Some might say that we live in the information age. But, as much as the binary 0s and 1s of digital technology have transformed the world in recent decades, the real power of information lies in its communication.
No singular nugget of information has agency if it is not processed or passed from one place or person to another. So, it could be equally accurate to characterise our era as the age of communications, arguably the most potent force on the planet. And storytelling, in particular, has been the most influential form of communication and advertising since the days of pictures being drawn on cave walls.
Anyone who doubts communications’ power might just want to think back to 2016. Two titanic and largely unexpected political shifts took place. In June of that year, the UK voted to leave the European Union, before in November, Donald J. Trump was elected as the much-vaunted ‘leader of the ‘free world’’.
Rewind to 2014 and very few would have been confident in making either prediction. That both were subsequently shown to have been heavily influenced by communications is testament to its power.
But, while both the Trump and Brexit campaigns are seen as highly successful by those who coordinated them, communications can act as a double-edged sword. Whether you are a politician, a brand or a well-known personality, it can take you places you never thought possible but, equally, it can lead to your hasty demise.
Whilst there are countless examples of people experiencing the sharper edge of the sword, recent political turmoil has caused a host of brands to fall victim to poor communications. One of the latest in the firing line is the well-known sports brand, CrossFit.
A series of tweets posted from the personal Twitter account of the company’s founder and now-ex CEO, Greg Glassman, made unfortunate references to the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement.
As a result, the brand suffered almost instant, irreversible reputational damage, as a number of the program’s key ambassadors, affiliated gyms and partners, among them the program’s official outfitter, Reebok, both publicly and contractually ended their relationships with CrossFit.
As well as fuelling the conversation around the wisdom of brands getting involved in politics, the mishap has once again highlighted the power of communications and serves as a reminder that it should be a carefully considered part of every business’ marketing strategy.
Beyond the brand
In terms of branding, when we speak of communications, we’re referring to a combination of social media, PR and the media in its broadest sense. In ways different to even the recent past and with the proliferation of available channels, communications today have advanced from simply a profit-led push model to something far more complex.
With greater choice, transparency and independence, consumers now have more control over the brands they interact with and, ultimately, buy from. As a result, a brand’s offering must go beyond the level of product or service alone and provide additional value.
An integral part of that is the image of the brand. As well as representing the brand itself, the image is applied to anyone who endorses it. Therefore, consumers choose brands whose values align with their own personal beliefs and how they wish to be perceived by others.
Consequently, consumers hold brands to high standards of consistency, sincerity and morality. If they step out of line with any of these, they can expect to be held accountable by consumers who, with greater choice and control, are less forgiving of more serious incidents and harder to fool with insincere apologies.
In the case of CrossFit, although the comments did not come from the brand itself, its association with its founder was so strong that they were basically one and the same. As the brains behind and the talisman of CrossFit, Glassman’s views were inextricably linked to the perceived values of the brand.
Through the power and prominence of social media, the connection between the two becomes much more entangled – after all, even his Twitter handle read ‘CrossFitCEO’. And, as it was this very connection which allowed him to amass a significant following on the platform, his personal activity is held to the same standards and expectations as those of the brand itself.
Whilst Glassman isn’t the first CEO to have put themselves in this position, he is one of the latest, shining example of how important a communications strategy is, not only for a brand’s channels but also for everyone associated with it.
Of course, the strategies for a business and for an individual should be different. Fundamentally, the goal of the business is to generate profits, so comms may well be focused on promoting and selling a product or service.
However, people follow the individuals behind a brand for more than simply to be sold to. Usually, it’s their story, mindset and business or industry insights that they value. So, their strategy should acknowledge their responsibilities to the brand in question and carefully position them as a thought leader not only to strengthen their own personal reputation but also to enhance and safeguard the brand’s.
Ultimately, consumers are buying into products based on what the brand and the people behind it stand for, just as much as they are for the benefit they receive from consuming it. Therefore, the relationship between a brand and consumer is an emotional one whereby loyalty can be encouraged through creating a strong sense of belonging. But this can only be achieved if consumers are made aware of what the brand is truly about. And that’s down to effective and clear communications.
For more information on communications strategy and implementation, contact our team of experts in all things media, PR and social media today.