Who Are You? 2021 Trends in Corporate Communications

Will 2021 be the year companies and brands reintroduce themselves and communicators address the why?

2021 Trends in Corporate Communications

One of the most practical business decisions in 2020 was the focus on resources, priorities and investments in employees, customers and communities. The result, along with the rest of society, was to hunker down during the pandemic and ensure the business and its critical stakeholders were intact. Now as we move into a new year, much has changed in our world and in our lives. From a company perspective, new expectations have formed. From a corporate communications standpoint, a different set of principles has emerged, casting traditional value and deliverables aside. To that end, we offer the following important trends that are unfolding and the impact on business, society and people.

“(Today) reminds us that no matter what befalls us in life, we can take the charred remnants and we can reconstruct a life unimaginably richer than that from which the shards and pieces fell.”   –  Craig D. Lounsbrough

1. Time to Re-Introduce Yourself

After a year of playing defense, companies and brands are poised to retell their story, re-establish their value, and re-engage with the marketplace in a proactive manner. Pfizer, GM and Burger King have already begun the trend. Are you the same organization as you were before COVID-19?

2. It’s About the “How” 

After years of worrying about the “why,” we saw a shift to understanding the “how” of decisions, strategies, messages, promises and statements. If you are not prepared to answer the “how,” then forget about the “what.” Particularly in thought leadership, addressing the “how” versus the “what” is more important than ever. Most industries and markets all speak to the “what,” but few recognize the key to breaking through is the “how.”

Unlocking the “how” will be the key to corporate communications’ success in 2021.

3. Data/Analytics/Insights to Get Smarter about the Business (vs. Communications) 

We are turning a page with regard to data and analytics. Instead of chasing clicks, hits and visits to determine the effectiveness of communications activities, data is being used to better comprehend the business. Its policies, decisions, leaders, efficacy, value, connectivity, communications, products and services. Communicators must be astute to employ research and analytics to educate leaders and become more precise in marketing, communications and development.

4. Who is Your Focus?

Notice we didn’t say “what.” In 2021, corporate communications will be looking to identify their primary audience. Has it shifted? Audience expertise must be an obsession for corporate communications if the company is to be centered for success.

5. ESG is a Philosophy Not a Program

You’ll be hearing more about ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) as the financial community places more metrics and importance on organizational compliance in these areas, including DE&I. The key learning for communicators is to ensure ESG and DE&I do not fall prey to becoming a campaign or program. ESG and DE&I represent corporate philosophies that dictate how the business is being operated and managed. The tenets must infiltrate every facet of the business, including both internal and external communications.

6. Relevance Determines Sustainability, Efficacy

We’ve been discussing Relevance as the new Reputation for four years – since we introduced the Relevance Quotient, which ranks the most relevant organizations in the world. Relevance determines whether or not someone actually listens to you, knows you, believes you, and engages with you. It captures positioning, leadership, products/services, narrative, employees, value and connectivity.

In 2021, Relevance will play out further as consumers migrate to companies and brands with a sustainable future and strong efficacy. Corporate communications must navigate the organization’s relevance path, guiding it around a sea of sameness, a lagoon of lethargy, and an arc of apathy.

7. Search is More Important to Identity than Your Website 

So much time and resources are devoted to corporate websites and, of course, getting content, cadence, tone and connectivity correct is important to stakeholder engagement, but search is becoming a true indicator of identity. What comes up when people look for your organization? What impression does it make? Spending more time on search pays off handsomely in the long run.

8. Corporate Communications Must “Own” the Corporate Story 

With resources tight, attention spans short, and priorities getting longer, corporate communications functions must determine what they “own” in order to break through. Bottom-line: corporate communications needs to manage the narrative. How the business talks about itself. The language it uses. The examples it provides. The culture it nurtures. The policies it espouses.

The corporate story illuminates the organization’s soul and ignites all communications – internal and external.

9. Corporate Positioning is More Important than Thought Leadership 

Thought leadership has been the mantra of corporate communications for a long time. And, until last year, it was a wise course of action. But then the pandemic hit. And with it the need for a stronger, clearer view of an organization’s and brand’s position. Talking about policies and decisions and responding to shifts in competitive set and market demands will loom large. More so than addressing key topics of interest.

10. Employees Are Not an “Audience” but an Active Enabler

If 2020 taught us anything in communications or leadership it was that employees and internal communications were no longer a secondary consideration. Rather, employees went from spectator to player, fully engaging in all aspects of the business and breaking down silos, mores and tenets that long plagued effectiveness.

The question in 2021 – “How smart and engaged do you want your employees to be?” – takes on a completely new meaning as leaders, managers and communicators look to communicate in clear, concise, authentic, personal and contextual ways to enable people to drive the business through any challenge or opportunity.

2021: A Year of Action

Every struggle. Every shift. Every window to something new…always leads to the next level of maturation. The next level of confidence. The next level of learning.

This year has the makings of a truly special time for corporate communications. One of richness, texture, depth and a significant greater cause.

“The Stone Age didn’t end because they ran out of stones.” – Anonymous

 – Gary


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Gary Grates
Gary Grates

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