Eight universal truths in business communications

April 21, 2020

They say we should get used to a “new normal.” When we all come out of this — whatever that means — the world will be different. We will never go back to what was.

During this unprecedented health and economic crisis, you’re thinking about your business communications differently. The way you have always done things doesn’t seem to meet today’s challenges. You have switched to crisis communications mode.

But even during a time of unimaginable change — some truths still hold.

As you connect with your employees, clients, prospects, investors and other stakeholder audiences — now and in the future — consider these eight universal truths in business communications.

  1. Relationship-building and human connection are still at the core of effective communications. A smart communications strategy helps you create, maintain and grow relationships. These objectives don’t change even if the means by which you connect does. I have a client who has done an unbelievable job building his customer base on face-to-face relationships and live connections. Although he’s had to pivot to digital, those connections are no less important or real.
  2. Your clients want to know you care — both about them and about the community you share. In the current environment, you’re likely hyper focused on compassion and empathy (if not, I recommend this become your jumping off point for all communications for a while). But your clients want to know you care even when the world isn’t in crisis. They are drawn to companies that are trusted partners in solving their challenges. That take care of their employees. That are demonstrably good neighbors. Trust is critical in a client relationship, and it will be lost if they think you don’t care.
  3. Your employees are human. Good companies are trying to take extra good care of their employees right now. Protecting their health and safety. Going to great lengths to protect jobs and salaries and health benefits. Via virtual meetings, we see our coworkers at home — sometimes with kids and dogs joining group discussions. It is hard to ignore their humanity right now. But they were human before this crisis hit, and they will be human after we come out of it. Respect them by sharing company news with them first and often. And ensure they’re set up for success. After all, your company’s success relies directly on theirs.
  4. Listening is the most important part of communications. What questions are your employees asking? What are you hearing from your clients? Are your investors expressing concern? Is your board showing signs of uncertainty? Listening ensures you are addressing the right issues and directly tending to stakeholder needs. When used effectively, listening better equips your organization to compel the desired outcome from your stakeholders. Develop a habit of listening that lasts long after the crisis is behind us.
  5. Not everyone relies on the same channels of communication. While so many are following social distancing measures, we are in an almost exclusively digital world. But some are not connected at all. According to 2018 census information, more than 14 million U.S. households have no internet access. And some communities, like the elderly, may have access but prefer traditional mail or a phone call. It would be a mistake to assume everyone is reading your mass email or seeing your social media post. An effective communications strategy leverages all the relevant channels in the toolkit — email, social media, video, traditional mail, telephone, text messaging, and news media, to name a few.
  6. An information vacuum always gets filled. If you are unsure of what to say — for example, in the case of bad news — company leaders may find it easier to say nothing at all. This will always backfire. Always. Employees talk. Investors speculate. Clients stew (or jump ship). Whenever possible, control the narrative. When someone else fills that vacuum, it’s almost never in your favor. Silence is understood as lack of transparency, and often interpreted as indifference or worse.
  7. Your company should have a crisis communications plan — one that is refreshed at least annually. If your business does not have one, learn from what you’re experiencing right now. Where are the pain points for each of your stakeholder audiences? What parts of your operations have been most impacted? Could you have better prepared for media inquiries? Stockpile all the messaging, action plans and strategy documents you’re accumulating right now as the basis of the crisis communications plan you’ll develop.
  8. Your brand is always being formed, with and without you. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos once said, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room,” accounting for both deliberate efforts to create your brand, plus other factors that shape stakeholder perceptions of your organization. Everything you do shapes brand perception. Every compassionate outreach, every useful resource provided, every client problem solved — and every time you go dark during a crisis — add dimension to your brand. Be sure the brand you’re shaping now is the one you want to have when you reach the light at the end of this tunnel.

As your business moves through the next phases of this crisis and into recovery, perhaps you’ll feel a little steadier if you plant your feet on reliable ground.

No one knows for sure how this moment will alter our way of life. But in business communications, some truths transcend even the most unimaginable levels of change.

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