The boundaries between public relations and marketing have been swept away, replaced with a broader Third Space that embraces interdependence, engagement, purpose and utility. Brand and reputation—on a collision course for some time—have already met head-on, giving birth to a synthesis that, ironically, tells us they were always just one and the same thing, long before we were in a position to acknowledge it.
We’ve all had to learn to live comfortably with an unprecedented level of transparency, uncertainty and yes, even ambiguity. Dragged out of the familiarity of controlled conversations into a spontaneous, always-on dialogue with their stakeholders, organizations struggle with creating a context and a set of criteria to govern the exchange. People no longer want to be told what companies, institutions or governments can do for them; they want to know what might be accomplished together. They want a say in the setting of priorities and the defining of a shared purpose. We all sense the new immediacy and intimacy our stakeholders seem to crave.
Over time, consistently, the most powerful brands have always been a potent mix of the compelling universal truth and the meaningful, locally relevant benefit. Their reputations, for better or worse, have always resulted from the happy or unhappy conjunction of stakeholder expectations and experience. Yet, as those shift at an increasingly dizzying pace, companies and brands today must engage in constant and healthy second-guessing of their choices. It’s not enough to simply reinvent themselves; they must rediscover their core.
In a tumultuous environment, we must work harder to arrive at the mind-opening insight needed to inform a brand’s story, mission, utility and voice. Fortunately, these new 24/7 relationships with stakeholders provide countless data points to help organizations construct their direction. But data alone isn’t enough, and we all search for the methodology to move seamlessly from these random points to analysis, to insight, to powerful and enduring ideas, and finally to nimble execution.
At FleishmanHillard, we have developed a program we call COMPASS to help ourselves and our clients uncover these new truths, relying on a progression from research, to magnetic ideas, to programs that inspire the new customer loyalty organizations seek. What methodologies like COMPASS deliver, in this world where the old borders and definitions have fallen away, is less about marketing or branding than about creativity in communications and, quite simply, a journey of innovation.
Ultimately, winning in this environment boils down to addressing the greatest challenge facing companies today: how to creatively discover or engineer mutually beneficial solutions with their stakeholders. Fostering community around a shared mission, producing content that adds value rather than interrupts, creating connections by serving a central purpose in our lives – these are the outcomes that we must seek.
Yet, while these business methodologies—like an actual compass—can start an organization off in the right direction and help them find their ultimate destination, committing to the journey and even to the right path to follow is still up to the traveler. Many brands have yet to start down that road in earnest.