By Paul Springer, Professor of Communications and Director of the School of Communication at Falmouth University.
Prepping a business for start-up is a different prospect today than it was pre-Covid. Lockdown has given consumers more time to hone their search habits, with so many more ways to check out facts and opinions on brands, while more time is now habitually spent researching around products and services before paying a penny.
That is why the notion of ‘glass box brands’, a term coined by the marketing forecasters Trendwatching, is so significant right now. It characterises an environment where all behaviours, decisions and actions of a company, and its founders, are viewed against the values that their brand espouses. That’s why it’s wise for coffee chains to sell reusable cups; it’s why sports equipment brands shape a presence in healthy living activities, and it’s why local cab firms are shifting their fleet to e-cars.
Glass box tactics consider how brands, through their actions, relate to their customers on a more personal level, because ‘what we do equals who we are’. This has stemmed from what used to be termed relationship marketing at the turn of the century: it’s well worth checking out Bernd Schmitt’s famous book Experiential Marketing if you’re not familiar with it. Today it’s more widely understood that a company’s internal positioning and the actions of its staff are now a key part of its brand story and wider perception, manifested through all of its points of communication.
So to succeed in a post-Covid landscape, the image that a brand espouses through its bought and paid for promotion – PR, marketing and web presence, needs to match its actual identity that is formed through its actions – its website, company activities and associations, if it is to achieve an earned and owned customer community that sticks. Many service-centred businesses that have thrived during lockdown were able to nurture their community simply by ramping up communications of their ethical practices. For larger businesses it has been an opportunity to prove they have nothing to hide and demonstrate how they are enhancing people’s lives through a period of rapid change and uncertainty.
This takes me to a third point: that to nurture one’s identity with authenticity, key activities need to be communicated in real-time, or constant beta as Google refer to it. This involves a necessary shift in how promotional activity is viewed. Don’t imagine ‘out there’ communication like an old-fashioned advertising campaign with a fixed beginning, middle and end. We’ve learned to be nimble, agile and pivot (much-recycled terms since March 2020!) and we’re now accustomed to more responsive, fluid communications. Sportswear and IT brands in particular have had their coms in constant beta for some time. They have teams within their appointed direct marketing firms managing social media 24/7, responding to news stories and live customer comments by proxy, as if their brand were a person. Incidentally, some of the country’s leading real-time communicators happen to be based in Cornwall, with the likes of Kodak, The Man Engine, UK Athletics and Dancing on Ice’s live social emanating within a few miles of the University.
So – now is the moment for Launchpad’s start-ups to lay the foundations for their own brand identity. Their company’s activity, their values of practice and how they go about business are all well worth capturing and sharing. These could be the most useful assets they own further down the line, as their ideas gain traction.