Thanks to new technologies, especially Internet and those that allow mobility, the habits of people change. We face new cultural patterns.
In this regard, communication is evolving and is facing new paradigms. People again have a decisive role—independent of the regions where they live and of the companies with which, in one way or another, they are interrelated.
The response from businesses and regions is here and now. However, we have to understand that it is not only a question of covering expectations, but also a matter of ways the communication is perceived.
With each act, and what that act communicates, the key to meaningful engagement lies in a constant/ sustained capacity and legitimacy—whether an individual, company or geopolitical region—such as a country, state, city, etc.
This cultural exchange between entities means that the institutional communication faces new challenges, primarily because the individual as such, regains his/her prominence. We all need to talk about motivations, multi-dimensionality, new demands. Challenges.
Institutions that properly understand the need to meet these challenges realize they must implement a way to make the institutional communication play a new role. Companies and regions must serve individuals that are part of different tribes, and simultaneously begin to converge and align themselves to those tribes, based on tribal value agendas.
The situation is complex and creates new responsibilities, especially to each person. Institutional communication in perceptions should help to legitimize businesses and regions with each of its target audiences, talking from "you to you."
That is, neither more nor less.
With the passing of time, people are going to develop new habits. The sum of these new habits at some time will create new cultural behaviours. The truth is that if we go back in time and remember how our lives were about 25 years ago, we can recognize how things have changed.
The mobile phone is 25 years old, Internet 15 years old and ADSL less than ten. The development, combination and convergence of these technologies are one of the keys to understanding our world today.
Today there is overabundance of data, wherever and online. The world has become one in which, the one who manages the knowledge and possess the ability to decode correctly, keeps winning.
Historically, we have lived in a constant process of evolution. The acceleration in recent years makes the world disruptive. Meanwhile, the impact of disruption makes more valuable to anticipate than continue to shape our future by predictions.
The world is no longer black and white, and has become an infinite range of grays.
Going into the field of communications, being they personal, corporate or regional communications, the big change that we can see is that, if the individual correctly decodes the data and converts them into relevant information, he/she is starting to become part of the decisions; the empowerment of individuals.
We are not only seeking for economic success as an end in itself (as in the '90s). Now our deepest desire is to be able to differentiate ourselves, to be in the constant quest for self-expression.
Businesses should leave behind—in many cases, their desire for competition and begin to develop new avenues of collaboration. If you want to get on the bandwagon of disruption, you must innovate and if you think you can do it alone, soon you’ll face insurmountable constraints.
Geopolitical regions are showing the biggest problem. Historically people did relate to the places where they lived based on shared values of belonging. Today people are sharing values—both belonging and self-expression—and do not necessarily live in the same place, or speak the same language, nor eat the same, or defend the same flag. A region that fails to communicate with their inhabitants will be only a container of different supra-regional tribes.
Times change and we change. The money is not everything. Ideas and ideals again matter. Despite the "virtuality" of the world in which we live, there is a great window of opportunity that we must seize in order to win as individuals. The way in which we communicate, and the contents of our communications, will be essential to exploit this new opportunity.
If ideas and ideals are what count, the great challenge will be to give importance to what is invisible to our eyes.
We motivate ourselves by sharing experiences, by belonging to a tribe whose reason for existence is the similarity of value agendas of its members. From the world of scarce resources where we were educated, we begin to move towards a new one based on social networks.
Things are no longer simple, compared to the linearity of cause and effect; we are faced with new types of interactions, overabundance of information, disruption and change. We are more and better communicated. It is true. However, the multiplicity of events leads to a multidimensional situation. It is not complicated, is complex.
Technological advances coupled with our desire for self-expression have also allowed, on the one hand to a substantial improvement in our standard of living, and on the other, to a deepest personal care. In short, we live and will live better and longer, we will be more active and older or more experienced. That is how we are moving from a generation of ambitious young people towards an aging and demanding society, even worse, plaintiff of contradictory things:
We are facing changes that make us live in a permanent state of contradiction. Our values were built upon our recent almost comfortable history, but our future will be built with a high dose of uncertainty. The new contradictory challenges for communication in any arena: Relations between social network, uniqueness and participation; Relations between complexity, simplicity and relevance; Relations between change, intensity and promptness.
Communication is going back to its origins. It begins to sustain in an intimate and sincere dialogue. The mass media must be understood and developed in different ways. The masses are now sets of individuals who wait to talk in a "you to you" way.
Both for firms and for geopolitical regions, mass media communication must address and relate to different groups of interest. The dilemma of this new century won’t be to understand the technological convergence, but the new ways of convergence of individuals.
Relationships with a company will remain if we share value agendas, whether we are in a position of customers, shareholders, employees or suppliers. At the end of the day, we can play all those roles simultaneously.
For the geopolitical regions, achieving aligned value agendas will be based on building trusted relationships. The values associated with belonging are those relationships that carry more weight, but are also the relationships that are losing relevance faster.
Communication must evolve toward more symbolic aspects. And communication is not limited to the question of achieving affinity with individuals, but also to gain relevance in relation to business.
To put it in terms we all understand:
- Of a total of 208 countries, more than 160 countries generate less revenue than each of these companies
- The amount of revenue of these 15 companies is higher than the GDP of Spain
The traditional focus of the geopolitical communication has been developed by governments to (a) respond to financial demands in the short term, or (b) to convert the region into a tourist destination, or (c) to help communities foster development.
Aligning values is not an easy topic for geopolitical regions. The inhabitants must overcome the short-term vision that press governments and above all, recognize that one particular region is what it is, and that cannot be changed from one day to another. As for the people, specifically those who govern, their role should be more the one of a statesman than the one of a traditional politician.
In this new situation, the responsibility for communication falls on those who have more power, the people. Communications are born and die with people themselves, are the people who send the message are the people who are decoding, and also are the people who respond to the stimulus.
Corporate Communications is twofold:
Corporate communications is related to what the institution does and not what it says—and this must be seen as an ethical principle. Those institutions that (a) incorporate transparency and ethical behaviours, (b) incorporate respect for its stakeholders, and (c) are committed to generating sustainable value—economically, socially and environmentally—are the institutions that really make a difference in terms of their corporate social responsibility.
This type of communication is as true for businesses as to the geopolitical regions, in the way they must share and align value agendas. The method of communication is based on ethics, transparency, honesty and dialogue.
At the end of the day, the value given to an institution depends on the confidence we have in the institution; and institutional confidence is promoted with an element that is ineffable, but also has limited legitimacy.
People, businesses and geopolitical regions will reach a differential in their communication if it allows them to legitimize, in each and at all times, with each of their respective audience objectives.
Specifically, regional communications should be supportive, knowing that the communications must overcome historical problems that are structural in nature, exercisable from the authority, creating unity of purpose, and creating the pride of belonging.
As we view the status of permanent change in which we all live, communication must be effective, and enable and enhance our capabilities as individuals. If so, these will be achieved simultaneously: uniqueness and participation, simplicity and relevance, intensity and promptly.
For geopolitical regions, their communication must evolve into a new arena that companies already know—ensuring their ability to generate a dialogue with their key audiences, becoming iconic, independent of the short-term vision, and recognizing what the region was, is, and aspires to be. By doing this, geopolitical regions will renew a sense of belonging, creating a new kind of tribe that again feels identified by the place. The basis of this communication will be in its responsibility to individuals and businesses.
In this new phase of humanity and corporate social responsibility—our new communication method should be understood and managed as CSR—"Communication Sincerely Reliable".
The Scenario: Your account manager has just set you up with your new client contract. To the client, you have presented an outline of your agency process: scope of work, milestone schedule, definition of processes, preliminary timeline, discovery process outline, the creative direction process, asset delivery, project assessment and ultimately implementation and celebration (usually).
The Agency: Wants to deliver a successful brand experience that is adaptable, scalable, attentive, creative, elegant, professional, personable, represents solid company tenets in some meaningful and deliberate way--and can stand the test of time. A brand that speaks of integrity, assurance and quality.
The Client: Wants to build a brand, thinking all they need is a logo.
You've all been here before. You have a professional team ready to roll and do the painstaking groundwork to make sure no stone is left unturned for the sake of your client. You want to ensure the company's enduring success in part by establishing an iron-clad brand, and subsequent Visual Identity.
Suddenly you find yourself in front of the client's team consisting of CEO, COO, VP Marketing, attorneys, and even engineers and administrative are sitting around the boardroom table looking at you with a blank expression on their faces, telling you, "that's nice" but "when do we get to see some logos?"
The client doesn't get it. And yet you have assumed you are doing everything right. After all, the account manager achieved the contract, right? Not so fast...
Design Before Strategy.
To paraphrase one CEO's recent comments, "I want design mock-ups almost immediately. I want action. I want to see a lot of logos. Show my company all kinds of options. Then bring in EVERYONE from the company organization (janitor, etc.) into the process. Let the entire group choose the creative that they like. Save some time and print out a hundred logos from the web. This would only take the branding & ID company two minutes." The client wants design before strategy... We'll just call this person "Action CEO".
First and foremost, the hundreds of visual examples in the world of company graphical identities will be likely 100% irrelevant to the specific client company brand needs. The client needs a unique brand--both in visual identity and in practice--that breaks away from the pack of the other thousand companies that are in a similar business. The client needs may even go deeper. In the short-term the client company may need to rethink the way they communicate and engage customers, vendors, and employees. That's an important enough step in beginning to create brand success, and the fruition of a strong visual identity to match. It's also doable within a reasonable timeline.
In the long-term, the company may even need to overhaul its product line, services, or core business offerings--in order to maintain or improve brand awareness and brand loyalty. That may be Phase II or even Phase III in a hopefully long relationship with this client. How do we communicate these values to the Action CEO? We engage his/her objections with key questions designed to clarify the client needs, and provide relevant data and marketing justification for brand decisions.
What do you think of this as it applies to engaging a client with your brand recommendations?
Second, 20 different stakeholders with potentially conflicting interests is a potential recipe for failure. By running the gamut of 20 people with different positions, interests, tastes, color preferences, likes, dislikes, plus various levels of business/market/brand connect or disconnect--will create a situation where 20 different decision-makers ultimately will never agree, or will agree to have the agency create a combination of the 20 things that everyone likes. The end visual result, according to the aggregation of all client stakeholders, would be a sort of round-square stitched-together thing that is a mish-mash of red, yellow, green, blue, purple, gray and shows a horse's body with a bunny's head--and using 40 different fonts in the wordmark. Or worse. Throw brand integrity out the window. Forget the marketing data and the competitive analysis. Forget any possibility of a solid brand architecture that can transcend and survive new product and packaging or company growth and expansion. In other words, a Frankenstein brand that will please no one, especially the agency which is on the verge of firing their client at this point. AND, let alone the idea of organically connecting the dots between client and audience.
In a client environment such as the Action CEO example, I try to assure the client that we deliberately want take the time to discover the unique company tenets & values, markets & competition, business climate & trends, experiences & aspirations---so we can create THE perfect brand that delivers enduring success for the company--as opposed to delivering random graphical imagery without any thought about the often very deep business reasons for a particular creative direction.
On the other hand, when we are talking about a brand launch or launch of a new business, there is often a tearing hurry within the organization. Everyone is looking at numbers, the impending targets for the years. The internal stakeholders want to see that logo, the packaging, the advert designs. There is little patience within the organizations. What makes it doubly complex is that we might not end up with CEOs who are from brand or marketing backgrounds.
According to Satya Upadhya, Asst. Vice President, Brand Communications at INX News, "A successful strategy in such a scenario is to have a well chalked out plan well in advance where you have done many consumer researches (trust me there is nothing more convincing for the board members than 'market research findings'!). And then make an identity presentation which has linkages to the business, how it will positively impact the topline and bottomline and keep the identity story relevant to the business realities."
Again, engage the client with relevant motivation for your recommendations, all the while engaging the client objections.
So there actually is hope for the "Action CEO" company if we do our homework deliberately and fairly quickly; And, if we handle client objections with a true engagement. After all, brand engagement what we do isn't it? What we are doing is selling the client on brand choices (our "tribe's brand" of brand), so that our clients can sell their company products and services with integrity in their own brand.