2020: Time for value-based Brand Communication

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Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

Let me tell you a story.

A client and I sat one winter morning over coffee at my favourite café. He asked me to help him with his brand communications. Business was down, and he said he needed to reach out to potential clients. At the end of that conversation, I said I’d help evaluate the issues and suggest a way forward.

Digging deeper, I soon realised that the organisation’s employees were disconnected from the brand. The employees I spoke to, only repeated jargon like vision statements and slogans. Worse, I then got to know that employee retention was a key concern. People joined and left with the seasons.

Yet, all the client was interested in was social media. They believed their problem would go away through more Facebook and Instagram likes.

If one doesn’t know the magnitude of the problems, it is difficult to find an appropriate solution. I go further. If one doesn’t see the problem, it’s difficult to find a solution.

My client’s problem was his warped idea of brand communication and how it can work for his business. All he did was equate brand communication with social media posts and a newsletter that was an afterthought.

What is a Brand?

Like my client, we talk about our “brand”, and we want to communicate that to our clients and the world.

But what is a Brand?

Think about it for just a moment. Your brand does not exist except on a piece of paper in a registrar’s office. (In the digital age, it does not exist even on paper; it’s just a bunch of 0s and 1s in a computer). And if you’ve not registered your brand, it does not exist anywhere.

So, in reality, your brand does not have any existence of its own.

Then what are you communicating and who’s doing the communicating?

Your Brand is: your Employees

At the heart of your brand are the people that make up your business. They include you as the business owner / CEO, but even more importantly, it is the entire team. They are the face of your brand. Through their personalities and actions, they communicate your brand to your customers and partners every single day.

What’s the message they communicate?

If your employees are not entirely on board with your values, stop everything right now and start there.

The first task I set for my client is to evaluate how well employees understood and believed in the brand values of the company. Are they proud to be a part of the brand? What makes them proud? We soon realised there was an urgent need to educate my client’s employees and motivate them to come on board.

Employees who are not in sync with the values of your brand are the ones most likely to leave at the first opportunity they get. And they communicate all sorts of wrong messages to the people they interact with — your customers.

But once your employees believe in your brand, they become your brand ambassadors. If you’re not investing in your team, start your communications strategy there. It’s the best marketing campaign you can invest in.

Your Brand is: your Partners

After your employees, your brand comprises your partners and suppliers.

Imagine for a moment if you were in partnership with the drug mafia. What would that do to your brand image and its communication?

Thankfully, today, more businesses are concerned about their suppliers and partners. Some brands even use that as their USP. They promote their ethically-sourced raw materials, treatment of contract labour and the care of the environment.

Make your partners and suppliers a part of your brand communication. Doing so makes your partners and suppliers feel good, and they will help share your story. They become the stories that your audience hears, cares about, and rallies behind.

Your Brand is: your Clients

The final component of your brand is your clients — the people you serve. Do they share your brand values? Are they onboard? Do they even care about your values?

A successful brand creates clientele who share their values, not just buy their products. If your client only buys your product without sharing your brand values, he’d ditch you for something cheaper someplace else the first chance he gets. There’s no brand loyalty whatsoever.

When someone buys a Harley Davison, they become a part of the Harley Owners Group and share the values and spirit of the brand. They are a family.

Are your clients a part of your brand? Or are they just the people you sell stuff to?

What is Communication?

According to the Oxford, communication is the “exchange of information, ideas and feelings.” Right there, we have the three aspects of communication.

At an elementary level, we communicate information. But we don’t end there. As humans, we communicate ideas. And at the very top level, we express feelings.

If your communication does not involve all three levels, you’re missing out on your brand communication.

The Secret to Communication

I tried to get the client I mentioned in the case study above, to understand that likes on social media mean nothing. Of course, no business should stop engaging on social media, but we cannot start there. Nor can we look at social media as a silo, alienated from the rest of the company.

It’s no longer enough to launch a website, publish an occasional post or even a barrage of posts to social media and forget all about it. Your audience is inundated with content online — lots of cute cats too.

But there’s a secret to ensure your message does not drown in the din.

There’s a little secret to brand communication that’s no secret at all. It’s something you can do starting today. The open secret goes back millennia to the days when humans first sat around campfires beside the Nile.

They told stories.

The best brands know this secret. From Apple to Nike to Airbnb, stories are at the centre of successful brands. Through their compelling stories, they build passionate tribes, not clients. Harness the power of story and your clients will become your biggest cheerleaders.

Using the power of good storytelling, you can watch your brand grow. And I’m not talking about more Facebook likes. I’m speaking of your bottom-line.

Weave stories your audience finds meaningful — information, ideas and feelings. You will have them coming back for more. Publish content that has focus and depth, content that informs and engages your audience. Content that gives your customers information they find useful. Content that will make your audience see you as a trustworthy source of information in your industry.

To do this, you got to know your audience and what it is they want. It’s no longer acceptable to push your message down your client’s throats.

In short, engage your audience with ways to lead richer, more productive lives. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and give them the content they want. That’s the only way to get your message across and gain more customers.

It doesn’t matter what industry you are in, or what is your area of business. You could be a for-profit business or a non-profit organisation.

You can begin today.

Your Brand Communication is Everywhere: in-store, on the street, online

Today, business owners, like the client I mentioned above, seem to equate brand communication with social media marketing or SEO.

But really, your stories need to be visible and accessible everywhere.

Stores and Office Spaces

If yours is a brick-and-mortar business, your customer needs to encounter your brand stories when she comes to your store or office.

· Does your physical space tell your story?

· Does your salesperson tell your story?

· Do your products tell your story?

· Does your packaging tell your story?

Most successful brands like Apple, Nike, and Fab India share their stories through their physical stores and their salespeople.

If yours is an offline business before you focus on social media, get your story right in your store or office. Walk into any Apple store anywhere in the world, and the space tells their story, reiterated in the salespersons and then the product.

Doing this gives you more material for your digital push when the time’s right.

Blogs: Tailor your content to your audience’s needs, not your own

Inbound marketing (as opposed to traditional advertising) is one of the most effective ways to get new visitors to come to your website. You do this by regularly publishing blog content that your audience will find useful and exciting.

Gone is the old way of marketing when businesses bombarded audiences with their messages. Marketing can no longer be an interruption — like an ad during the commercial break.

Your content should be the main course, not the sides.

Remember, communication involves the exchange of information, ideas and feelings.

What’s the kind of information your clients/audience wants/needs? I’m not talking about what you want to give them.

Let’s say you are a lifestyle brand in the clothing sector. What information does your audience want? Yes, you could give them information on your latest collection. But how about going beyond that? What about suggestions for fabric choices based on the weather in your area and styles that flatter certain body types. How about free sessions on styling in your store, that become material you share with your audience.

By tailoring the content to your specific region and audience, your content will become meaningful. Now you’re providing them with the information they can use. They’ll be grateful and will be more loyal to you, just for that.

Let’s say you are a beauty brand with beauty products. Can you go beyond information on your products and give tips on timely skincare for your region and weather? Can you connect your audience to local experts who understand their needs?

Don’t just tell your clients stories. Make your clients the story like what Harley Davidson does with its Harley Owners Group. Let them share their own stories with you. On your part, be genuinely interested in those stories, not just to squeeze social likes.

I think you get the idea. Your audience wants useful information, and you can step up to become that source.

Social Media — the New-age Street Kiosks

Now that you are on your way to creating valuable content online and offline, your social media channels have real substance and not just fluff. Social media does have a place in brand communication and is invaluable when used right.

Your social media channels are the outposts of your business that will attract the attention of potential customers and bring them to your door (website or store). Consider social media to be the street stalls in traditional marketing. Through social media, you engage a wider audience and offer them something of value to make them want to come to your website or store for more.

Your social media messaging cannot be all about you and your products. It needs to provide value to the audience. If they consider it useful enough, they will head to your website/store.

This takes time, and you need to interact with your audience in their usual hangouts.

Unfortunately, the client in our case study wanted immediate results without taking the trouble to make the changes required in their business spaces, department structures, employees, products and services. They believed posting pictures three times a week and blasting a newsletter once a month would be the perfect brand communication strategy.

I stepped out of that mindlessness.

In Conclusion

When you think of brand communication, don’t just think social media. Even in the digital world, the basics of communication are still people. Work with your employees, partners and suppliers. Re-evaluate what your physical spaces (offices or stores) are communicating.

Then extend that to your clients. Offer them what they need and want, beyond simply pushing your products and services.

Use the power of storytelling in your communication. That’s the way we humans have communicated for thousands of years. It still works.

Don’t create fluff with cute pictures and quotes. There’s too much of that on all digital channels already. Instead, always look to create value for your employees, suppliers and clients. Put yourself in their shoes. What do they need? Then address that need.

You’ll be well on your way to creating a memorable brand.

- I’m keen working with non-profits and ethically minded businesses looking to create real value through content.

I offer writing services including non-fiction narratives and features, blog posts, web pages, corporate newsletter content and profiles.

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