As clockwork, the PR scene in India saw a surge in activity late September, as The PRomise Foundation held the 5th edition of its annual PR summit, PRAXIS. And as tradition, PRAXIS was held at yet another stunning destination, this time the picturesque Aamby Valley, a pleasant drive from India’s commercial hub, Mumbai.
Communications practitioners from around the globe convened at this summit for an exchange of insights from their experience in the increasingly evolving industry that is PR. A good part of everyone’s attention was dedicated to Reputation, the theme for PRAXIS this year. ‘Reputation is Everything’, proclaimed banners and posters from all around the venue, reiterating the corporate world’s increasing commitment to building and managing reputation.
Everything from the importance of defining corporate purpose to technology’s role in disruption was discussed, with an aim to further the understanding of how reputation is closely tied to a brand or company’s success in effectively communicating with its consumers and other stakeholders. Summing up the exchange of ideas from PRAXIS 2016, here are some of my takeaways from some of the most consistent dialogues that came to the fore:
1. Define who you are
One of the foremost things brands must do – and where agencies should focus a major part of their efforts in – is defining themselves. Defining your core brand values – and sticking to it – goes a long way in establishing trust with all stakeholders, most importantly, the people who buy and engage with you for the long haul: consumers. Consumers value and seek out authenticity, more often than not subconsciously. People are drawn to brands that say and do what they truly believe in, and not just mirror the consumer’s beliefs for a sale. Shared values help build a healthy brand-consumer relationship, backed by trust and authenticity; this in turn leads to consumer advocacy without much effort. Simply put, be genuine, real, and stick to your guns.
2. Research plays an important role in building Reputation
An interesting point that came up during one of the sessions was how seldom and how little organizations were investing in plain old research- that is, research that goes beyond product testing and traditional focus groups. To maximize the opportunities the digital revolution is offering for communications, companies must now, more than ever, investigate and understand how the average individual functions, both offline and online: what intrigues them, makes them buy and eventually, turns them into advocates.
3. Millennials are here to stay
As a Millennial myself, I was glad (and pleasantly surprised, I might add) to notice that everyone, almost everyone, had something to say about Millennials – and that something always veered towards the positive. If one were to think that we’ve been intuitive about the impact Millennials had, and that now it’s time to move on to Gen Z, one would be grossly mistaken! Gen Z is here, definitely, but Millennials aren’t going anywhere, not just yet! On the contrary, their influence is only starting to be tapped into by corporations. There are many ways to cater your communication to Millennials; and what Millennials most value from you is information, education and entertainment.
As observed by our global SVP and Chief Strategy Officer Pascal Beucler in his keynote on the Role of Millennials and their Impact on Reputation Management, Millennials highly influence brand reputation in their varied roles as consumers, employees and brand advocates. Understanding what drives and motivates them is paramount to a brand’s aim at resonating with them and eventually having a favorable reputation in their eyes. If you’re not where Millennials expect you to be, you’re nowhere.
Additionally, Millennials are not an entitled bunch – on the contrary. Millennials know that in addition to all their rights, they also have duties as citizens, and are more than eager to fulfill them. In the context of societal responsibility, brands have an indispensable role in empowering Millennials in carrying out their duties and becoming agents of change.
4. Content is still King – and always will be
Enough has been said about how crucial content is in a brand’s communication efforts, and what’s important to note is, none of that stands outdated in 2016. All marketing efforts are in vain if the content to support it isn’t compelling and relevant. In addition to helping your SEO, content is a brilliant way to resonate with your audience. Although the emphasis on content has brought about a revolution in the past decade or so, with the ever-evolving media ecosystem, there is still immense scope for content development – and strong storytelling is one way to go about it. At the heart of communications is the scope for great storytelling; it’s up to us in the business of storytelling to find a narrative that’s most transformational for the brand as well as consumers.
5. Integration, Integration, Integration
A strong communication strategy becomes weak without perhaps one of the most important aspects in marketing – integration. You may have your audience, tonality, content and key message in place, but without integrating them together, the consistency of your communication takes a beating. This is all the more relevant today because as the lines between Public Relations and Advertising, namely, are increasingly blurring, we cannot afford to work in silos any more. The consumer journey today is a multi-channel experience, and the brand that reaches the consumer on every step of his or her journey wins. And with the opportunities that Public Relations, Advertising and Digital Marketing offer, one cannot afford to not integrate everything!
6. Don’t take technological disruption too lightly
Keeping your brand’s communication in tune with the latest technology doesn’t mean having a Facebook community and Instagram profile any more – it’s so much more than that. Advances in technology like Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence open up a vast arena for brands to test their strategies in, and engage with their audience and build long-lasting reputations. What was highlighted was how Artificial Intelligence may be more relevant today to PR than Augmented Reality or Virtual Reality put together. It’s an interesting observation seeing how AI does present a sea of opportunities for creative storytelling. This was wonderfully demonstrated by MSLGROUP India and Sapient Nitro India’s AI collaboration, Tango Times, where cutting-edge technology from Sapient Nitro India and creative storytelling from MSLGROUP India made for an intuitive user experience.
And while AI may be better and faster than us at crunching numbers and data, at the heart of it, we still do need the human brain for storytelling; and this is where the power of technology and human creativity come together for groundbreaking initiatives. Integrating communications with the latest in technology is a guaranteed way to make storytelling more compelling and creative, and it will be interesting to watch how this impacts brand reputation in the long run.
7.Let bygones be bygones. Look ahead.
Lastly, while past activities long continue to impact brand reputation, it’s crucial to not let the past affect current brand initiatives too much, and more importantly, the ones scheduled for the future. What’s happened in the past is important, but the focus needs to always be in the periphery and most importantly, forward.
Reputation will continue to rise in importance, and those in the business of Public Relations – or rather, People’s Relations – have the opportunity to influence reputation for the good. Communications has the power to master disruption, and while at it, create and master reputation with the right step at the right time.
With a specialization in Advertising, Melanie has worked in the digital space with brands from the banking, healthcare, oil & energy, political and consumer sectors. She has also worked on media buying campaigns across print, radio, television and OOH. At MSLGROUP, she tracks inspiring digital initiatives for People’s Insights. Connect with her on twitter: @melanie_joe