A deeper dive into the Cesspit of Brand Communication

Reading Time: 7 minutes

We have been scratching at this topic for a while now as we poke the complex state of current affairs from our context and the issues brands have to face in the new era of the 21st century. We dive into the conversation between Ross Drakes our founder and Dion Chang, about major trends disrupting the business as usual of traditional brand communications.  Read part one here.

Identity Politics, Troll Tsunamis and Backlash…

According to Dion Chang, for brand communication in 2019, a big theme is the complicated world of Identity Politics. As a marketer, even if you are sure you are going to push out a good message in line with inclusivity, you will most likely get a backlash. So back it up and be prepared.

The best that you can assume when communicating is that the trolls are going to come out because they will. What this means for you as a marketer or CEO, is to do your best to steer the ship as solidly as possible.

An extreme example of this is an incident where drag queens were being called out of lip-sinking to gay anthems being sung by Divas of colour and were labelled as misappropriation. This is stretching the spread really thin says Dion.

From a communications perspective, it is not just about understanding Identity Politics, it is about understanding that as a brand, companies have to stick their necks out, as uncomfortable as it is.

Brands need to get over being in the uncomfortable place of the fear of losing clients, it is a given and it’s okay to do that. It will feel terrible in the beginning but we believe the investment is worth it in the long run. Also, know that your competition will be too scared to take the leap. History remembers the first one to jump in the pool at the party, we always forget who jumped second…

Just get real…

From the Nicework team’s side of things, it is important for a company to understand its ultimate purpose. According to Ross “When you know that and operate from a place of authenticity, you communicate from a place of authenticity and when the backlash comes, it is much easier to shrug it off.”

We have all seen that organisations that have gotten some bloody noses are the ones who have given important issues merely lip service, they get uncovered very quickly, get roasted over the coals and have little to say to the truth of the matter to back their statements up with substance. No one wants to be the pink Bic!

Dion says that even if you get your ducks in a row and you get the troll tsunami – let’s call it – it is an element of social media. Even if it is a rather big storm, it is still a storm in a tea-cup and it does blow over.

In these situations, it is how you react and manage communications, that matters. Don’t make things worse by letting your CEO put their foot in it by not responding or denying the issues.

What you need to do is apologise and don’t just apologise, companies need to explain how they are going to make it right. It is about going further and saying “sorry we did wrong, this is what we are going to do to make it right” and move out of the storm really quickly.

Who Should Lead Authentic Communications?

We have experienced that the challenge is that generally, the team who lead in these communication situations are not necessarily the ones that should be leading it.

This is the chance for brand and marketing teams to step up and occupy a strategically important role for the company. They are the people on the front line communicating and putting the brand out there and yes feel the heat and backlash. I mean no one ever got a reward for doing the easy task, now did they?  But the most important thing is that they need to be able to communicate back into the business and get them to change behaviour, for the messages to be backed up with something substantial and authentic.

The reality is that culture and ecosystems need to change otherwise companies are just window dressing the exterior. You can’t do a logo change and make the font a little curvier and put a shadow behind it and say “We have re-invented!” It really has to come from fundamental change.

All the changes and pivots require a company’s skill sets and ecosystems to change if you are going to communicate authentically in a new world with new technology and new consumers that call for new products, services and business models. The companies who are not able to embrace this new reality will fail. This is not an easy task but there are partners out there who are well versed in leading you through a process like this one. (Hint hint it is Nicework)

What do we need to track?

Dion frames innovation as part of the company culture and that it is not a piece of tech or an app that you develop. It is actually the business model that needs to change and that is what innovation really is.

The irony is that we are not tracking relevant things, we have attached value to false indicators. It is not as simple as ticking a traditional box. In this era, nothing fits into boxes anymore so companies need to change their measurements. Considering all the world systems that are changing from politics to skills and education there are a lot of growing pains the world is going through. We are literally about to get into driverless cars. Helsinki and Phoenix Arizona are launching their commercial vehicles this year.

Let’s explore this analogy, Dion explained it well: If we are a business getting into a driverless car, but still trying to operate it using a shift-gear stick to operate the car – well, it’s not going to work because the technologies are different. Yet, we still use the 20th-century corporate models in a new 21st-century era of remote working, diversity, innovation, culture, values and real impact.

So we need to be tracking a whole bunch of new things that are more relevant to growth and impact indicators. We need to track beyond the old business model indicators of the bottom line and investor returns. Also, we will be in a driverless car by this point so all the traffic stress will have melted away.

Who is influencing the Dark Side of Social?

Now there is an interesting concept of Dark Social rearing it’s head. The internet describes “Dark Social” as a term used to describe digital traffic which doesn’t seem to have a specific source. Naturally, this creates big challenges for marketers wanting to track and monitor web referrals and social media activity. Currently, a lot of PR is still being tracked by influencers which is quite a narrow lense.

Everyone is caught up with which influencers they are working within their communication strategies, yes it can be effective but the measures need to change.

The reality is that so many people are sharing so much content on messaging apps and this gets lost in cyberspace. You cannot track and measure it – but the brand or something associated with it is being talked about. The challenge is that clients want proof of that kind of return on investment and the reality is that it is going to become more difficult with the emergence of Super Apps.

What is a Super App?

Yes, you heard it. Super Apps. This is something which has emerged out of China, it is the convergence of many applications into one platform. You never leave the app – everything you need is on it. There is a general debate on whether this level of convergence will succeed in the West. Say if FaceBook wanted to integrate Instagram, and Messenger they would get a lot of resistance but these are the seeds of super apps. Deciding what to measure in terms of return on content investment may become more complex. We are just hoping that the government does not get the idea to make a Super App for everything we need in South Africa.

We are progressing from a time and place in communications where for a long time things couldn’t be measured, you didn’t know the type of engagement, its rate, with whom and how many to gauge how effective your communications campaign was, to the golden age where everything was trackable. Everything was easy. Now it’s getting to be a little bit more complicated. Consumers are shifting around on platforms and platforms are being moved. So we are almost back to the old paradigm, which is part of the new paradigm.

So basically it is like a big pendulum swing from extreme reality to the other extreme reality and by the time the pendulum balances in the middle – we have a whole new reality. There is always that new lens to look through, even when going back to basics.

Can you afford not to speak the truth?

With influencers, for example, we have moved to an inauthentic space according to Dion, people are picking up on it quickly. They are calling BS and not engaging. It all started from an authentic place and then moved into this free for all wild west where the best bidder wins.

Coming back to being open, honest and authentic as a brand. Companies find themselves in a tough place, where there is a new generation expecting different things, looking for different things and they are influencing all the other generations. We see the risk of being honest completely outweighing the risk of not.

The world pendulum of change is swinging into a new era of the 21st century which means traditional corporate models are not as effective anymore, measuring the bottom line and shouting out investor returns is becoming increasingly distasteful.

From a communications perspective, you cannot communicate and track superficial messages while expecting brand loyalty or consumer engagement from a new generation, with a ton of influence, who care about purpose. It all comes back down to the core – are you communicating from a place of truth and operating on the basis of real values? Well, ask yourself…are you?

Want to talk about this more? Ross loves a cup of coffee.

Listen to the full conversation on One More Question. A fearless podcast by the people of Nicework. Join Ross Drakes our founder and Dion Chang, founder of Flux Trends, as they explore the cesspit that is brand communications. Listen here.

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