Navigating communications in uncertain times

Authenticity and purpose are crucial to communications success in the digital era

Image: Tata Consultancy Services

Since the dotcom bubble burst in 2001, it seems that uncertainty has come in waves every eight years or so. In 2008 it was the global financial crisis and in more recent times the 2016 US election and the ongoing existential crisis in Europe characterised by Brexit. These have shaken the assumptions of the global political economy. For communicators, these trends have been witnessed in conjunction with a growing mistrust of mainstream institutions, including the media, and an explosion in the influence of digital and social channels.

Human focus in digital environment

The way people communicate, share and consume information has radically changed, driven by the speed, scope and the all-pervasive nature of the digital world. We now have heads of state tweeting policy pronouncements that have major diplomatic ramifications; we have a company whose share price is shifted when a video of unseemly customer service goes viral; and we have vloggers who can make or break a brand through their millions of followers.

In an era in which uncertainties pervade and in which digital has exploded the traditional communications channels, authenticity and purpose have become paramount. To generate cut-through a brand needs to be clear about what it knows (and what it doesn’t know), lay claim to it, and use that expertise to draw insights that are directly relevant to today’s opportunities and challenges. Practicing authenticity and purpose-driven communications lends itself to a solutions-focused way of communicating. Brands can become focal points to convene, generate and curate good ideas that address the real-world challenges of our era. 

Authenticity and purpose also lend themselves to a more human-focused approach that explore the impact on people’s lives. Once this become the focal point of a narrative, it’s easy to take your audience on a journey they can identify and empathise with, ultimately leading to greater levels of emotional engagement.

Digital inclusion

For Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), our focus has been digital inclusion. As a global leader in technology, TCS understands the power of digital and its role in helping solve some of the world’s biggest challenges. We believe digital technologies serve as a dynamic force for good and that as a business this is central to our DNA.

With this purpose-driven approach, we didn’t just want to tell people why digital inclusion is important, we wanted to show how technology empowers individuals, communities and organisations to make a real difference to people around the world. To this end, TCS launched #DigitalEmpowers at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, to raise awareness of the power of digital technology to enable people to realise and create new opportunities and help address some of the pressing challenges of our time

By creating a custom-built editorial microsite, we shared stories and ideas to galvanise views and encourage a dialogue around key issues facing societies and economies around the world. The integrated campaign, which featured blogs, videos, events, content placements and more was designed to spark conversations amongst those that can implement change. But the campaign wasn’t just about TCS telling people what it thought about these issues, instead we actively convened the ideas of those across the business and policy communities to curate a platform that stood above the weeds of traditional brand communication.

Learning from the journey

In launching this campaign and looking back at the journey from conception to delivery, I believe there are five important lessons to take away as communications professionals:

  1. The world changed drastically in 2016, but the cycle of change and uncertainty is not new. Each time there are shocks to the system it’s incumbent on communications leaders to understand the context and respond
  2. The era we live in offers many ways to navigate these uncertain times – digital technology, global trade and communications are just a few
  3. For brands, it’s essential to find a positive response to these changes and focus on solutions that are relevant to your company’s purpose
  4. Don’t try to be a jack-of-all-trades – take what you know and use that to draw insights that relevant to today’s opportunities and challenges
  5. In the digital era, communications must be truly integrated in order to cut through the noise, and convey your messages through real stories and insights. This includes reaching beyond your company to a multitude of stakeholders to elevate the campaign.

In this time of uncertainty, communicators finding positive responses to the current environment is crucial in remaining relevant and engaging. Finding a passion point and letting it drive your communications is the key to reaching your audience and creating a lasting impact.