Brand communication is a funnel that transmits messages through carefully selected channels or communication vehicles. Brands need exposure, otherwise they remain unknown.
Cities that have identities and no communication plans cannot compete as no one is aware of their existence. A brand that exists but does not have a brand communication plan or strategy cannot compete because it lacks exposure.
Similarly, nations that embark on nation branding as well need to find ways to communicate their purpose. An integrated brand communication strategy takes into account who you are in terms of purpose, vision, and the target audience and crystallises your brand essence (the big idea) and the channels of delivering the message. Nation brands need to be known by their target audiences by “delivering unified messages” through traditional media and new media or social media. Nations again should use above-the-line, through-the-line and below-the-line ways of communicating.
New media or social media platforms are the new cost-effective ways of quickly transmitting the content to the target audience. It is imperative that every brand, regardless of whether it is a product or a place, should have a digital marketing strategy and correctly utilise social media platforms.
The University of Cape Town’s Unilever Institute of Strategic Marketing refers to these new media platforms as “word of mouth on steroids”. In other words, they magnify what the brand wants to communicate and achieve. It would preliminarily appear that most nation brands, especially from emerging markets, have not keenly and correctly embraced social media as a vehicle for brand building and accentuating brand values. Social media has caused commendable digital disruption, hence every nation brand should embrace it enthusiastically to communicate its brand essence. However, social media should be embraced with a caveat: it should be based on valid and practical considerations, not idealistic ones. Both product and place brands should consider using social media as part of an integrated brand communication strategy.
Brand Integrated Brand Communications does the following for the brand:
- Complementary: Every element of your brand communication plan supports the others.
- Continuity: Communications are consistent and connected through all spaces.
- Consistency: Multiple messages within your brand reinforce and support each other.
- Coherence: All communications are logically connected
An integrated brand communication strategy is more omnichannel-like because it will endeavour to have basically an identical message or content about a brand across almost all relevant channels or platforms. Integrated communication, which is more tactical, tries to have one unique image communicated in different but complementary channels. Integrated communication strategy takes into account the frequency, reach, medium accessibility and the needs, wants and preferences of the target audience, i.e. students versus investors, for example.
Students are more inclined to use digital platforms without face-to-face interaction whilst investors would prefer probably an expo or a trade fair. Integrated communication strategy brings together communication tools to lend support to each other to result in synergy effects. Furthermore, integrated communication wants stakeholders and customers to have exactly the same experience in mobile and web or in all touchpoints. Careful selection of channels is important and should be informed by the audience.
Brand communication is like a test tube full of oxygen that gives a glowing splint a flame. Brand communication brings life to a brand, shapes and protects the integrity and reputation of the brand. But brands (including nation brands) like Botswana that do not have sound brand communication strategies basically contort themselves as their approach to communication is at best piecemeal and haphazard. Nation brands need brand communication strategies to effectively communicate the single-minded idea about the country. Brand communication is slowly transitioning from messaging to storytelling. Storytelling is authentic and actually humanises the brand. It is more believable and is relatable.
Brand communication has evolved to be more of art and science. Creatives are fundamental in brand communication and the data scientists are a must for effective decision-making. The two are mutually suited as data science influenced by technology is like the path clearer while the art aspect is more of the execution of the brand communication strategy. Brand communication is part science and part art and you need both in your marketing campaigns. The science leads the campaigns to understand what is going on and the art inspires its creation to deliver something appealing. With the advent of modern technology of data and predictive analytics and marketing cloud, brand communication is seen as a science as big data can be quantified to make an informed decision on how to communicate with the audience.
However, the marketing profession should not run the risk of becoming “too much digital” but should recognise the perceptions and emotions of the customer and not entirely rely on the numbers. Customers are interested in the colour, visual imagery, sound, touch and feel and even smell, as well as the tagline that talks to their hearts. This is where the creatives come in. They shape perceptions and hold the customers’ minds ‘hostage.’ Messages should have a tone. Are you formal? Are you humorous? Are you transformative? Do you inspire? I am still to see any messages or campaigns (local or otherwise) about Botswana or Gaborone that are easily remembered. Successful place brands do this. Remember Sho’t Left of South Africa?
Botswana currently seems to have no integrated brand communication strategy that stakeholders are aware of (but this should be readily available to all stakeholders; call it a brand communication toolkit!). It appears that its communication (done by Brand Botswana) is neither coordinated nor integrated. Therefore, this may make Botswana not have a stakeholder relations strategy in brand communication and may cause confusion during a crisis. Furthermore, lack of a brand communication strategy may make Botswana not to know who to collaborate with and may result in failure to establish key performance indicators. The lack thereof seems to be an encumbrance to communicate the Botswana brand effectively. Brand communication is ineffective when done without a decent unique value proposition. You can select all channels or attend all events, but it is vital that there is purpose/objectives.
For example, after attending the Dubai Expo 2020, other nations go back to the represented industries or stakeholders and do a wide-ranging evaluation. From there each industry will know how to communicate going forward. By adopting an integrated communication strategy, it is possible to communicate the brand better. The formulation and possible use of integrated brand communication help place brands communicate effectively. Effective brand communication should review the current marketing communications, research more about the target audience, refresh the elements of the brand and implement and internalise the changes.
Finally, an effective brand communication plan/strategy should answer the following questions:
- What do we need our advertising to do? (Inform, persuade or remind)
- Who is our desired consumer target? (Who are we targeting with our content)
- What are we selling? (Our main consumer benefit/value that we stand behind)
- Why should they believe us? (Testimonials, benefits)
- What is our organising brand idea? (Brand soul, essence or DNA for the brand)
- What do we want people to see, think, feel, do or influence? (Desired consumer response)
- Where will our consumers be most receptive to see and act upon our message? (Media plan, channels offline or online, below the line, through the line or above the line)
Brand communication is like a light amid darkness. It connects the brand to the audience, and is the ‘thermometer’ that gauges the audience’s reaction to the communicated messages.