Here’s my hypothesis: Marketing is bullshit but great communication is not.
There, I said it. And this is why.
The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 and the ensuing pause of life as we knew it caused many of us to become a little more introspective. We started to think about our values, what really mattered to us and how we spent our time. Brands also had a moment of introspection. Many companies faced tough challenges, navigating how to operate a business in unchartered territory and how to communicate with their audience. An especially challenging case in light of the high levels of uncertainty brought on by the pandemic and social unrest broadcast from the United States to the rest of the world.
During this time, there was an increase in consumer activism and awareness. People thought more about how businesses engaged with the local community, if they observed diversity, equality, and inclusion policies, whether they pursued eco-friendly initiatives, and if they demonstrated an understanding of difficult personal situations for their employees and customers during the pandemic.
In short, when we changed how we saw ourselves in relation to the world, brands also changed how they communicated with us. As people, we longed for a sense of stability and certainty. As consumers, we wanted to engage with brands that shared our values and provided a sense of security. And we wanted to hold brands accountable for what they said and did. We didn’t want to engage with brands that seemed vacuous and didn’t speak to who we are as people with hopes, dreams and fears.
Marketing and communications go hand in hand but they are different. And when it really counts, great communication really matters. This is not a light statement. It is the basis on which consumers build loyalty which translates into deeper engagement, less sensitivity to price and a higher customer lifetime value.
Let’s take a very simplistic approach to define the difference between the two.
Marketing is when a company pays to share information about its products or services. It builds the desired perception about the brand and shapes the consumer’s expectations about the type of people who use the product or service and what the product or service will do for them. That’s why commercials have good looking people who are brimming with glee while they are doing banal activities like vacuuming, cleaning, eating chocolate, or using the right sanitary pads.
If you’ve ever done any of those things, you know that this marketing is bullshit. No matter how great that cleaning solution is, you’re not going to be singing and dancing while you’re cleaning because of it.
In contrast, think of communication as what’s said about a company rather than what companies pay to say about themselves. This happens with third-party endorsers or influencers. These people are endorsing the company while not speaking directly for it but for themselves. It’s a powerful tool, especially when the endorser is a trusted figure who is positively influencing the consumer’s perception.
Too often, brands use fake marketing tactics because they think that's what matters. They try to be something they're not in order to appeal to consumers, and it doesn't work. Or they present a plastic, sanitized version of reality that makes one wonder if they are purposefully ignoring the world around them or just ignoring what consumers really need. Consumers are smarter than that. They care about the alignment of values and purpose - something that can only be communicated authentically. I’m not saying that fun, humorous brands shouldn’t be fun - there’s definitely a place for that in the communication spectrum and I love a fun commercial. But if a brand wants to connect with consumers on a deeper level, it needs to consistently show them that it stands for shared values.
Consistent, purpose-driven brand communication not only is important to consumers but also helps to build the internal company culture. And helps employees to communicate with consumers and provide better service. When everyone in an organization understands and shares the company's values, it becomes easier for them to act in accordance with those values when interacting with customers. This creates a better customer experience and builds trust between the brand and the consumer.
It's not just important to consumers - consistent, purpose-driven communication is also essential to building a strong internal company culture. It helps employees communicate with consumers and provide better service. So next time you're thinking about your communication strategy, remember this: be real, be authentic, and be purposeful. Only then will you see results.