In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly became very real to us all and changed our lives profoundly. The question everybody asked was, “When will we get back to normal?”
The answer is now clear: we won’t.
That normal is gone, as surely as many other old “normals” have disappeared throughout history, often after a similar earth-changing event. As the old saying goes, “You can never go home again.”
That’s why instead of longing for the past, we need to think ahead, to the New Normal – life during and after COVID-19. On top of that, there are further profound changes taking place related to systemic racism and intolerance that will also shape our new society.
The new reality for communicators
What, exactly, will that new society look like, and what will that mean to how successful companies will need to communicate?
Fortunately, the global partners of Capital-Image and Proof Strategies, WE Communications, have considered this question and developed recommendations for CEOs and communications professionals as they contemplate the new and uncertain future before us.
A key finding is that it’s no longer acceptable for brands to simply make and sell products and services for the sole, narrow interests of their shareholders. A large majority of the public expect companies and brands to take a stand on important issues.
Trying to be an impartial, uninterested observer just won’t cut it anymore if you want people to really embrace what you want them to use or buy. People don’t want to just acquire your product or service; they also want to buy what you believe in.
This has huge implications. There are three key things communicators can do to steer their brands through these new and unusual times: communicate with purpose, listen to the conversations that matter, and prepare for a new media landscape.
Communication with purpose
Communicating with purpose does not mean just doing the same thing but slapping some slogans into your messages about managing the pandemic together or fighting racism.
A rainbow won’t do it, nor will superficial or shallow messaging. It’s about showing that your brand has a clear social purpose that people can relate to and sticking to it. You need to “be there” for your clients and stakeholders more than ever by connecting with them emphatically and clearly across virtual platforms in a socially distanced world.
Listen to the conversations that matter
To do that effectively and sincerely, you need to listen, continuously, to the conversations that matter.
Your corporate or brand narrative has to reference and acknowledge the important conversations that are happening now, be they about race, health, public safety or how our society works.
How effectively communications teams listen and adopt them into their own narratives will go a long way to determining the winners and losers in the New Normal.
The first step in achieving this is to understand the influencers who are shaping these conversations and why and how they are resonating.
Prepare for the new media landscape
The third vital element in succeeding in the New Normal is being prepared for a new media landscape.
We’ve already seen huge changes in media over the past 20 years, but that pace of change has accelerated dramatically as people have moved huge aspects of their lives online.
This is a world where the lines separating editorial, news, opinion, and branded content are blurring, and environments are shaped by new influencers using new direct and targeted tools.
Communicators must adapt, but they can’t do it alone. They need to take bold steps to guide their organization’s leadership into this New Normal to show them what is needed to succeed.
Remember, even the most senior or experienced leader has not travelled this road before. Experience can be useful, but when the old normal vanishes, everyone needs to find a new way, and that can only be done together.
The team at Capital-Image is available to work with you to find your way through the New Normal.
Silvie Letendre, APR, FCPRS is President and General Manager of Capital-Image.