Even though many people long for life to return to its pre-epidemic state as quickly as possible, there will be no return to the “old normal”. Of course, the world still looks much as we know it, but it is changing at an enormous pace as people adapt to the effects of the epidemic.
Restaurants are taking over sidewalks and parking lots, and bike lanes are popping up everywhere. In cities like Hamburg and Berlin, cars are being pushed out of the center more and more. Home offices are now a matter of course, companies are converting office buildings and changing production processes.
People are moving to the surrounding areas, public transport, airlines and the travel industry are in a severe crisis. Every party is a problematic event, and the acquaintance on the street greets you with a mask and plenty of distance. What’s more, the second wave of the pandemic is rolling over us with a vengeance.
Safe was yesterday
Everything is shaking up, especially the business models and processes as well as the communication structures and tasks of the communications industry. Companies are now being given the task of adapting business models, products, markets, supply channels, marketing and communication strategies to the new reality. They also need to re-evaluate how they work with their employees, because they need much more support and attention than before.
Many questions arise that are not easy to answer, for example:
- How will we deal with the now home-office-experienced employees in the long term? How do we want to retain them? What does this mean for our production and services?
- What problems do employees and customers have now and how can we give them the support they really need?
- How do we ensure that customers and employees continue to identify with the company or product brand and are committed to us in these times?
- Should we build on what we have now or rebuild what we already had?
- Isn’t now the time to do a lot of things differently?
- Should we maintain and develop the positioning we stumbled into during the crisis?
- Will the products and services that our customers stopped buying during the crisis ever find buyers again and to the full extent?
- Since one of our products was successful during the crisis, shouldn’t we also redesign the other products to reflect and support the benefits of the successful product?
Communication plays a decisive role during the emergence of the new reality of life. It is the means by which the changes can be verified, the problems and desires captured, and appropriate storytelling and marketing strategies transported – internally and externally. It accompanies the core task of refocusing and articulating not only the corporate purpose and brand, but the business idea itself through the lens of a radically changed society. This will be critical to survival in the coming months as the pandemic progresses.
Time for active action
Until now, most companies have acted largely reactively in the current crisis: market changes simply forced them to act. As a result, there was little opportunity to demonstrate empathy and build their own image or make strengthening contributions.
But now it’s time. When will the automotive industry, for example, tell its employees and customers what lies ahead, what measures will be taken, what assistance will be provided, and how products and brands will be adapted or redeveloped to secure the future? But that is exactly what they expect.
Consumers expect companies to place more emphasis on their contribution to society, even before the global economy recovers. This change should not only be addressed quickly, but should also be very rigorously orchestrated and evaluated. After all, this is how companies ensure that well-intentioned declarations of intent are not discredited by ill-considered actions.
Most importantly, they should focus on “support” for all target groups. This means:
- Support for customers, suppliers, the neighborhood and, of course, employees and their families.
- Commitment to environmental protection.
- Providing suitable perspectives for personal protection.
- Developing and communicating humane visions and guidelines.
- Communicating brand commitment so people know what the brands they respect are doing.
- Sharing information about company initiatives to support key stakeholders, especially employees.
- Reinforcing social listening.
Flexibility is a top priority
Understandably, no one is currently attempting to draw up concrete timetables for the journey into the new reality of life, because this is uncharted territory.
But the tasks of communication can be clearly defined:
- Co-create the path into the new reality of life and accompany it adequately.
- Formulate the storyline and communication for each stage of the journey.
- Develop communication plans that work across stakeholders and regions and are both appropriate and cost-effective.
- Conduct market and audience analysis, review social context, register behavioral changes.
- Build a system that responds quickly to change.
- Develop social and content strategies as brands will pivot from paid to earned.
- Constantly and flexibly evolve brand positioning.
- And it is especially true in these times: less, done well, is more.
There will have to be significant restructuring and redeployment within marketing and communications teams and departments. Employees will have to apply their skills in new areas or develop new skills. Agility and responsiveness are among the most important future requirements, as well as ensuring human communication. This will not be easy, because it is expected that some companies will collapse or face an existential crisis, lay off employees, say goodbye to suppliers and disappoint customers.
Communicators will have to work hard to consistently encourage leaders to maintain their open and empathetic attitudes as they go through this painful phase, both internally and externally. And so the pandemic will also permanently change corporate communications.
About the Authors: Markus Gladbach and Christine Vogl-Kordick, The CommsDuo. The CommsDuo is a new brand under the roof of Chris Cross Relations focusing on the “new normal” of life during and after COVID-19. Christine Vogl-Kordick is the founder of Chris Cross Relations headquartered in Munich and a member of FirstPR Alliance. Together with her partner Markus Gladbach they are the Comm