10 Ways Brands Will Communicate In The Year Of The Sheep

10 Ways Brands Will Communicate In The Year Of The Sheep
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How will we communicate well in 2015? Brand reputation consultancy SenateSHJ looks at 10 ways brands will communicate this year.

2014 was the year of murky morals. 2015, the year that marks 100 years since Gallipoli, will be the year we look for heroes and hope. Against a backdrop of national introspection, we will be looking for people and brands to believe in.

Our leaders must regain the trust and goodwill of their communities. They will need to be seen as being open and transparent, while publicly performing at higher levels, and under even more intense scrutiny.

It will be a tough year, with global threats looming large and shifting economic powers changing the way we do business. The timing of our ANZAC-focused national commemorations couldn’t be more significant.

Leaders and organisations looking to connect, to build trust, and to tell their stories will need to understand these changes and tailor their approach.

1. The ANZAC story – we will do some soul-searching as nations

2015 will be a year of national pride, hope, and reflections of heroism. We will think about our place in the world: what we stand for, what our future looks like, and how we celebrate our nationhood. The Cricket and Rugby World Cups will give us opportunities to celebrate our patriotism, as will celebrations to mark Gallipoli.

So what?

Organisations and communities will connect to the stories of past sacrifice and there will be more discussion around how they have shaped our present. Leaders and their organisations must be willing to take stronger moral positions, choose causes aligned to their values, and stake out hero positions of their own.

2. Goodbye Titanic, hello Blair Witch Project

Video content will continue to be the most powerful way to connect, but orchestrated productions are out of favour. Instead, people want authentic content that captures moments of serendipity. Most of all, they want to be entertained or informed – and the omnipresence of the internet means audiences are ‘always on’ and ready to be engaged.

So what?

Organisations that understand the power of online video will connect with diverse audiences in unprecedented ways, providing unfiltered communications for their stakeholders.

As such a versatile medium, online video will increasingly be used for anything from how-to guides to interviews and live broadcasts. Facebook’s plan to seize the monopoly on video consumption from YouTube will also see video connecting with even broader audiences.

3. The pressure will build in the boardroom

The public will have little tolerance for executives (and their brands) who make mistakes and don’t swiftly apologise and resolve them. We will increasingly adopt a ‘one strike and you’re out’ attitude and will lash out online. Yet, we’re piling on the pressure to perform, and mistakes will be made.

So what?

Senior executives can only withstand the pressure for so long – not many people can perform at a high level all the time, especially in a crisis.

Leaders would be wise to build their professional reputations when they can. They should be well-trained and practised in the subtle arts of media management and be ready to navigate rough waters. They also need to ensure their organisations have digital communications capabilities, and crisis communications plans in place.

4. Losing control isn’t such a bad thing

We can no longer expect to control our messages through traditional means, or that people will listen to us just because we want to talk. The power has shifted and engagement is now two way: organisations need to let go a little. The upside is that audiences accept – and even seek out – brand advocacy as legitimate and enjoyable content, provided the stories touch them in some way. This creates opportunities for organisations that carefully consider the most effective ways to connect with their communities.

So what?

Organisations will need to engage on the platforms their audiences are active on, and talk with them about issues that matter to them most. Brands will need a strong narrative to guide the conversations while remaining flexible and open to change, because the conversations will continue, regardless. Organisations will need to be smart about how they meet the demand for content, owning a niche topic rather than trying to be all things to all people.

5. Introducing the captains of change

Another inquiry, a new regulation, a changing customer trend – change is happening at a rapid rate and this doesn’t look likely to ease in 2015. Uncertainty is the new norm, and organisations will need to create working environments that not only survive through waves of change, but ride them with a positive intent.

So what?

2015 will call for inspirational and articulate leaders who understand the value and power of their people, and who can build organisations, systems and teams to own the change. These are captains of their ships who can stir people to flourish in a more ambiguous environment, both as energetic drivers of innovation and as constant ambassadors for their brand.

6. Understanding the China opportunity

Our leaders are pushing hard for us to embrace the economic opportunities China offers. But are our communities ready, willing and able to accept China as the new best friend? The debate continues. Some argue Chinese investment will bring much needed capital to our businesses. Others argue only domestic ownership can lead to economic prosperity. The debate highlights a lack of understanding. Do we know enough about China – and does China know enough about us – to make the most of this opportunity?

So what?

Trust, reputation and relationships are critical in Chinese circles. But there are cultural differences in the way we operate, including how we interact with media. We will need to resolve how far both countries are willing to adapt and ensure each engages with the other appropriately, considering cultural implications and nuances. Businesses that invest in strong relationships, build their understanding of China, and help Chinese organisations understand our markets will benefit greatly.

7. Not in our backyard – international threats go global

The attitude that global conflict and disease won’t come to our backyard is no longer tenable. We will continue to face critical choices to balance security with civil liberties, including the sharing of information, monitoring of citizens and, potentially, boots on the ground.

Unprecedented security at the Cricket World Cup, and other high profile events, will remind us that international threats are no longer contained by borders. We also predict that the increasing presence of drones in our skies, and quite literally in our backyards, will give rise to a whole swathe of privacy and security concerns.

So what?

Businesses will need to be better guardians of their staff, particularly those who travel. They may face ethical dilemmas if they are required to share employee information, or monitor staff activity for the ‘greater good’. Domestic security management must find a balance between keeping their customers both happy and safe.

Effective government relations in this climate will be crucial, while having a crisis management plan and a clear, well-communicated position on how to manage these choices will also be wise.

8. What lies beneath

Increasing urbanisation is putting pressure on the systems that support our daily lives, particularly water supply. Infrastructure funding will be an issue in 2015, and those planning, paying for and running it will be held to account. Meanwhile the persistent issue of water scarcity remains, with population growth, climate change and inefficient use of resources just making a bad situation worse.

So what?

Expect vigorous debate about the size, scope and funding of infrastructure projects. Businesses wanting to join the lolly scramble will need to frame their narrative clearly (and in plain English). Stakeholders, including ratepayers, will contribute vocally throughout the planning processes and failure to adequately engage with these groups will prove expensive.

9. Listen for a stronger female voice

The ‘new face of feminism’ will continue to emerge in 2015, but there’s a step change underway. Instead of something aspirational, the power of the female perspective will become entrenched as campaigns like #banbossy build momentum and female leaders are celebrated. The conversation will move away from the traditional negative connotation of feminism, and feminist values will be normalised in society and the workplace. The old ways won’t be tolerated and there will be a growing confidence to expose those who lag behind.

So what?

Businesses that remove gender bias will build reputation and goodwill over those that don’t. There will be more stories about women who are achieving professionally, or who are managing their work–life balance well, and a receptive audience to make them worth telling.

10. Keepin’ it casual

Whether it’s behaviour, language or clothing, formal is out and casual is in. The news media is leading the charge with reporters frequently using colloquial terms in place of formal language.

The Oxford English Dictionary is also embracing informality, with its list of new words strongly reflecting a casual culture, including ‘duck face’ (a pout used for selfies) and ‘al desko’ (the practice of dining within the confines of one’s workspace).

The polling-power of politicians’ ‘selfies’ suggests there’s no risk of this practice dropping any time soon, while the growth of Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter is giving casual language pre-eminence.

So what?

Casualness could be confused with tolerance for lower standards. Business leaders should consciously choose the right level of engagement for their organisation, in terms of how they present, how they write and how they communicate.

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