The New Directions for Comms
by Lena Soh-Ng
Even as the Comms planning cycle for 2021 is being finalised, professionals will have to look at what, and how their company’s reputation will be shaped. After all, there’s a new world order.
The business of purpose
The mantra of the ’70s was led by economist Milton Friedman – his view was that “the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits”. Fast-forward to the present and Blackrock CEO Larry Fink hit a nerve with his annual letter to shareholders saying, “Purpose is not the sole pursuit of profits but the animating force for achieving them. Profits are in no way inconsistent with purpose — in fact, profits and purpose are inextricably linked”.
As further confirmation, Harvard Business Review’s data found that “companies with high levels of purpose outperform the market by 5%–7% per year, on par with companies with best-in-class governance and innovative capabilities. They also grow faster and have higher profitability”.
Walking the talk
One of companies we’ve had the privilege of working with has been AkzoNobel, a paint and coatings company headquartered in Amsterdam. Their motto is “to create everyday essentials to make people’s lives more liveable and inspiring”. Whether it’s more sustainable paint coatings so that building temperatures in warmer countries stay cool, or grease-proof Dulux paint for kitchens, their commitment is taken to the highest levels. Attesting to their dedication, the performance of their Board of Directors is also linked to the company’s success in fulfilling their purpose.
Starbucks’ purpose statement is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time”. On top of being one of the pioneers of the ethical sourcing movement, they are also now working on the Next Gen cup – a more combustible, recyclable hot cup. When Starbucks encountered a crisis case of discrimination in one of their US stores, founder Howard Schulz declared a day in which stores would be closed for training against discrimination. More importantly, Starbucks’ purpose is not just for stakeholders outside the organisation but high emphasis is placed on internal stakeholders embodying the purpose as well.
Building brands that resonate
The role of Comms professionals moving ahead is definitely having an active role in an organisation’s corporate character – how it looks like, sounds like, thinks like and behaves.
Today, the communications tech stack comprises publishing tools, media monitoring and analytics, CRM and databases of media and influencers. This gives us a lot of data to function pro-actively. But the evolution has already started to move into predictive communications. There is a more urgent need to understand human insight and motivation so that we can map out the influence spheres unique to a brand.
I recently hosted a webinar for PROI, the world’s largest grouping of independent agencies. One of the panellists we had was Robert Kabus, Chief Insight Officer and Managing Partner of Dataxet. According to Rob, “if data is the new oil, human insight is the most valuable product”. We must focus on the why which allows us to have a better understanding of human motivation. As Rob says, “Data reports tell us observations and are good for driving tactical decisions. Insights drive the bigger strategy”.
With this new change, communicators can provoke actions that enable tangible business outcomes – higher stock valuations, a more desirable company to work for, or policies worth supporting. The challenge for us when we’re asked to give advice to shape a company’s corporate character is to figure out how we want to design our Comms dashboard, so we can better determine our ROI and play an important role towards fulfilling business goals moving forward.