Understanding observations and views of audiences

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Our Correspondent / EMIRATES BUSINESS

Hold on tight to your dream, that’s the general mantra being circulated around the world amid rumors of tumultuous economic times ahead in 2016. Company, business and government expenditures across the globe — including here in the Middle
East — are being curtailed; projects are being put on hold and headcounts slashed amid lingering concerns over the Chinese economy and the price of oil. This backdrop and forecast has understandably had an adverse effect on the communication resources of organisations. With many businesses shaking in their boots at the prospect of having to scale down, it is communication and marketing budgets that are being slashed first.
According to communications expert Ross Bethell, Director of Strategy at Dubai-based Cicero & Bernay Public Relations, one of the region’s foremost PR agencies, the thinking behind such decisions to slash these budgets is very often fuelled by underestimations of the value and brand power that strong communications have for a company. Many organisations wrongly fall silent at a crucial point when it’s essential to interact with and guide stakeholders like customers, investors, partners and the media.
Bethell advises that instead of pushing communications to the back burner during difficult times, companies should leverage this tool as an asset that will benefit their brand and reputation over the short and long-term.
“Dubai is an exciting and dynamic city that has made great strides over the past few years to diversify its economy, so I don’t believe it will be decimated by the decline in oil prices. Tourism, trade and finance are big drivers of Dubai’s innovative economy so we are in good shape. However, companies in the UAE, that are feeling a pinch, need to develop and sharpen their communications tools to boost their core business through communications and engaging with important audiences, as opposed to closing those doors to the very thing that might just end up getting their brands recognised in the market and pulling them through a challenging economic time,” Bethell said.
During good and bad times, having a firm grasp of the attitudes and perceptions of important audiences has to be a continual pursuit for any communicator. While Ross recommends stakeholder perception studies to be done at least twice annually, it’s now become easier to facilitate stakeholder understanding thanks to our modern technology’s ability to conduct real-time measurements of social media engagement. He suggests that companies continually ‘check the pulse’ of their important audiences to asses the interest and support, and to drive communications that will engage. This is especially necessary during times of economic uncertainty; by understanding the observations and views of audiences, insight can be given into their preparedness to purchase; to endorse business entities or ideas to their friends; or to raise any objections they might have in order to maintain bottom all around.
It is also important not to negate the relevance of the organisational narrative — phrases and words that are used across all forms of communication in order to raise awareness, support and understanding among audiences — ultimately driving them to purchase, recommend, attend or even support the initiative or brand. While it’s tempting to discard the ‘message house’ in favor of a simpler (or cheaper) alternative that will focus only on the bottom line, companies should think twice before cutting out the narrative.
“It is well-known that customers don’t always adapt easily to change,” says Bethell, who has worked on various strategic communication campaigns for big names in the region.
“Companies must remember why their product, or the message their product conveys to the market, became popular and successful in the first place. Changing the narrative for short-term economic gains will end up doing much more harm than good, as it can impact brand performance and viability in the market and ultimately organisational reputation. Of course revenue and sales are vital in an economic slowdown, and as such, consistency in brand and messaging over the long term is what should be maintained from a strategic point of view,” he added.
There is no magic carpet that’s going to sweep revenue into the doors of organisations that isolate themselves from the market by ceasing communications. It is up to the entity itself to think, plan and strategize for long-term adaptability and exposure, and to establish, facilitate and grow its voice and audience by means of effective communications solutions; as such, the very worst thing businesses can do is reign-in communication with stakeholders during difficult times.
If anything, it will cause stakeholders to wonder if the flow of communication will come to an unexpected end and, amid the void in the back-and-forth exchanges, they will likely fill it with their own conclusions as to what’s really going on with a company and that assumption is more often than not at the very lowest end of the spectrum.
“With a diligent and continual understanding of key stakeholders and a staunch set of messages, businesses should continue to share news, accept interview requests from journalists, and engage on social media. It is essential for organisations to build around a set of messages that resonate with the brand’s target markets and audiences, thus continuing to fuel interest in their products, rather than bury their heads in the sand like an ostrich,” he added.


Ross Bethell copy


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