To keep brands strong, stress what they stand for
By Regis Coccia
All businesses change, intentionally and otherwise. They take on new people, offer new products and services, combine with other companies and sometimes restructure just about everything they do. Businesses also face unexpected and unpleasant developments that can damage their brands.
With such changes comes the need to communicate to all the brand’s audiences: employees, customers, business partners, investors, et al.
When handled effectively, communication can strengthen a brand during change.
Here are some tips to help companies tackle this challenge:
State the reason for the change. Why a company is making a change is not always intuitive to people outside the boardroom. Decision-makers have much more information to support their reasoning, and in large organizations, they sometimes forget that others haven’t been privy to the same material. Stakeholders want to know the reason for big changes, and the best way for them to learn that is through straightforward communication.
Explain what’s new and what isn’t. Change is challenging for many people — it’s difficult, but not impossible, to alter behaviors. One way to make a change easier to understand and embrace is to place it into context with what is not changing and therefore doesn’t require forming new habits and expectations. Put another way, don’t force your audience to focus only on what’s going to be different; offer them reassurance.
Outline the impact. Certain words and phrases in the lexicon of business have become euphemisms. These include “rightsizing,” “realignment,” “exploring strategic alternatives,” “left to pursue other opportunities” and many more. Is there anyone out there who hasn’t interpreted these terms as layoffs, closures, selling out and getting fired? When a change is going to have a negative impact on employees, customers or investors, don’t dance around it. Be honest and let people know what the change will mean for them.
Remind the audience what the brand stands for. An executive at a well-known franchise company in the hospitality sector correctly notes that a brand is “essentially a collection of stories.” In the face of change and new directions, it’s easy to lose sight of the stories behind the brand. Take the opportunity to remind people what the brand represents.
Legendary radio personality Casey Kasem witnessed a lot of change during his four-decade career. Fans of FM radio in the 1970s and ’80s will remember him as the host of “American Top 40,” and younger generations may recognize him as the voice of Shaggy in “Scooby Doo.” As Kasem put it, what really matters usually remains: “Basically, radio hasn’t changed over the years. Despite all the technical improvements, it still boils down to a man or a woman and a microphone, playing music, sharing stories, talking about issues — communicating with an audience.”
That’s solid advice for brand communications, too.