Sujit Patil
Guest Article

"Consumers have a cognitive ad blocker for content that makes tall advertising claims": Sujit Patil, Godrej

2021 could be the year of communication resurgence, and our guest author makes a case why.

As businesses, we don’t get to choose market conditions, competition and, most certainly, not a pandemic of this sort! It took a pandemic (COVID) to remind us of all what we need to focus on and what really matters to us the most – on personal, societal and professional levels.

The dependence of a brand on communication to stay connected with its stakeholders has gone up significantly. The challenges have been enormous, but the organisations that demonstrated agility and boldness in their decisions, and effectively communicated with the stakeholders have done better than others.

I have tried to articulate some of my observations around the trends of staying connected with the consumers during the pandemic, the challenges and the potential solutions.

Dawn of authenticity laced with empathy

Purpose, empathy and authenticity is in and how! Today, regardless of how great a story is, if you don’t tell it with authenticity and empathy, you are never going to build a relationship with your audience. Often, something which is deemed purpose-driven could also be construed as opportunistic behaviour by your TG.

A case in point was our free distribution of sanitisers that was called out by certain people to be opportunistic during the pandemic. Tonality will matter more.

Sujit Patil
Sujit Patil

The twilight of ‘spray and pray’ strategy of branded content

Whether for storytelling, crisis mitigation or influencer engagement, without data you’re going to just spray and pray. Also, owing to the exposure to fake news and branded content, there is a cognitive ad blocker that switches on every time a consumer today sees content that looks like tall advertising claims.

Therefore, the stories that you share with audiences must be factual, data-driven and more inclusive. One way to do this is use research-driven narratives to tell your stories. The truth is that in times of shrinking editorial spaces and rising fake news, media has skewed its trust towards data-driven stories.

Era of regional, hyperlocal content and micro-influencers

Historically, our audience has been one of the most outward focused – we were keen about national, international events and news. The pandemic, however, made us also focus our attention on hyperlocal news. What is happening closer to home or office? Is there a night curfew or lockdown? Are the cases increasing?

There has also been a rise in the number of effective micro-influencers, who are subject matter experts. They don’t necessarily have a huge following, but do have a significant influence. It is a no-brainer, and I am particularly aiming to enhance our outreach in regional media in regional languages with a focus on micro-markets with micro-influencers and publications.

Spotlight on direct communication channels

The pandemic brought attention towards direct and owned communication channels. Customer experience and brand ethos being the core of an owned media platform strategy, it brings the brands, influencers and consumers together to co-create content and engage wider audiences.

“Being heard” is one of the most precious aspects that the audiences seek today from the brands. I believe one should make audiences the protagonist and not limit the engagement to transactional purposes. The audience must feel engaged to be a part of the story.

Time to listen more and engage deeper

In uncertain times, emotions run high, and brands often get caught up in the currents and counter currents. Corporate and brand behaviour is being watched more closely. Not only what the CEOs say, but employee views on social media about the organisation and other issues are also critical.

Constant monitoring and appropriate engagement through responses is key. If your listening tools and ORM platforms are rusted, the vulnerability of getting hurt on the reputation front will be high.

Rise of PR in overall communication mix

With corporate scrutiny at its peak, leading to the vulnerability of coming in a crossfire of media, political parties and trolls, the dependence on public relations and reputation management has gone up. While governments are making good strides in controlling the pandemic, I feel that the effectiveness could be higher if the planners have more psychologists or social scientists and, most importantly, “communicators” on board.

It would certainly help avoid a lot of chaos and confusion due to miscommunication and confusing narratives. I see a lot more that PR can own up, going forward.

I think that the PR and communication streams of organisations have come of age. The pandemic has proved that one glue that kept stakeholders (internal and external) together was ‘communication’.

The pandemic has helped us prioritise on what really matters. A focus on the above themes, building competencies around them and enhancing the prowess that already exists in our communication arsenal can help us set a positive tone for how we build brands and manage reputation, going forward.

(The guest author is vice president and group head corporate brand and communication, Godrej.)