As we get deeper into the lockdown period, there are numerous questions being raised in dealing with many unknowns. This is a good thing as it drives us towards finding effective and innovative solutions to the multitude of issues that rear their head in such situations. Challenges that organisations face are unprecedented and can seem overwhelming. These include disruption of services and sales, the need to keep their brand relevant, whilst also managing a workforce that has been forced to operate remotely and in testing conditions. Important expectations such as the health and welfare of employees, guidance to shareholders and making contributions to the society; all find equal place on the priority list. I was on a webinar where the guidance given is that businesses in the communications industry will have to reorient themselves to get a far deeper understanding of their client’s business realities to be relevant.
It is my belief that every situation can be managed by proper planning and curation. The recovery strategy is two- fold. Firstly, it calls for strong leadership and credible communication, both internal and external. Communication that bonds with different stakeholders and is alert to what is essential to clients in given socioeconomic climate is the need of the hour. The second part includes the way forward for brands and organisations. There is no one size fits all strategy but having said this, the bedrock of success will lie in narrating the brands’ story with transparency and sensitivity to the current scenario.
Stakeholders look to leaders to take the right initiatives and bring clarity to a crisis. How leadership handles communications can go a long way in ensuring business effectiveness and cementing relationships with all stakeholders. The leaders who stand apart communicate in a timely, trustworthy and empathetic voice. A great example of leadership and right initiatives is Anand Mahindra of the Mahindra Group. This digital savvy Chairman and other leaders from within the Group are using social media as well as traditional PR to highlight the various initiatives, internal & external, being taken during this crisis. This assures their stakeholders that the organization is not blind to the crisis and is taking concrete, strategic steps.
Given the economic decline and social restrictions , there is a lot of uncertainty and fear, which is counter-productive Hence, it is vital that leaders increase the frequency of communication – nothing calms and motivates people more than to know that there is a plan in place, no matter how tough the situation seems. . Leaders can look at various forms of internal communications such as blogs, helplines, internal fun social engagement initiatives, virtual communities and townhalls. This will not only reduce the distance between the work teams, it will in turn lead to an increased sense of commitment and motivation towards business and work.
The pandemic has been cataclysmic with its twists and turns and the result is many brands and leaders might feel unprepared to cope with unfolding events. This is why it is important to have a clear strategy backed by an understanding of the pulse of the audience through tools like Online Reputation Management (ORM). A well-thought out communication strategy fuelled by meticulous media monitoring and sentiment analysis might seem a basic necessity but during such a crisis it is significant in getting the narrative right.
The one thing brands and leaders do need to keep in mind is that there is no substitute for authenticity.
Those who make decisions that are honest and purpose-driven, will reap lasting goodwill and brand love. This is even more crucial as brands and leaders are being put under the microscope by the media and the public, who will not hesitate to call out those they feel are not handling the situation sensitively enough or are exploiting it for profit. On the flipside are brands going out of their way to genuinely help the community. The core expectation that consumers have of brands in any situation, but particularly in a crisis, is that brands will do what is right for their employees, suppliers, customers, and society at large. Offering free or lower-priced products to help people meet the challenges the crisis presents, particularly those most in need, such as healthcare workers or those forced into unemployment due to the changing economic environment is an example of a what will generate goodwill.
Some examples are Hyundai Motor India, who supplied Covid 19 advanced diagnostic test kits to the ICMR and Le Meridien, New Delhi, who is helping deliver rations to over 6 500 people living in slums and underprivileged homes. Then there is HUL, who not only slashed prices of its Lifebuoy and Domex products by 15% while ramping up production, but also announced a series of other measures including donation of soaps and aid to medical institutions. Such initiatives go a long way in building brand trust.
Bringing people together by facilitating community, offering empathy, and providing social support is as important. For instance, SnapChat curated mental health resources into a “Here for You” centre and made it available to users months in advance of its earlier launch date in response to the COVID-19 crisis, thus demonstrating its caring for its community.
But it doesn’t have to always be about something on a large scale. Even something as simple and digital as a short video or a single post can do wonders. Take the example of Etihad – airlines are amongst the hardest hit as travel has completely come to a halt and fears of being cooped with strangers for hours is the last thing one wants; a sentiment that is most likely to continue in the months to follow. So how does the brand allay these fears and instill confidence when people consider traveling again? Etihad created a short film (just under two minutes long) that chronicled the hygiene standards maintained by the airline on each of their aircrafts. Perhaps it will not have an impact in the short-term but as things return to normalcy, people will be little more assured about choosing Etihad. At GolinOpinion and our group level we have teams who are consistently thinking of digital ideas that can be created and deployed real-time. A recent example is our working with Lowe Lintas for the Mumbai Police with the #MaiBhiMumbaiPolice campaign which encourages people to stay at home and through a smart influencer program has achieved reach of over 300 million.
In time, even as our stark new normal begins to get clearer, to assume anything is folly. Together, we will see these tough times pass. But beyond the fragility of the way life works at the moment, we have a golden opportunity; to discover new ideas, rethink old assumptions, create new magic. By doing this we can emerge from this global crisis stronger, wiser and more prepared for future challenges.
The article authored by Ameer Ismail was originally published here.