By Mark Havenner
The most critical concept for business leaders, brands, marketers, and PR professionals to understand right now is that the way they communicated with audiences two years ago will no longer achieve the same results as they used to.
Everything has changed. Everyone has changed. The pandemic, while it is still loping along, will eventually end. But the consensus is that it will taper off in the way the flu did, which is to say recede in urgency until it becomes a part of everyday life. Nothing will be like it was—but more fundamentally, our point of view as a global society has changed. As have our priorities.
Different things are now important to us.
As communications professionals, we used to generally agree that consistent corporate communications, if aligned with a singular message or vision, would be enough to increase business objectives like share of voice, credibility, and awareness. In a strange way, that’s all it took. Public Relations programs that were built around strategic corporate messaging would, indeed, move the needle.
But what has changed? Shouldn’t brands and companies still align messaging and vie for credibility and awareness in the marketplace? Sure. But it’s no longer enough to do so without purpose.
In 2020 we found out that not only do audiences want companies to have a purpose or support a cause, but they are also four times more likely to purchase from that company, champion them, and trust them. What’s more, consumers are done with the shallowness of most cause marketing efforts. A 2021 report showed that 75% of brands could disappear and consumers would literally not care or notice. The same report said almost just as many expect brands to do something good for the society and planet.
There are countless reasons for this shift toward consumers’ cynicism and distrust. But we all should have been able to predict that riding on the coattails of social causes, even as the world struggled with generational crises, could end poorly.
The pandemic revealed many things about society, but one of the more important revelations is that companies can and should be a force of action for good. Individuals can’t do it alone. It is also the job of the private sector to make a difference in people’s lives. Brands that stepped up during the pandemic and did meaningful work to help people in their darkest hours—those are the ones that people pay attention to.
For every brand that doesn’t do anything to help, there is one that will. Who will audiences listen to if communications continue to be focused on the brand and not the audience? Or send messaging that is focused on features and benefits and not how the company fixes real problems and provides value? Or more empty cause marketing with no substance or action?
Corporate communications in the post-pandemic world needs to be about solving real problems in the lives of real people.
Companies that are not doing this in a meaningful way will continue to lose market share to those who do. And sure, this is just as much about what a company or service actually provides as it is about communicating that, but the first step is to listen. Once you listen, you’ll know where to help. When you know that, you’ll know where to align all of your communications and marketing.
2022 is the year where the wheat will be separated from the chaff. So now is the time to look inward and determine what it is you can and should do to fix real problems in the world. Let’s help realign businesses to address those problems and then the communications will come. And so will the audience.
Mark Havenner is a senior advisor for The Pollack Group, a partner in The Worldcom Public Relations Group.