Written by: Arpan Basu
About the author: Director Communications at Coca-Cola India and South West Asia
Existing empirical research confirms that there is a positive relationship between reputation management and development of corporate houses. Corporations have long since realized the importance of managing the reputation that will sustain their advancement in the age of competitive business management. People share different perceptions about what constitutes a corporate reputation and the role of communications in balancing it.
Reputation, as we know, has never been built in a day. Neither has it been established during troubled times alone. The cornerstone of reputation management has always lay in the foundations of both consistency and frequency. Early in my career as a communications specialist, I came across a statement by a famous American consultant, “There’s a simple rule: You say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and then again and again and again and again, and about the time that you’re absolutely sick of saying, it is about the time that your target audience has heard it for the first time”. This thought has stayed with me over the years and proven to ring true, every time. The only dimensions I would add are that of message and medium. So, if you want to properly tell a story, you have to be willing to write it in a thousand different ways.
But this is not as easy to achieve as it may appear. A consistent message that targets the right audiences, at the appropriate platform – can be one of the greatest challenges of a communications specialist. Because, until the message has resonated well with your audiences in a way that it rings a bell every time, they hear about you – your organization, product or service, the job is not really done. In an endeavor to reach out to our audiences consistently, we sometimes feel the process has become mundane, simplistic, repetitive or that it simply surpasses the already cluttered and short attention span of our audiences. This does not mean that you can afford to move away from being authentic in your communication at any point. To be believable, along with consistency and frequency therefore, the components of a clear and authentic message are key.
Amidst all the noise that a consumer encounters, one-time communication, or communicating only when a crisis hits you, may not allow you to ring fence your reputation in an effective manner. What will actually resonate with your audiences is the consistency in messaging and the different ways of innovative storytelling, varied mediums of reaching your audiences, that you have expended your energies in, when times have been good and the investment you made by being a part of their daily lives. We must keep in mind that we are not here to really sell brands but to create experiences and stories – stories of people’s everyday victory and vulnerability. During a crisis, it is these stories that create brand advocates, to fight for you, on your behalf. Corporates can become pillars of trust by committing to the larger purpose, by making significant contributions to the society in which they operate and communicate. An organization undertaking efforts in adding value to the lives of community and society, is well-trusted by its customers.
In my opinion therefore, what helps combat crisis situations is the consistent, desired experience that has been delivered by an organization over time. In fact, the promise and the purpose of an organization is tested in such times.
Let’s take the example of the biggest humanitarian crisis of our lives. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the world, our nation and its people are experiencing extraordinary times, several corporations are rising to the occasion, to do things they may not have had the opportunity to do before. In fact, in communications, it is often said that one should never let a good crisis go to waste! While we do need to come together to support each other in difficult times, is it enough to be just tactical? I believe that as communicators, we must have a larger purpose and role to play.
Communication done the right way is about becoming an integral part of people’s lives. It requires to continuously evolve and understand the emotional pulse of the audience and create a connection that enables a linkage of trust and partnership over time, not just in troubled times. Today, the role of communications has evolved from traditionally being considered as a support function, to become closely integrated with business, safeguarding corporate reputation and contributing towards the larger business decision-making process. Think of it as an umbrella, which is the larger consistent messaging, which you have open for both sunny and the rainy weather. And when you get a hailstorm, you just adjust the umbrella better, and position yourself a little more appropriately to navigate in the storm.
However, being consistent doesn’t mean that communications can’t change. In fact, if seen from a bird’s eye-view, consistency provides a firm foundation for evolving into offering even more options for a larger number of people. Once you have built a reputation through the consistent delivery of messages, you have earned yourself the permission to evolve and expand. I don’t mean to say that crisis communication is not important or not required. But in times of crisis, actions speak louder than words, and while we must find the right words and images to share what’s happening, the key is to take decisive and compassionate action. As communicators we need to rise to the occasion. Genuine acts of courage, compassion, care and giving will stand head and shoulders above those that scream for attention or engage in exploitative communications.
The moot point is that our scope of work or the identity of the communications function is beyond crisis. It is an act of balancing, that we need to understand.
The landscape is changing. People no longer look at the products, but meanings attached to them. They like to buy goods and services from the organizations that are creating value for their lives. Consistency in communication advances the idea that one message can have many facets and many voices, but still sound unified. It also advances the concept of being simpler by design; one message that can cut through the clutter and reach a target audience.
Everything in life rests on balance, and it is this fine art of balance, that differentiates good from the great.