Three Big Priority Areas for Communications in 2021

Before the beginning of a calendar year marketing and communications leaders place their existing strategies under the scanner to reassess their potency in the new year. Some realignments and modifications may be in order to ensure the strategy is relevant for the New Year.

However, with the world having undergone major change in 2020, communications in 2021 will need more than a few tweaks and rejigs.

Last year organisations realised the need for better communication – with their employees, customers, partners and other external stakeholders. It meant communicating updates more frequently, changing their company’s messaging and adopting a more human approach to internal and external communications.

Big Priority Areas for Communications in 2021

In 2021, they will need to institutionalise some of these changes so that their organisations are better prepared to deal with the new ways of doing business and different expectations from customers and other stakeholders.

Communications leaders will be spending more time and effort in these three big priorities in 2021.

Priority Number One: Strategic Communications

Strategic communications refers to an organisation’s masterplan to articulate its vision and take forward its goals and purpose. It branches out in the form of public relations, thought leadership, brand building, customer communication and employee communication.

As goals change from time to time, organisations need to relook at what they want to communicate and how. Thought leadership in 2021 will be driven by the five trending themes of ‘build back better’, employee well-being, customer experience, digital future, and diversity and inclusivity.

This year, as we slowly make our way out of the pandemic, strategic communications will take on a new hue for both the internal or external audience.

Brand reputation:

Communications with a purely sales-driven approach will not make the cut. An important goal for communication leaders this year will be to foster brand reputation and spread a good impression of the brand. Brands that are socially conscious and care for the community and the environment will win hearts.

Edelman’s 2020 Trust Barometer shows that 71 percent of customers lose trust in a brand when the brand appears to value profits over people. By showing how your organisation’s purpose is spreading good, you will strengthen brand reputation and instill trust and confidence in your customers.

Empathy and compassion:

Even as business picks up, vulnerabilities and unknowns are expected to continue through the better part of the year. So corporate messaging needs to include a healthy dose of the human touch.

There has been a lot of discussion on how to bring in empathy in customer interactions. An important area to show empathy is in your communication, the tone you use in customer emails, social media posts or brand communication.

Here is a 5-step approach to help you kick off your strategic communications plan. 

One, identify and understand your target audience. Has your target audience changed during the course of the pandemic? There have been marked changes in buyer behaviours, which may have opened up new customer segments for your business.

Take for example the real estate market in India. Tenants in big cities are moving out of congested metros into smaller cities to be with their family and continue to work from home. So the rental market is down.

But we are hearing of a spike in the interest for bigger apartments among home buyers, since families are spending a lot more time at home, as they continue to work and study online.

Two, decide on the purpose of your communication. Pinpoint the goals and objectives you are trying to achieve with the strategy. Going by the above example, brand communication must focus more on the home layout, biophilic features that show your commitment to providing a green and healthy space, and facilities within the condominium, rather than highlighting the distance from the nearest mall or school.

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Three, rework your existing collaterals or create new campaigns to bring your strategy to life. The volume and frequency of communication is expected to grow significantly this year.

A survey conducted by Content Marketing Institute showed that B2B marketers put content creation above all other content marketing related areas (70%) for investment in 2021. Organisations will need the support of external content partners to put the plans to action.

Four, develop an execution plan by selecting the right channels to disseminate your message to your target audience. Social media and other owned media channels will continue to be important in 2021.

Five, create a post-execution review mechanism to measure the success of your communication strategy. It means keeping track of the amount of web traffic, the number of leads generated or the number of impressions created on social media.

Priority Number Two: Crisis Communications

A crisis can erupt when you least expect it, and more so in today’s age when social media can easily fan emotions and set off a long chain of reactions.

An unfortunate incident in early January in India sent an India-Singapore business conglomerate into crisis control mode.

Former captain of the Indian national cricket team, Sourav Ganguly, who is the brand ambassador of a cooking oil brand, Fortune rice bran oil, suffered a heart attack. That has led the brand, which is being promoted as a ‘heart health oil’, to being ridiculed on social media.

Sometimes a tweet from the CEO is sufficient to send stocks tumbling down and cause a major PR disaster, as we have seen in the case of Tesla CEO Elon Musk a number of times. Or it could result from a social media post or media campaign that is perceived as being tone-deaf and insensitive. This is a problem that surfaced frequently among celebrities and social media influencers during the pandemic.

With health and safety concerns and business uncertainties likely to continue well into 2021, the chances of crises eroding an organisation’s brand equity in the market are higher. Hence, the role of crisis communications has become even greater.

Communication teams will need to be equipped with the right ammunition to douse fires effectively, and prevent or restore harm caused to a company’s reputation as quickly as possible.

Crisis communication is not born when a crisis strikes. Early preparation is key in helping a business to emerge unscathed from testing times.

Here are some critical steps for a battle-ready crisis communications strategy:

  • Gather a crisis communication team in your company. Assign each member a specific role to play during a crisis, backed by periodic training to align their skills and knowledge to emerging situations and sensitivities.

For example, decide who will coordinate the media response, who will liaise with the senior executives or who will provide legal oversight. Choose one person from the team to be the central spokesperson.

  • Identify key channels for communications and compile a list of media contacts who you will need to stay in touch with during a crisis.
  • After a crisis, spend some time in understanding how the perceptions of your customers or other stakeholders have changed and what must you do to correct that. 

Priority Number Three: Internal Communications

After remote working came the era of a hybrid work environment. In 2021, a hybrid workforce where some employees work from home while others work in the office will become more common.

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Moving forward gig workers will also form a bigger fraction of the workforce. The number of employees who will permanently work remotely is expected to double this year.

This poses a unique challenge for organisations. How can they further organisational culture when teams are physically distant? This is where internal communication comes in.

Communication leaders and people managers need to get imaginative and drive team bonding across computer screens rather than over coffee or beer. Internal communications will be critical in keeping employees motivated and ensuring they stay focused on team goals even as they work remotely.

Companies will need to prioritise the relationship they build with their employees, and communication can be the super glue to make this possible. How can internal communications help build stronger ties with geographically dispersed teams?

What can be done to ensure employees stay focused on their job in the midst of noise about retrenchments and an uncertain economic future?

In this blog, I talk about four rules to make your employee newsletter a tool for employee communication, engagement and satisfaction. Here are some ways you can enhance your internal communications plan in 2021.

Counter fear and insecurity.

It is common for employees to feel uncertain about the stability of their jobs. Regularly share transparent updates about the business and changes in company policies and programs with your employees. Use townhalls and newsletters to address some of the common concerns and anxieties of employees so that they do not fall for falsehoods.

Reinforce organisational culture.

Use digital platforms and tools to allow employees to share their thoughts and ideas. Think of creating office water cooler moments online. Use internal newsletters to showcase employee stories by celebrating their achievements and contributions.

Send regular emails to team members appreciating their efforts and acknowledging the difficulties that they are facing working from home.

Be a symbol of positivity.

At this time when many organisations are encouraging employees to upskill themselves, use internal channels to create excitement about learning initiatives. Use these opportunities to help employees think ahead and develop a positive mindset about their own careers.

Marketing and communications leaders indeed have a lot on their plate. They need to reorient their strategy to fit the new demands in 2021. They also need to produce more content to cater to the varied needs of the organisation.

And in many instances, it will mean doing more for less since they will be working with leaner teams and smaller budgets. This is the time for inhouse communications teams to partner with capable and experienced content writing agencies to take some of the load off and help meet their goals for 2021.

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