Strategy and storytelling amidst change

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COVID-19 has been the headline this year, but the real story of 2020 is Change – all around us, entrenched norms are being questioned and dismantled. New habits are emerging, whether consciously or otherwise.

Early on in the crisis, we covered the importance of context, relevance, and differentiation for organisations looking to communicate with clarity. To preserve stakeholders’ confidence amidst uncertainty, it is critical not to lose sight of the strategic fundamentals.

In the last few months, as it became apparent that there is no going back to “the way things were”, more brands and organisations are seizing the momentum for change to take stock and pay greater attention to strategy.

An impetus to change how brands communicate

For the longest time, public relations has often been associated with “quick wins” like pushing out press releases or securing media coverage. While there is a time and place for these tactics, during the circuit breaker period, more brands had to take a step back and embrace a shift towards a more mindful strategic approach. They recognised that their usual assumptions about communications, the media and their audiences may no longer hold.

In turn, more than ever, we are finding ourselves serving as a sounding board and a think tank, diving deep into our clients’ business to collaborate on how best to tell their stories amidst change. There is greater readiness on all parts to dig deeper and explore new possibilities, since the pandemic has pushed all of us outside the comfort zone.

Recently, an analysis we presented on a client’s current communications and where they should go post-pandemic has prompted some intense soul-searching about the company’s identity, purpose and future positioning strategy, all the way to the Board level. That process is set to provide renewed clarity for the business in navigating the path ahead.

A shift towards addressing strategic priorities

Of course, each organisation has its own unique challenges during this period. Many of these are, in fact, excellent starting points for mining deeper insights, asking tough questions and rethinking strategy. The following are just some key strategic imperatives that we have been helping our clients address over the past few months.

1. Understanding audiences better through research

Brands are under pressure to better understand the impact COVID-19 has on the lives of their target audience. After all, more than any other parts of a business, communications professionals act as the “listening function”. This has raised the appetite for commissioning tailored audience research and market surveys.

A project we were recently tasked with involves an in-depth study into a client’s target audience and the communication channels they use. We helped to establish an audience persona based on the client’s specifications, and we studied the public communications activities of a few select individuals who represent the audience archetypes. In addition, we commissioned a survey to uncover insights on how such decision-makers consume media, their attitudes towards virtual events amidst COVID-19, as well as their concerns during the pandemic.

Armed with such in-depth qualitative insights, the client was better able to deploy their marketing budgets in a smarter, more targeted manner.

2. Engaging laterally with a complex multi-stakeholder ecosystem

How can a brand’s communications resonate with customers and internal champions, but also partners and the larger community? Against the backdrop of COVID-19, this question has led to exciting briefs that break the silos of corporate and consumer communications and turn the spotlight on initiatives that bring purpose to life.

Our partnership with MyRepublic, for one, kicked off amidst the pandemic earlier this year. Right off the bat, we had the opportunity to help assess ways for the brand to meet the needs of consumers isolated at home, while engaging those in Singapore’s gig economy. MyRepublic successfully rolled out “LIVE by MyRepublic”, a series of livestreamed music performances featuring local artists; aside from gaining media publicity and deepening brand love internally and externally, the initiative spread positivity and helped support Singapore’s homegrown music scene.

3. Driving brand relevance and differentiation through purpose-driven storytelling

The bar for relevance and differentiation is set higher in times of distress because brands can so easily fall into the trap of charity bandwagon. There are already new needs and expectations emerging, so brands ought to think carefully about the stories that will truly resonate.

This is why more brands are now looking to tap on our expertise to create storytelling toolkits that clearly define the new audience needs, the brand’s focal themes, as well as guidelines on creative execution and localisation. This signals the desire to approach storytelling more thoughtfully, in a way that reinforces the brand purpose and goes beyond vanity metrics like virality.

Importantly, it shifts the emphasis from the multiplicity of channels and methods – be they digital, influencers, programmatic buys, integrated marketing – to the story and substance.

Arguably, the most exciting thing about communicating in a time of so many unknowns is the opportunity to strengthen the core and refocus on what matters most. By addressing strategic imperatives like the above, brands and organisations stand to catalyse much-needed innovation and create clarity for the way forward.

What this means is, communications professionals ought to think bigger about our own role in this new world. Too often, agencies and in-house teams alike get caught up in the latest marketing buzzwords and latch on ever more channels for “amplification”, “optimisation” and more.  

As we move forward, delivering genuine value means harnessing our fundamental skills as listeners, storytellers and strategists to help clients navigate change. This is the value RICE brings as a team of strategic visionaries and consultants, and one that should define the new normal for communications.

Looking to discuss your strategy with us? Get in touch with us here!

Agung S Ongko 02.7.2020
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