How Covid-19 is teaching us to be better communicators

15 October 2020
The current crisis has disconnected businesses from their customers, making effective communication imperative and raising the stakes of failing to deliver persuasive messaging

The most important attribute of any effective communicator is being able to look at yourself – your people and brands – through the lens of your most important stakeholders. When we do that we can ask ourselves: what do I need to do to instil trust, to inspire, to energise or to reassure?

Amid the pandemic, communicators need to intimately understand how perceptions and expectations of their organisations and brands have changed due to fear, anxiety, shifting priorities and all the uncertainty that comes with a future that for many is on hold or ill-defined.

Never has communication had a more important role within businesses than today.

Through our experience at Standard Chartered and by watching how other organisations have navigated the pandemic, we believe the current crisis is heralding a new era of communications underpinned by a far greater alignment between the needs and interests of our clients, and our own interests.

But more than simply realigning what we do and what we say, we need to adjust the lens through which we think about communications and rethink what makes us relevant in these uncertain times.

This means being more sensitive to clients, partners and employees; more transparent in communicating what we’re doing and why we’re doing it; being more authentic and human in how we talk to our stakeholders; engaging in the difficult conversations; and being more agile.

Facilitating trust

Communicators serve as the main driver of a corporation’s messaging and play an instrumental role in fortifying existing and potential brand-client relationships.

This role has been amplified amid growing concerns surrounding the pandemic as consumers attempted to navigate a ‘new normal’.

One way we have adapted to this ‘new normal’ has been through a greater emphasis on our digital services.

The diversification of digital product offerings in investments has given clients the option to choose where to invest based on market volatility during the Covid-19 situation.

Similarly, we have shifted to delivering our external engagement activities through digital platforms, hosted webinars, virtual roundtables and panel discussions with the bank’s economists and investments to engage our clients and facilitate interactions between our industry experts and consumer base.

This shift in our external strategy has also been mirrored in our internal communications efforts, as during uncertain times employees will rightfully look for guidance, reassurance and information from senior leadership on ongoing developments.

Open and continuous communication is more crucial than ever for both customers and employees

Internal communication

Ensuring that employees receive valuable information while mitigating against panic and misconception across the wider corporation is absolutely essential.

Leaders that practice frequent and transparent communications with employees, through words of encouragement and reassurance, are able to instil faith and provide comfort under unclear conditions.

At Standard Chartered, we have adopted a communications strategy that facilitates robust two-way engagement between employees and the wider team, during a time when a staggering 90 per cent of our personnel were working remotely.

We have been able to share important messages through digital channels and mobile applications, while organising internal sessions to congregate the wider corporation through platforms such as Blue Jeans, where we hosted a regional town hall with more than 3,000 participants across Africa and the Middle East.

Open and continuous communication is more important than ever, not only for our customers, but for employees, too.

Studies have shown that consumers across the globe are responding increasingly well to acts of kindness and generosity by their brands of choice

Awareness and kindness

Moving forward, brands will be obliged to navigate a post-Covid consumer-brand dynamic that is underpinned by an emphasis on greater credibility and awareness.

The unprecedented challenges incited by the pandemic have placed corporations under a microscope, wherein their communicative efforts and ability to support consumers is being heavily scrutinised.

It has also uncovered a series of consumer-driven considerations that will undoubtedly influence how brands communicate with their consumers in the future.

It has becoming increasingly evident, for example, that consumers are looking to engage with brands that move beyond virtue-signalling and take meaningful action in support of the communities in which they operate.

Studies have shown that consumers across the globe are responding increasingly well to acts of kindness and generosity undertaken by their brands of choice, which directly translates to increased engagement.

According to a recent survey, more than 40 per cent of millennial participants believe brands play an important role at this time. What’s more, one in four millennials surveyed believe brands may be as impactful in addressing societal needs as the government.

This is equally true for the approach a brand takes to its communications, wherein these acts of kindness and genuine community support must be shared in a manner that is sensitive, yet impactful.

The current crisis has accelerated the need for corporations to evaluate which messages continue to bolster their value propositions and which messages impede their ability to practice impactful communications with consumers.

About the author

Olga Arara-Kimani is the regional head of corporate affairs, brand & marketing at Standard Chartered Africa & Middle East


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