12 Business Issues

Market entry/evolution

The brand is entering a new business sector and has to build credibility and awareness of a new set of capabilities.  It could be entering the B2C segment (after previously focusing on B2B), extending it’s offering to food and beverages (from hospitality), or diversifying its portfolio into an entirely new sector.

Client references (even, final products) may be in short supply, so the brand will have to find other ways to associate with this new sector. Challenges for which communications can help address include:

  • Recruiting sector-specialist staff
  • Raising funds to support this new entry
  • Developing a reseller/go-to-market network
  • Applying for licenses and complying with a new set of regulations
  • Introducing and building credibility for new portfolio

Geographical expansion

The brand is entering a new geography and has to build credibility and a brand new set of influencers. Previous credentials (history, marketshare, references etc.) may count little in this new market. In many cases, it could mean moving from a dominant position (in the home market) to a minor player (in the new market).

There will be a list of socio-cultural barriers to cross to integrate the incumbent operation with the new one; either organically or as a result of an acquisition. Challenges for which communications can help address include:

  • Employee engagement; merging different backgrounds and contexts
  • Applying for local licenses and complying with a new set of regulations
  • Introducing and building credibility for the brand in a new market
  • Re-defining the brand (history/credentials) in a brand new country

Market consolidation

The trading environment and competitive pressure is forcing brands to differentiate their offerings on price. The actual products start to resemble each other (the PC, lap top and mobile telephony markets, for instance; or mid/high end hospitality where the genuine difference between offerings is becoming harder to discern).

Here, brand positioning, context and storytelling can make a real difference. Creating a distinction for one brand over it competitors; not necessarily in the products themselves, but how they are presented, and the storyline behind them. Challenges for which communications can help address include:

  • Creating and integrating a narrative which differentiates the brand
  • Training leaders to convey this storyline at every opportunity
  • Co-creating with partners to generate content and substantiate this difference
  • Address new/alternative influencers (Xiaomi, for instance, prioritized non-media influencers over traditional media to differentiate the brand and build a profile

Litigation and conflict

The brand is facing sustained confrontation and negative publicity; due to an-ongoing crisis and/or the result of competitor/regulator actions. Such environments force brands to divert considerable resources to defending their reputation, ensuring factual accuracy and conveying their point of view on the issue.

Wider engagement with consumers and other influencers often takes a back seat and, as a result, brand perception suffers. In effect, the company assumes a ‘full time crisis mode’ posture. Challenges for which communications can help address include:

  • Crisis management; ensuring factual accuracy and representation
  • Alternative influence; identification of other channels and influencers who can convey the brand’s message and values

Regulation/legislation; limiting the degree to which the brand can differentiate or promote its offering

The market is highly regulated (pharmaceutical, banking/finance, for instance) limiting the potential for a brand to differentiate itself via its products/services.  In effect, either competitive products are largely comparable (ie. banking or insurance) or regulators tightly control the type of messaging that can be conveyed around the product (ie. pharmaceutical and healthcare).

Here, the only way to mitigate this environment is to generate content and stories about the audience to which the brand can be then associated. Such stories will be free of regulatory constraint. Communications can help address include:

  • Audience-based storylines; to associate the brand with its key stakeholders/influencers (i.e. demographic groups, geographies, professional groups etc.)
  • Alternative influence; identification of other channels and influencers who can convey the brand’s message and values

Employee engagement shifts

Scenarios are numerous: the brand (or sector) is losing it’s appeal (think, coders or call centre operatives), and the company is struggling recruit and retain quality employees. Another situation could be – following entry into a new sector – the company has to recruit sector specialists, who don’t currently associate with them (ie. a hotel brand extending to food and beverage, or a back office IT services company moving into high value consultancy).  They will struggle to recruit the best candidates and/or be forced to pay a premium to retain them.

Other scenarios could include new operations being established in a ‘virgin’ territory where the brand is unknown, or a business requirement to employ more Generation Z or female employees, neither of whom recognize or associate with the brand. How communications can help:

  • Building storylines that are relevant to these new stakeholders
  • Engaging new media/influencers of particular relevance to these audiences
  • Co-creating and building platforms to firmly associate the brand with the target employee audience

Crisis management

The brand is involved in a (usually, finite) crisis incident. Typically, short term – from workplace accidents and criminal acts, to customer complaints and employee compliance issues (workplace harassment, or non-inclusive behaviour).   How communications can help:

  • Anticipating/mitigating crisis via social media surveillance
  • Managing the impact of the same
  • Fact checking and ensuring representation in relevant stories
  • Crisis media relations
  • Legal counsel; with respect to communications
  • Spokesperson/executive training; including physical/social media role playing
  • Strategic counsel and long term risk planning and mitigation

Business irrelevance

The sector is considered uninteresting and largely static; one with few opportunities: financial, professional and from a media perspective.  This could cover sectors such as commodities, computer hardware, business process management (BPS), term plan insurance etc. whose interest and relevance has peaked and no further dynamism is expected.  In effect, they’ve become unfashionable.

Once such a reputation is attained, it becomes progressively harder/more expensive for these businesses to raise funds, recruit the best talent.  How communications can help:

  • Re-positioning the sector and the brand to highlight the dynamics
  • Mapping it with key socio-economic developments currently on the national agenda
  • Taking up a relevant cause – training, skills, women’s empowerment, rural development etc. – that can connect the brand/sector to the wider narrative.
  • Creating heroes/champions for the business/sector to help convey its story

Budget cuts

The business cycle and/or trading conditions can force brands to re-assess and re-allocate their business expenditure (not limited to PR).  How can such reductions be mitigated in terms of the brand’s reputation and profile?  How communications can help:

  • PR (earned) generates tremendous value and is far more affordable (in absolute terms) tan advertising
  • PR is also real time and ‘nuanced’; capable of reacting to events and delivering complex messages in a targeted manner.
  • PR also offers the possibility of empowering others to tell a brand’s story through partnerships and co-creation
  • It can also help brands make the most of their planned marketing activities by positioning them around a wider narrative and ensuring the engagement continues after the marketing campaign is over

Disruption

The nature of the sector is in a constant state of flux, regulations are not maintaining pace with business realities (think, Uber and Air BnB). Often technology is driving this disruption, forcing incumbents to re-assess their value proposition and, even, their core proposition. Being the ‘wrong side’ of such shifts has huge implications for business value, but also in terms of longer term issues such as access to funding, recruitment and influence (the ability to impact policy):

  • Creating narratives that relate the incumbent’s business to the newer, disrupted environment
  • Public affairs; making their case for regulation and policy
  • Generating public support for their side of the debate
  • Engagement with new sets of media and influencers
  • Highlighting the use of technology, alternative business models, new age employee profiles etc. to demonstrate how the brand is addressing this disruption

Forthcoming transaction

The brand is planning to embark on or complete a financial/market transaction such as a right issue, a listing, PE agreement, merger, acquisition etc.

On such occasions, the story and rationale is often deeper than the numbers; the logic for transaction be based on longer term trends and opportunities facing the company (accessing growth markets, reducing reliance on stagnant sectors etc.). Challenges for which communications can help address include:

  • Communicating the longer term vision and rationale for the company
  • Assuring all parties (incumbent and new partners) of the company’s reputation and credentials
  • Engaging investors on the logic and opportunities of the transaction
  • Managing all parties’ expectations in terms of return and forthcoming quarterly numbers

Evolving business model

The company may be evolving into a new or alternative business model (ie. based on changing regulation, technology or market pressure) where its traditional credentials such as licence fees, market share, or, even, revenue may have little relevance.

A bricks and mortar hospitality company moving to an asset light model, a subscription-based service provider moving to on-demand delivery, or software provider moving into hardware . . . These are all examples of companies whose criteria, metrics and credentials are in a state of transition; the elements which made them great in their old business model, will count for little in the new one.  Here, communications will be essential to:

  • Cleary communicate the transition (both internally and externally)
  • Engage a new set of influencers to validate and propagate the new model
  • To communicate a new type of business milestone that better reflects their new model
  • etc.

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