can engage in peer to peer learning with other leaders and share learnings is incredibly valuable.
When considering how to tackle your own events program for 2021, our view is the same. A mix of in-person, hybrid and virtual is appropriate depending on the event size, content and objectives is appropriate.
Achieving cut through in a noisy world
One of the reasons businesses come to us is that they are struggling to get any cut through with their target audience. It has always been a challenge to build up profile and make a business seen and heard in a noisy marketplace (which is only getting noisier).
We sing the praises of self-publishing for businesses and leaders. Self-publishing business updates, thought leadership, and market insights can support your public relations and content marketing efforts, we well as improving your website effectiveness and usefulness. Writing and publishing your own content allows you full control over what information you are releasing to the public, a benefit you do not have when dealing with the media.
This may look like longer-form content on LinkedIn or adding a new section to your website. This kind of communication is a value-add for customers and helps to attract new leads as well as media attention. We use self-publishing as an important part of many profile building programs.
Pay to play media is becoming a larger part of any media relations strategy. The media landscape in Australia has been shrinking for many years now, and we expect that COVID-19 and the accompanying recession will accelerate this trend. These publications often cannot rely solely on advertising revenue which is why an increasing number of outlets are making the transition to purely sponsored content.
What does this mean for you? It means that if you are running an earned-only strategy, a large part of the market will not have any exposure to your brand and your story. Maintaining a paid media spend will ensure that you reach your target market
At BlueChip we believe in the PESO approach – paid, earned, shared and owned – in order to reach the most people possible with your messaging.
We hope that this blog got you thinking about 2021 and how well you and your business are positioned to embrace the uncertainty and be proactive in growing your brand’s profile.