Blog : crisis

HOW CRISIS PROOF ARE YOUR BRAND COMMUNICATIONS? A GUIDE TO CONFRONTING UNCERTAINTY HEAD ON

HOW CRISIS PROOF ARE YOUR BRAND COMMUNICATIONS? A GUIDE TO CONFRONTING UNCERTAINTY HEAD ON

One of the many observations noted in these strange and unprecedented times is how quickly we can all adapt in an emergency.

As a result of this particular emergency most businesses in IT, finance and HR provisions have spun into meltdown to catch-up with the concept of lockdown while we moved ourselves into an almost entirely digital space.

Our customers and employees are now all better connected than ever before, yet they have never been so isolated or remote to any real tangible outcomes. Secure in our virtual bunkers, staff and consumers alike are looking for any answer that offers intelligence, insight or empathy.

Step aside for the 4th emergency professional service, Brand Communications.

Proactive budgets can be the first to get slashed in changeable financial situations, however, once the reactive piece is complete, provision to deliver your message now and, perhaps more importantly, in the future is no longer a luxury – it’s a necessity.

If you need to be reminded of how receptive the public is to concise and logical messaging, just look at the reaction the other week to the government changing their messaging from ‘stay at home’ to ‘stay alert’.

Everyone has woken up to realise how important is to be seen, understood and believed as individuals and collectives. From an audience perspective we’re craving information inside and outside of work and in a world where we can no longer touch, we’re looking at everything through a digital filter.

With huge swathes of our workforce working distantly or remotely – if at all – the only real thing that holds them together is understanding what they belong to, how and why.

 

So where do you start crisis proofing your brand?

Well, as Walter Landor once said, ‘Products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind.’

So, let’s start there.

Brand Communications is all about telling a story. Not just any story – your unique story. Generating and perpetuating your myth that will engage, endorse and activate.

This isn’t just about good looks, it’s the blueprint for your business and a guide to being heard. In an ever-fluctuating situation, done well, it is one of the most real assets you can own.

You can’t prepare for what you can’t see but you can prepare for what you might, and without knowing who you are, you can’t prepare at all.

It goes without saying that brands are based on what you do or sell pulled together with research and strategic insight. Those two aspects are what define your unique proposition. However, there is a check list of must-haves that formulate that information into a complete Brand Communications piece for now and the future…

Here’s our top 6:

  1. Clarify your (new) mission and vision

    This is your purpose and ambition: why you are here and where are you going – medium to long term. Most businesses have or will need to adapt their offering and plans, and it’s vital that everyone understands and aspires to what these are.

  2. Define your core values

    So everyone is clear how to do what you do, from an internal and external perspective. From making decisions to interacting with colleagues. Behaviours can vary and are guided by values, and in a crisis they will bond and include.

  1. Set short term goals

    Time bound objectives can be managed and completed. People want to be part of a success story, but they need to know how and it needs to be practical.

  1. Demonstrate present, accessible and insightful leadership

    This is a battle of sorts. Leaders need to be seen and they need to be relevant. Create regular and structured forums to share information, inspire and unite. People are more likely to worry if they are given random bouts information and if their leader is aloof or mysterious. Include opinion where you can but make clear decisions and deliver them with assurance and empathy.

  1. Define your communication pillars

    Have a clear understanding of and format for what you want to say and what you need to say. Both proactive: brand building and selling; and reactive: crisis management and risk minimising / avoidance.

  1. Digitise

    Your brand needs to be appropriate and useful to deliver messages within a digital interface. This is more than a cosmetic refurb, it’s updating your look to really belong within this space. Understand and utilise platforms, ensure positive user experience and create and provide content that engages on the right level at the right time.

Nobody panic – helping you manage out of a crisis

Nobody panic – helping you manage out of a crisis

Despite the fact we are in the middle of a huge crisis, from a comms point of view things have been relatively straight forward. The Government has led the way and businesses have followed.  No one is alone, we’re all in it together, which in many ways has made it easier to message and deal with.

But as we start to see things transition into ‘next normal’, businesses have to be prepared for managing their own news and reputations. The media are going to switch their attention away from the Government and will be looking for stories about the fallout. So, everything – from financial struggles to redundancies, closure of offices, pulling back from investment, employees not being supported or treated appropriately, to additional spikes in infection – will prove challenging to manage. Whilst much of this is unavoidable, brands and businesses will be held accountable for their actions during this time, and even the mighty can fall with one wrong move.

Last week, myself and Scotland MD, Morna McLelland, sat on a Marketing Society Inspiring Minds panel to discuss managing comms during a crisis; here’s a summary of some things for brands and businesses to think about.

1. Be Prepared (and know when an issue becomes a crisis).

None of us ever saw ‘global pandemic’ on the risk register of any business we worked with, but every business should be thinking about the potential risks and challenges facing them.  These could be financial, operational, people, product or customer related.  Prepare your own risk register, work through the scenarios, and ideally, plan how you would respond.  If you know something significant is going to happen, take as much time as you can to prepare.  Think about who in your organisation will need to be involved, what are the key stages or dates you need to work around, how will you make decisions, and how will you communicate with each other?

2. Understand your audiences

Who are the people you need to influence and communicate with?  These could include investors, stakeholders, politicians, customers, and employees.  Map out your audiences in relation to your issue.  Who is most important, what do they need, what do they want to hear, and how will you reach them?

3. Make your message relevant

Ideally you should boil your comms down to four key messages. When you write them, remember your voice, keep them short, and ideally work with a PR professional to ensure that the words you use can’t be edited down by a journalist or taken out of context in any way.  Revisit your audiences and then make sure you tweak messages depending on who you’re talking to – tailored comms will go down much better than one size fits all.  Be consistent.  Admit mistakes, be clear, and show empathy.

 

4. Don’t believe your own hype

Of course you believe in the business you work in but that can sometimes cloud your judgement on how people externally will interpret your message. Use someone external to stress test your messaging and approach, and get a real-world view on things.

5. Be clear on your voice and who is representing you

When you speak, how do you sound?  If a brand is talking, make sure you don’t ignore your brand personality but be flexible.  Even the most irreverent brands need to know when to play it straight. Be real, be authentic, and above all else be honest.  The brands who fare best in a crisis are those that are relatable and real – hiding behind corporate masks will do very little to engender any kind of empathy. Get clear on who is going to be your voice. There is of course a role for the CEO but it’s important to consider different people for different roles and to ensure the most effective communicators are used at key moments.

6. Join things up

Make sure that your communications response looks at all the comms channels at your disposal, from PR, internal channels, customer newsletters, social media, stakeholder comms, third party networks and direct communications (picking up the phone or sending someone an email).  Timing and the sequence of this is especially critical and will be dictated by your audience mapping.

 

7. Use third parties to provide a different voice

Is there a third party that could support your story? Can you signpost existing help and information resources?  Or similarly, if you know someone is going to be especially negative then you might want to brief them directly in advance.

8. Understand the mood, and how it changes over time

How your story lands will have as much to do with what you say as the context in which it is landing.  Make sure you have a good read on the external environment and are sensitive to what’s going on around you. At the moment we are ‘all in this together’ with a collective goal, but that’s unusual. Be aware of wider economic factors that are influencing opinion – both good and bad – and how your messaging might need to change.

9. Communicate often and think ahead

Keep people updated (even when you have nothing to say).  Never stick your head in the sand or ignore questions. Review your social content and frequency of communications as people hunger for information, reassurance or guidance. And while you’re in this now, and will undoubtedly be focused on getting out of it as quickly and painlessly as possible, think ahead…what could be the future implications; unemployment, shareholder unrest, staff well-being and mental health, and are you equipped for that too?

 

10. Get specialist help

Managing reputations in a crisis is something that can’t be taught in a book or by reading a blog. The process and nuances come from years of experience so get someone in that knows what they are doing and absolutely have them at the top table throughout.  If you manage something badly then it’s going to take five times longer to clear up and by then your reputation could be severely damaged. Surround yourself with experienced experts that can help you and provide calm and confident support.

As a final thought, while no-one loves a crisis, if handled correctly they can define a business and the leadership team within it. Even when delivering the toughest of messages, if you are relatable and act with integrity and compassion then things might not end up quite as bad as you think.