Tips from the top in an era of unprecedented obstacles and opportunities
We are more connected, yet more alone. We know more, yet trust less. Our relationships reach wider, but our loyalty is weak.
These were just some of the observations from Weber Shandwick’s global chairman Jack Leslie, as he visited Sydney on the final leg of his tour through Asia-Pacific.
A strategic communications executive, political consultant and international development activist, Jack’s career has seen him work with both politicians and brands to create innovative, forward-looking strategies and plans.
So this week, at a number of talks with Weber Shandwick staff, our clients and the industry, Jack shared his strategies for communicating and building resilient brands in today’s increasingly complex world – one that has seen the rise of populism, a decline in institutional trust, the fragmentation of the media and proliferation of fake news. Here are some takeaways from his sessions:
Converse, don’t communicate
“We used to target millions and hope to reach thousands,” said Jack. “The imperative now is to cultivate thousands so they can engage millions.”
Although the engagement era has changed how we communicate, Jack said that what we need to say has changed too. When it comes to communicating with brands, people aren’t just expecting the channel to be different – they’re also expecting a completely different message.
“Today, it is much more about conversation than it is about communications,” Jack said. “It’s much more about inspiration than just information, and it’s very much a time of values and not just value propositions.”
Understand your purpose
The best way for a brand to speak to its audience is to create experiences that connect to the audience’s core beliefs and passions. Consumers are much more likely to invest in a company with a purpose, not just a product, and they want to know the company behind the brand.
While technology allows for customers to have a much more intimate engagement with your brand or product, purpose driven communications can help tell a brand story that your customers care about.
Experiences that demonstrate a brand’s purpose create greater resonance. That’s why, as communicators, it is imperative that we articulate the brand story and its values, not just its position in the marketplace.
Cultivate your advocates
Identify the people who are in the best position to tell your brand’s story, then inspire and equip those people to do so.
As Jack observed, a brand’s most important advocates are often its customers and its employees. And while we have seen a rise in CEO activism both globally and here in Australia, what is most interesting – and perhaps effective – is when that activism is driven from the ground up. With growing global instability, more and more employees are looking at their workplaces to reflect their values. A study by Weber Shandwick and KRC Research found that 41% of consumers and 46% of executives think companies should express an opinion or take action on issues that may be controversial, such as race, gender, immigration and environment. CEOs and corporate leaders who understand this are stepping up and displaying leadership because their employees are demanding it.
Embrace the challenge
In a career spanning decades, Jack has seen the industry transform and respond to change multiple times. Yet he believes that now, more than ever, we are facing a time of unprecedented obstacles, but also unprecedented opportunities. “We are living in a time when we don’t trust a number of institutions, from companies to the church, to the government. But we do trust each other. That’s a very positive thing and I think it can be the foundation for us to build trust again,” Jack said.
By harnessing the very forces driving people apart, we have the power to transform our challenges into opportunities. Understanding purpose, establishing a dialogue and empowering advocates are the keys to rebuilding trust and creating resilient brands in today’s increasingly complex world.
A version of this article was also published on B&T.