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Why communications is at the core of brand building


Strategic communications is in the midst of an exciting evolution, which by all accounts positions it at the core of branding - and at the heart of business.


Everyone’s a consumer

It might be a touch unfair to say yesteryear’s corporate comms was a simpler time - the focus being to sit on the fence and offend ‘the average consumer’ as little as possible. But it’s not too far off. In contrast it would be fair to say that today, there is a profoundly greater onus on brands to participate in narratives far beyond their immediate commercial purpose. We're now witnessing a shift in corporate communications where silence on societal issues is no longer golden. The opposite in fact; it's a missed opportunity. Or worse, a liability.


Modern consumers don't just buy products; they buy into what a brand represents. They seek alignment with their values, and they're not shy about it. It’s hackneyed to say we’re in a digital age, but it’s a driving force in this change. Because ‘audiences’ are now actors. For well over a decade they've been empowered to amplify their own voice, and increasingly this encompasses the voice - or the silence - of a brand. Critically, this is no longer a trend split by the artificial dichotomy of ‘B2C’ and ‘B2B’; every business is exposed to this change because every buyer is living in the new media landscape.



What does this mean for strategic communications?

Unquestionably the role of corporate communications has expanded and diversified. It's no longer fuelled by crafting outward-directed messages; it's about taking clear and relevant stances through the lens of the brand. Consumer and commercial audiences alike are increasingly insistent on understanding things like: Where does a brand stand on climate change? What is their position on equality and inclusion? How are they ensuring their supply chains are ethical?


Choosing to remain mute on such matters is not a sensible, conservative strategy. It’s a choice to let others speak for you. The media landscape has evolved such that a significant portion of what influences brand perception will originate in, or filter through, social media. Consequently a brand's silence can be filled with consumer speculation and activism - and for good or bad this can define the brand's societal image in ways that may not align with its values or intentions.


Policy integrity vs PR catastrophe

As a result of these mounting expectations, brands are increasingly required to establish policies, develop strategies and build partnerships that reflect their stances on key issues. Of course, there's a fine line between taking a stand and pandering. Consumers are savvy; they can spot inauthenticity from a mile away. So, the corporate stance must be genuine, reflective of the brand's culture, and backed by action. Otherwise, the brand risks backlash for what's seen as performative activism. A charity day, new section in an investor deck or a LinkedIn post don’t cut it in isolation.


The truth is that for many businesses, a new communications strategy is needed. An approach that transcends media or investor relations, and instead engages with the soul of the brand. One that integrates authentic beliefs and societal positions into the core messaging framework. A commitment that involves listening and responding, not just broadcasting. Mostly challenging of all for many businesses, it requires continuous engagement and readiness to participate in conversations as they emerge.



Communications continues to evolve

In summary, I’ll say this again - communications needs to exist at the core of brand building. Brands can no longer afford to be bystanders in societal discourse. They must wield their corporate voice with intention and care, and be proactive in shaping their positions, or risk having the wrong words put into their mouth.


The brands that show due consideration to the evolving communications landscape will fare better than those burying their head in the sand. However we also need to recognise that no business will get it right every time. Hard-fought reputation will be more important than ever.


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