Lerato Songelwa, deputy managing director at Hill+Knowlton Strategies South Africa, shares tips on what brands and communicators should consider to be part of their communication strategy for the year ahead.

Over the last year, business communications became extremely challenging as companies had to quickly adopt new lines of communication to coordinate teams and meet the demands of their clients. We also learnt that a strong but agile communication strategy was key to staying afloat and coming out of the previous year in a strong position.

Another obstacle was to try and break through the massive digital clutter of this unprecedented year. This created an unparalleled challenge for new and established brands as they struggled to break through the social and media noise to engage their audiences. So now that we are in 2021, what should communicators consider as we continue to navigate this not-so-new-anymore normal?

Here are some tips:

1. Quality over quantity in content creation continues to matter

The quality over quantity debate is not new to most of us and yet in 2021 we are still having to stress the importance of creating quality content. But why? It is because this notion pushes us to have a deeper understanding of our target audience and what they find interesting and helpful to achieve success.

As communicators, we need to stop writing long-winded content pieces that don’t really say anything in the hopes of gaining favour with our audiences. Instead, we need to take time to understand and address our target audience’s pain points while educating them on difficult and challenging topics. This in turn will provide a higher level of engagement from our audience. After all, our audience is looking for messaging that resonates with them on a personal level.

2. Look into your diversity and inclusion efforts

Workplace statistics around diversity show that most companies need to desperately consider aspects of inclusivity to create a diverse workforce. In 2020, many companies were exposed for not being where they needed to be in terms of the diversity and inclusion agenda, and we hope that they will put some action plans in place this year to address this.

But what does this have to do with your communications strategy, you ask? Well, it is simple. It starts with brands fostering a company culture where every voice is welcome, heard and respected before they can convince their audience to see more gender-neutral language and representative images and illustrations that companies use in their marketing and communications. 

3. Don’t wait for a crisis, plan ahead

If 2020 is anything to go by, then it proved that whether you are a start-up or a large corporate, an effective crisis communication plan should always be at the heart of your wider communications strategy. The last few months have proved that your brand’s reputation has never been more linked to your bottom line. However, keep in mind that it is rarely the crisis itself that destroys the reputation of a business, it is the way that issue is handled. So, plan as far as possible and you will be ready for whatever comes – and miles ahead of your competition. 

4. Brand purpose is going even further

The pandemic has offered brands a unique opportunity to demonstrate the value they create for all their stakeholders. At the height of Covid-19, with economic uncertainty mounting, employees, customers, shareholders and suppliers all looked to brands for assistance. Growing a brand during a pandemic is not an easy task, but the coronavirus has given companies the opportunity to successfully reposition their businesses within changing consumer needs and values that go beyond just offering the best product at the best price.

Brands will need to play a much larger role as a force for good in the lives of everyone, and consumers will be more likely to hold these brands accountable on the promises they make. This purpose-driven trend will continue well into the years ahead, touching every facet of brand strategy, from social media marketing to content creation.

5. A demand for authentic influencers means big news for your brand

As we head into 2021, influencers will cement their place further in mainstream marketing. However, this will bring about a lot of challenges along the way. 2020 showed us that consumers are deeply invested in who the influencers they follow are as people. Beyond beauty tips or new recipes, consumers want to know what their favourite influencers are driven by, the causes they care about or even their political beliefs.

This means businesses must be especially careful in identifying influencers to represent their brand, making sure they are vetting them beyond reach and demographics, and looking at their passions and how they connect with their followers to ensure they are the right brand fit. Consumers continue to look for transparency, authenticity and genuine value, and brands need to step up.

Overall, 2021 will come with its own hurdles. We can expect new curveballs to be thrown at us, but unlike 2020 these will find us better prepared and more resilient than ever. Certainly, we hope life, and in turn, the economy, gets back on track in 2021 so we can participate in growing a thriving workforce that contributes positively to our societies.