By Yacoff Sarkovas and Rodolfo Araújo
There is a consensus among senior management at companies, regardless of size or sector: the world is increasingly interconnected, fast-moving, uncertain, and therefore, more complex. Social interactions have intensified to the point where traditional attempts to plan for the future appear to be somewhat obsolete. And this, of course, affects the way in which brands are built and communicate.
Occupy Wall Street, the March Against Corruption, the Arab Spring, the Fukushima tragedy, the broadcasting of the entire Brazil mensalão trial, and many other examples show us that in the environment in which we interact, change is the only constant.
This context subverts the influence pyramid. For years, a small elite – the brands, the bosses, the leaders or any other entity at the top of hierarchies – unidirectionally emitted codified and seductive messages to reach a passive target audience, voiceless and massified. Advertising reigned supreme during this era and it still has the largest slice of the pie in brand communications budgets.
But the pyramid has been inverted. The command is increasingly in the hands of citizens who think and place (or don’t place) their trust in brands. According to the Trust Barometer study – conducted by Edelman for more than a decade in 25 countries to assess individuals’ level of confidence in government, business, NGOs and media – a common person, like any of us, is the most credible spokesperson when forming an opinion about a brand in Brazil. The CEO only places fifth in the rankings of importance, behind even his or her own employees.
It is no longer possible for the boss to impose orders on employees, for the government to sell illusions to citizens, or for brands to create messages without considering the real interests of their stakeholders. In what is notably a social and digital world, in which off and on are intertwined, brands must very nearly overhaul the manner in which they communicate.
First, it is necessary to shift the focus from unidirectional logic to dialogue. It is no longer possible to establish conversations without seeing the interests and demands of other voices that are just as active, if not more so, than companies. The two-way relationship strengthens links and builds stronger and longer-lasting relationships which transcend the ephemeral nature of transactions.
The response to this challenge does not lie in a wondrous communication tool. What is necessary is to take a step back. Brands should readdress their behavior before they act and speak with their audiences. They should inspire, be conscious of their reason for being, communicate their values well, and of course, put their promises into action. Only after that, with a clearly defined and consistent identity, can they communicate, recognizing the transparency of the scenario in which they operate and guiding themselves by the relevance of their narratives.
The world itself is moving in the direction of Public Relations – the discipline that has in its DNA the creation and maintenance of dialogues in fragmented and complex environments. However, in its original form, even this discipline cannot meet the challenge of building brands in the contemporary scenario.
It is necessary, therefore, to broaden the scope of Public Relations, adding to it other skills: the ability to activate, the field of digital media, the language of design, the accuracy of measurement instruments and especially the culture of Branding. The more engagement processes are aligned to the fundamentals of the brand, the better the value perceived by the public about them. Brands should articulate therefore, identity, actions and conversations. However, what indicator can be extracted from this process?
The theorist Jean-Noël Kapferer, a noted Branding researcher, says that reputation attests to the role of the corporate brand as a symbol of credible corporate behavior. Not surprisingly, companies such as Natura and Vale, to give two examples, seek consistency and coherence in their actions and communications, without losing the connection with the essence of their brands.
We understand that brand and company cannot be separated. They are a single asset. And reputation is a key indicator of not just Public Relations, but of brand building. When a company has ethical practices, it can communicate openly, listen to its public’s demands and seek to serve their needs; it also strengthens its reputation and increases stakeholder confidence about its future. Consequently, raises the chance of superior and sustainable businesses performance.
The world, therefore, is moving towards Public Relations. The brands that have the awareness to recognize and maximize the role of this discipline will come out ahead, both in theory and in practice.
Yacoff Sarkovas is the CEO at Edelman Significa and Rodolfo Araújo is Edelman Significa’s knowledge, innovation and Research leader