Many of the world’s largest firms are posting notes of caution regarding their growth in 2016, with those in the industrial sector especially expecting it to be a year of economic uncertainty, geopolitical turmoil and slow growth. The fall in oil prices is driving a new climate where business in all areas is seeing challenges, compounded by slowing economic activity in China and other emerging markets.
From a reputational perspective, this uncertain climate brings a myriad of challenges to businesses. The biggest challenge is the emergence of short-termism when it comes to business planning, as economic volatility and the drive to trim costs makes it difficult for managers to horizon plan and focus on the long-term strategic vision. There is a temptation just to focus on getting through the next few months, battening down the hatches.
How this plays out from a communications perspective is multi-faceted. If a major industrial company’s order books are showing signs of slowing down, it may appear to their team responsible for communications that there is less to shout about to the market, because PR is typically driven by building a consistent drum beat of news, centred on press releases and announcements celebrating the achievements of a business. During times like these, it is vital they don’t stop communicating with external and internal audiences. Developing a point of view, and communicating it, is important not just for being visible but also being seen as a thought leader.
Many companies are adjusting their strategies to focus more on the service-led element of customer service, with equipment providers who may have been involved in turnkey EPC projects now looking to get close to the customer and stay in their operations room helping manage, maintain and operate for the long-term. To shift perceptions away from being seen as a seller of industrial widgets towards being seen as long-term partner presents challenges for that organisation, because it needs to reboot and reset the way it engages its audiences.
For example, they might need to shift focus to educating their internal staff about how to engage with customers on a different level. Some of the biggest challenges in this situation can be the breaking down of walls within a silo’ed business, and ensuring that different departments interacting with different areas of a customer organisation are speaking the same language. Making such a shift in strategy away from products to services successful is dependent on external and internal communications.
Image- ‘Human highway’ by Kevin Dooley under the Creative Commons license.