The Role of Brand Communication

In search of lost meanings

The number of fakes in Russia increased 10 times in 2020; in the US, the number of resources providing “irrelevant news” increased by 17% in the same period. The only institution that society has been ready to trust over the past few years is not the media or government but business.

The Role of Brand Communication
The Role of Brand Communication

The Western School of Communication has taught us that a brand is not just a product but also the values it carries. Over time, they changed – socially oriented ones replaced the abstract ones, such as the freedom of Harley Davidson, Nike’s overcoming oneself, Always’s confidence, success with the opposite sex Axe.

With the adoption in 2015 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, almost every major international brand has chosen a value territory based on one or another goal. For example, for Zewa, gender equality has become such territory for IKEA, care for the planet, and Domestos is concerned with sanitary well-being and hygiene.

Turning to them, the consumer bought a way of self-expression and the social change that the company carried in parallel with the implementation of its product.

The marketing paradigm on which all the most successful brands of Western civilization are built is a stable and powerful myth that answers such important questions as “what is the meaning of life?”, “What kind of world do we live in?”, “What is the role of a person in this world?” earth?” Thus, any advertising communication always tries to answer these questions, simplifying them immensely and updating their product through them.

The difference in the current crisis lies in destroying the usual system of semantic coordinates. Now, when Western brands are not just suspending operations in Russia, campaigns are being frozen, many initiatives in sustainable development are being put on hold, and the non-profit sector and volunteer projects are being deprived of support. Russian specialists in communications face a significant challenge – to fill the educated value vacuum and form a new myth.

Changing the media landscape

Blocking global social networks in Russia forced brands and users to migrate to other sites. Users’ rapid “digital migration” has tremendously accelerated several global trends – polarization and digital segregation. On the one hand, the peculiarities of social network algorithms contributed to the emergence of information bubbles, where each user can consume only what is close and exciting to him while remaining as isolated as possible from everything that goes beyond these limits.

The arrival of a new audience with patterns and mindsets familiar to them on another platform potentially threatens to increase polarization. In such a situation, the brand will have to win the loyalty and trust of “newcomers” from scratch. And it doesn’t matter if they start from scratch on a new platform or if there will be an influx of a new migrated audience.

On the other hand, the dominant news agenda, blocking some media resources, legislative restrictions, and the associated fear of expressing one’s opinion in public provoke a demand for closed communities. People are looking for “their own” — now we see a lot of Telegram channels where interests, professions, or industries unite users because now it’s faster and easier to find information there. Such communities have their own rules and leaders, a higher level of trust, and an intensity of communication.

Audit and study of new audience insights

Going out with value-oriented communication to external audiences, do not rely only on your vision of the problem. Overnight, the changes that took place increased the emotional background and simultaneously changed the situation in all sectors. Bringing research into work in 2021 or even January 2022 is no longer relevant. Find out directly what your audience is most worried about and what are the expectations from your business. It is essential to feel the pain points before starting a dialogue. New research and new analytics are the primary tools in building communication now.

At the same time, audit your strategies and plans for the values you communicate and choose those that are relevant to the current situation. For example, initiatives aimed at supporting and uniting people evoke a great response and gratitude from the audience. for example, Delivery Club supported homemade confectioners who received their main orders through Instagram (a social network banned in Russia; owned by Meta – recognized as a banned extremist organization in Russia).

HR consultants and agencies collect CVs and connect candidates with employers, helping those who have entered or are preparing to enter the market due to ongoing layoffs to adapt to the new reality. 

Prioritization

There will inevitably be a redistribution of emphasis between different areas in the communication of sustainable development goals. Some problems will become more acute, and some will appear for the first time, and society will expect businesses to be involved in solving these problems. When choosing what to do and what to communicate, focus on solving the most pressing challenges.

Social leadership

Unprotected categories of the population, who were directly assisted by NGOs or companies, found themselves in the most vulnerable position. Both because of the rising cost of such support, and because of the reduction in the budgets of helping organizations, many brands that stopped their work in the country made a significant financial contribution to their activities. There is an expectation in society that business will lead this agenda – after all, if not him, then who else? Communication of long-term programs in the same format as before will anger the audience. 

Brands should consider the possibility of situational assistance and targeted support, as was the case, for example, during the pandemic. In order not to be guilty when you don’t consider someone’s interests and don’t drown in an increasing flow of requests for help, evaluate which of these is close not only to long-term but also to medium-term plans for your business. And combine the two strategies – targeting and systemic change.

High requirements

Until recently, the agenda was oversaturated with ESG projects. With the departure of temporary suspension of some Sustainability leaders, the players who replace them will have expectations not only for the product itself but also for the responsibility shown by the business. We are unlikely to be able to invent a full-fledged replacement for McDonald’s quickly – it’s not just about technology, financial capabilities, or marketing.

This brand supports young people (a place for the first part-time job while studying), develops environmental volunteering, and implements initiatives for the separate collection of waste. Finally, a charitable foundation that helps families in difficult life situations. Therefore, new players in the market need to be ready to consider both the value heritage of departing companies and the wishes of consumers who are already accustomed to the active position of brands in social and environmental issues.

Working with experts and the community

In the context of an information plan overloaded with negativity, communication on sensitive topics has more risks of being met with a stream of negativity. Therefore, the involvement of experts and representatives of the interested community is more important than ever at all stages – from developing an idea to its implementation.

Their participation will help achieve the necessary sensitivity in developing messages and better prepare for feedback. We must be prepared that working with the community is becoming more complicated – many of the communities that have appeared in the past few weeks will be challenging to find in standard ways and through open sources.

Automated monitoring will temporarily become irrelevant – will add manual. At the same time, to attract the experts themselves, who are now experiencing a crisis, communicators will have to choose words and help find motivation; why not everything is lost.

The usual system of value coordinates has undergone tremendous changes. Already, we see polarization on the rise, and brands will have to rebuild consumer trust. It is important not to lose what has been done and not to slip into communication only at the product level without a semantic core. But at the same time, it is necessary to rethink what is essential for consumers in the new conditions.

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