Five New Rules for Designing Corporate Communications in a Digital Age

Creating Value and Relevance in a Time of New Relationships and Possibilities

As a function, Corporate Communications has always played a vital role in influencing and maintaining organizational health – reputation, culture, employee engagement, strategy deployment, business narrative, market entry, leadership alignment, product and mission efficacy and of course, trust.  Under a decades-old construct designed to deliver stakeholder insights, media relations (i.e., company mentions), product promotion, crisis mitigation, product campaigns, practitioners were, for the most part, measured by the quantity of their work.

Communications was aimed at the masses.  This all made sense in an analog world that kept activities and audiences in silos allowing communicators to manage and measure their efforts in linear, anecdotal, and myopic ways.

Of course, the digital and social reality that has enveloped us poses a new set of opportunities and challenges as well as a new operating and structural model for Corporate Communications. With it, are a mix of different skills and capabilities, new systems and processes, a higher order of expectations, and a suite of progressive tools designed to accomplish one goal:

RELEVANCE.

Relevance is Corporate Communications’ center of gravity.

Being relevant is the new reputation in a digital age.  Customers have no time to figure out who and what you are.  There are too many choices.  Too much noise.  You must grab their interest quickly and keep it consistently.  Brands must be “on trend” based on their respective mission and engage stakeholders in an on-going relationship and dialogue that respects each other as partners.

In a digital world, data is key and insight is essential.

Data breaks down the traditional walls between Communications and Marketing, recognizing that the customer is truly in charge.  No one cares which group reports to which group or what you call it.

Arguments for a past age.  Answers to questions no one cares about.  Certainly not CEOs or customers.

Further, there are myriad reports and white papers urging corporate communicators and corporate communications functions to focus on integration, collaboration, adopting new skills, incorporating analysis and measurement, and forging new partnerships inside and outside the organization.  Well-intentioned and solid advice for sure.  But they overlook the key essentials in designing a new model that ensures corporate communications in both a functional and systemic sense creates lasting value for the enterprise.

As organizations jockey for relevance today, Corporate Communications leaders would do well to follow these five rules in creating value:

1. Digital Means the Customer and Employee Possess the Power. Period.

Adopting a digital mindset requires you accept that digital is neither a channel nor a component of marketing.  Digital is a way of life.  It means a new relationship and respect with customers, employees, and key stakeholders who now hold the power and control over your brand and organization.  Companies do not own their brands anymore.  They are stewards and advocates of their brands and products/services being both responsive and proactive in their interactions with stakeholders.

In a similar fashion, influence has transformed coverage – knowing how opinion is formed in a digital environment vs. traditional media coverage and reporting has upended how, when and where brands convey their narrative and messages – causing disruption in one of the core activities for Corporate Communications.

Inside companies, employees have the means and ability to participate and challenge leadership in everything from strategy to investments, personnel decisions to product development and everything in between.   This balances and/or possibly shifts the origination of policy and purpose to the workforce re-orienting the discussion from broadcast to conversation and changing the management dynamic in new and profound ways.

2. PR/Communications vs. Marketing: “Tomato vs. Tomatoe”

 Can we stop arguing over which is more important?  (Or where each should report?)

It’s the wrong question.

The question is actually this:

How does the company view customer/employee/stakeholder communications?  As a Marketing activity or a PR/Comms activity?

In the Digital Age, the customer and other key stakeholders control the relationship.  The company or brand is an advocate that establishes and reinforces the efficacy of the product service or brand.

Given that, Marketing is actually becoming a PR/Comms activity vs. a selling proposition.

But here’s the catch.  Due to the transformative nature of Digital both Marketing and PR/Comms are morphing together – skills, analysis, programming, advocacy, influence, channels, content, etc.

The challenge is semantics.  When we say “Marketing” or “PR/Comms” people default to legacy definitions.

Remember, there are no silos in a digital world.

3. Data Sets You Free… Insight Keeps You Honest!

 For all the talk about data and analytics, the challenge for corporate communications is two-fold:  First, recognizing what to analyze; and Second, translating the findings to actionable insights.

Data without insight is just data.

Incorporating analytics into communications is game changer on many levels.  It raises our work to a more scientific level introducing data into our work and allowing us to see clearly what’s happening.  But, it still not an intuitive or natural activity.  And, data is not a plug and play operation.  Rather, data, analysis, and insight must be the catalyst for a new organization design for Corporate Communications.

One that is defined by an organizing principle where activity is based on the customer or stakeholder experience and programming is more intuitive than planned. The goal is to engender new customer relationships based on mutual understanding and benefit and sustainable principles to foster trust and engagement.

A function with equal parts analytics, insight formation, and creative thinking.

4. Relevance is Defined by the Marketplace

Data and analysis provides a direct line of sight of sight to the marketplace.  Digital leverages the capabilities of technology and media to ensure customer relevance.  In that regard, relevance is defined or expressed by customers, employees, and other key stakeholders

Corporate Communications as a function in this environment does not create relevance and convey its characteristics as it once did.  Rather, Corporate Communications listens and extracts relevance from customers, employees, etc., and captures its meaning and nuance in every touchpoint to improve overall customer experience and journey.

5. Storytelling is About the Plot 

Communicators and marketers have been trained to communicate the brand and organization in a clinical, structured manner.  For PR/Communications specifically, this model was based on journalistic training and mores.  This approach is no longer effective.

To capture attention, generate interest, and ignite passion, communicators and marketers must convey their purpose and efficacy through stories.  Stories that are genuine, passionate, real, and personal.

Stories that place customers in the starring role.  Stories that people relate to. Stories that capture values.

And, to top it off, customers want to create and share their own content about their experience with products and brands.  Their stories are often the ones that break-through, so creating content in Corporate Communications is actually secondary today.  Finding and curating customer content is a shift from being message-centric to being customer-sensitive.

But without a plot there is no story.  This is what communicators and marketers miss.  The plot is all about the “Why?” When your stories capture the “Why?” your customers and employees connect on their terms.

In the end, the new Corporate Communications function is really about a new:

MINDSET

New skills and expectations emanate from this shift in thinking.  Ensuring the organization is relevant starts with accepting the true meaning of the digital age.  The customer and key stakeholders control the dynamic moving power from the company and the brand to the marketplace and the workplace.

The real benefit though is that technology in the form of data intelligence and analytics provides communicators with the analysis and insight necessary to navigate this new world. With this information communicators can truly comprehend customer and employee behaviors and intent recalibrating efforts to be more in sync and precise.

Bottom line:  Corporate Communications Must Exhibit a New Value Proposition

Read more about W2O Group’s approach to Function Optimization for Corporate Communications in our report: Are You Built for the Future… Or Solving Yesterday’s Reality?

  • Michele Clarke

    Well said.

Gary Grates
Gary Grates
Principal
  • Michele Clarke

    Well said.