Among the many business aspects put to the test by the pandemic, the communication strategies adopted by the companies in each sector: Augusto Valeriani, Scientific Director of the Master in Digital Marketing and Communication, explains how a company should act during this era of uncertainty.
“If there is a phrase that I always try to avoid when I comment on the phenomena related to communication and its implications in the social, political and business spheres, this is ‘nothing will be as before’. Because to say that nothing will be as before it seems to suggest that nothing we knew before can help us understand and anticipate what will happen. I prefer to see crises as sudden, and also traumatic, acceleration phases. Phases in which meanings are redefined, power balances change, new opportunities are created and new risks.
This global crisis has made evident some system accelerations and among these certainly, there is the end of corporate communication and marketing focused exclusively on the exploitation of the present. In short, the end of an exclusively tactical communication, which takes any current event just to say: ‘Hey, I’m here!’. At the moment, the current situation is too pregnant and connected to the expectations we have about the future to be simply ‘used’ to place a product or a brand without reflecting on the meaning that these can have in the new world that is being born. In other words, consumers do not seem willing to follow companies in the field of instant marketing as an end in itself at a critical moment like the one we are experiencing individually and collectively.
It is a trend that had already emerged before the crisis, and that some enlightened analysts had already highlighted, but that the emergence of the coronavirus has, in my opinion, accelerated exponentially. One of the first things we teach our students is that the values that brands transmit by communicating their stories represent fundamental narrative elements through which we make sense of our experiences, not only as consumers. When the emotions we experience daily become extremely strong, as at this moment, we need even more help to manage them. So what we ask companies is ‘what place do you have in all this?’. A company must therefore, be able to offer a credible narrative and coherent communication: it can be a narrative of care, heroism, creativity, or even irony.
In the coronavirus emergency, heroes are needed, caregivers are needed, sages and inventors are needed, and someone who makes us smile is also needed. What role a company can play in this story depends on how its past, its present and the work it is doing to influence the future allow it to present itself credibly to all its stakeholders. Only in this way can a brand be able to build connections and generate empathy. Take the case of Nike which a few days ago launched the following message through its digital channels: ‘If you ever dreamed of playing for millions around the world, now is your chance. Play inside, play for the world’.
It is a micro-story on the ‘lockdown’ that we are experiencing consistent with Nike’s deep narrative, based on the connection between the heroism (not only sports) of ordinary people and that of the great champions: we have different teams, different publics and playgrounds but what moves us and the NBA champions is the same kind of heroism. Nike has recombined the elements of his narrative, he has partially defined the meaning of being a hero at the time of the coronavirus, but by doing this he has shown himself above all consistent with his story.
The same goes for social media influencers as well. For example, Italian Instagram users these days have seen a new sticker appear, ‘I’m staying at home’, which you can ‘stick’ to your images and stories. Consequently, all the images and stories of our contacts who use this emergency sticker are published in a single collection, highlighted on our homepage among the stories. This can potentially become a great collective narrative that unfolds before our eyes by including an extremely heterogeneous multiplicity of actors (friends, politicians, celebrities, brands and digital influencers) with whom we have chosen to establish a digital relationship. It is a real personalized narrative universe on the emergency because it includes some of the actors who over time we wanted to populate our Instagram experience. It is, therefore, a great opportunity, especially for influencers, to renew the empathic connection with their followers.
For this reason, studying the ecosystems, practices and tools of Marketing and Digital Communication is useful to anticipate their future, to understand their dynamics and possible lines of evolution, even beyond the current trends and hype”.
Author: Augusto Valeriani