The Visible Effects of the Invisible in Communication
As published in Roastbrief, a leading industry publication in Mexico specialized in advertising, marketing, and digital innovation.
In the novel “War of the Worlds” by H.G. Wells, an alien race almost conquered Earth, despite our best efforts to stop them. All weapons and strategies failed to halt the Martian invaders until, without warning, the conquerors died without any human intervention. A virus, with which Earthlings had lived for thousands of years and to which the Martians had no immunity, defeated the invasion. The Martians never foresaw the pathogen, and yet suffered its deadly effects.
Today, another virus has completely halted our civilization. Global trade, which we once perceived as permanent and immutable, is frozen by an actor invisible to the naked eye. Nevertheless, despite our physical and economic stasis, communication activity continues to increase. The physical distance between people, institutions, and brands correlates with a renewed, hectic, and radical communication uptick.
The usual channels have not only expanded, but also diversified. Content is disseminated widely despite its suspect veracity or origins. Credibility and accuracy have become essential. Fundamental questions that were previously ignored today take center stage. What are our priorities? What is most important in what we do? Do the things I do reflect who I am? Most importantly, what should I do during this time of crisis?
Four communication tenets are most relevant to this global disaster:
1. Communication is a brand resource in times of emergency.
Whatever the activity, service, or product a brand represents, regular communication should be modified to answer the following questions: What is my position during this crisis? What concrete collaborative actions am I taking to solve problems in which I am involved that may affect my stakeholders and the general population?
The communication strategy used to answer these questions will not end with the emergency. On the contrary, it is a fundamental adjustment to pre-crisis approaches. Though brands should aspire to resume normal communications once conditions allow, the forthcoming recovery will maintain the validity of the messages used during the crisis.
2. Communication as a medium of exchange during an economic halt.
The suspension of many economic sectors’ activity during this global crisis will necessitate the use of digital communication platforms to (at least partially) carry out those activities. People who avoided e-commerce or bank accounts will be forced to make commercial transactions to resolve basic problems, such as the purchase of food and medicine, as well as the consumption of information, entertainment, and education at a distance. Reconfiguration of economic forces in the coming months will be driven by communication and management flows that brands use during and after the crisis. The communications and actions brands take to adjust economic relationships with their customers and users during the crisis will solidify in the latter’s perception for many years.
3. Communication as a connector during social distancing.
All brands have two main objectives during times of change: to be bought and loved. Interest and love are the primary aspects brands aspire to cultivate in their long-term relationships with users, consumers, customers, and stakeholders. Nevertheless, consumers reorganize their consumption and affection priorities around the bottommost tier in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need, eschewing any experiences not perceived as fundamental to their well-being.
Previously, brands asked their customers, “Are you interested? Do you love me?” Today, consumers ask the same questions of their brands: You always asked me to buy/consume/use you. Now that we are in a crisis, what will you do for me that no one else can? I can’t buy/consume/use you today. Will that make you lose interest in me? I need people who love me, so do you? Are you concerned about my wellbeing?
How will brands answer these questions during a crisis? What new communication resources should they use to elicit genuine interest in customers and consolidate their core messages?
4. Communication as a narrative.
Whole fleets of planes are on the ground; factories lie dormant due to lack of supplies; schools, workplaces, restaurants, public transportation, movie theaters, and stadiums all lie empty. The Tokyo Olympics are postponed. This new reality affects both public and private spaces. Coronavirus halted thousands of communal activities around the world. Quarantine hijacks time, never to return it. The only tool that can fight this new reality is communication.
Millions of new and unforeseen narratives have been created. How did you spend time during quarantine? This key question will illustrate new personal and collective resources during the crisis, but will also last far beyond it. We will find new personal and collective communication trends among the new narratives. How will brand activities match new quarantine stories when economic activity resumes? In “The Day the Earth Stood Still” by Robert Wise (1952), we were introduced to Klaatu, an alien that arrived on earth accompanied by Gort, a very powerful robot bodyguard. Their mission was to convince world leaders to ban war and nuclear weapons. Klaatu’s attempts to complete his objectives were unsuccessful, so he focused the attention of the entire world through a clear and definitive show of power: stopping all global activity. Klaatu achieved his mission and communicated his message in conditions only he could create to a world that wanted to ignore it. Today, just as in the film, the world has stopped. We are forced to create and deliver new messages that allow us to complete our objectives, not as before, but under a new paradigm of how we use resources we previously took for granted. Communication is one of our most valuable and flexible tools that will need to radically transform itself so that the world may continue.
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César García, JeffreyGroup’s Mexico Director of Creative Services