Constructing Messages that Engage the Public & Enhance Brand Reputation

This executive summary is adapted from the original paper. For access to the full study, please contact the author.

An effective leader is not only someone who successfully directs an organization toward its vision for the future, but is also someone who is able to motivate and inspire people to engage with that vision. Leaders of brands need to connect with the public, but continue to face challenges even after expressing company values or using the growing trend of values-based communication.

Consumers no longer make purchasing decisions based only on the price and quality of brands. Fully 50% are belief-driven buyers, meaning they choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues that matter to them. Sixty-five percent of belief-driven buyers will not buy a brand if it stays silent on an issue they feel it needs to address and nearly two-thirds of consumers (64%) find brands that actively communicate their purpose more attractive. Consumers care about creating meaningful relationships with brands that align with their personal values and will express their disappointment if their expectations are not met. Although this is something consumers have done for years, the difference is that now, 42% of consumers walk away in frustration, with one in five never returning to that brand.

As the public’s expectations for brands continue to rise, corporate leaders have the responsibility — to customers, shareholders and employees, among other key constituent groups — of expressing their values through their messages, but sometimes what they say does not connect well with consumers. Leaders who practice purpose-based communication have a better chance of establishing longer-term, brand-building relationships and loyalty with their customers, potentially leading to greater growth for their brands.

This research set out to determine how successful leaders can build purpose-based messages that will engage and connect their brands with the public, their key customers and their global workforces. Both qualitative and quantitative methods were used to identify some best practices among (and for) corporate leaders. A consumer survey with 151 participants revealed that the values of a leader in relation to the brand he or she leads, represents and works for matters to consumers, potentially more today than ever. At times, there seems to be a disconnect between what leaders say and what the public hears because of the absence of mutual context. A major finding of the research was that consumers are more likely to believe a leader’s actions than that leader’s words, since most people credit the words from executive leaders to the brand’s communication team.

So how can leaders ensure that their messages are being heard?

In-depth interviews with 12 corporate leaders (e.g., CEOs, company presidents) showcased how current industries structure their messages and where they found both failure and success in their experiences. This demonstrated how purpose-based communications will improve the way leaders connect with audiences because it reminds them that you don’t have to speak in order to convey a message. After an analysis of interviewee responses, six best practices were generated to help leaders avoid missing the mark when trying to convey a message to the public. These six practices are:

  1. Set the stage for conversation by creating a website or forum where people can directly engage with you to demonstrate that you are ready to talk, and you care about what they have to say. Stated another way, allowing for two-way communication.
  2. Be an activist when necessary because if there is something being said about your brand and the degree of criticism is not warranted, you have to be comfortable stating your point of view and then defending it with proof points.
  3. Create your own legacy and remain authentic to your core personal beliefs and actions.
  4. Remember context before content because it will be easier for your audience to fully comprehend and accept the actual message if they are on the same page as you.
  5. Add purpose to the communication plan to help you figure out all of your intentions, so you will be able to come up with examples of how you can articulate and demonstrate each intension.
  6. Recognize opportunities and be willing to take advice (including from those who matter to your brand outside your company.)

In order for messages to stick, an organization’s leader must present it in the form of an action that represents their values. Through the eyes of consumers, corporate leaders hold more power and influence than the government and they want to see corporate leaders take positions and make relevant changes or shifts when necessary. What motivates consumers to trust what corporate leaders are trying to tell them the most are the ways they act to demonstrate and back-up their stated purpose.

This executive summary is adapted from the original paper. For access to the full study, please contact the author.

Monique Soriano graduated from New York University this spring with her M.S in Public Relations and Corporate Communications. Prior to attending graduate school, Monique received her bachelor’s degrees in Mass Communication and Psychology at the University of South Florida. Follow her on Twitter at @monique17s.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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