Marketers: Hold off on dream-building to make ‘we’re in this together’ a reality

The job for the industry now is to turn the message of 'we're in this together' into a reality. And that means brands need to lead by example, as Peter Roberts argues.

‘We’re in this together’ quickly became the collective mantra in the face of the pandemic. From politicians, national broadcasters, and celebrities, the script remains the same.

This came as no surprise. At times of national-scale haemorrhaging, the messaging will always speak to solidarity and unity, whether it’s virus attacks, or terrorist attacks. It works, on the whole, despite the chorus of togetherness being occasionally undermined by a palatial backdrop enjoyed by said celebs.

The more intriguing question is: When do we stop being in this together? The closer we edge to a sense of normality, many businesses will strain every sinew to revert to the individualism of old and return the spotlight to personal indulgence, but it will be an ill-advised business that throws themselves too soon into such a position.

I strongly believe that the corporate messaging needs to continue to appeal to those consumer obligations, before the treats kick in. Which begs the question, what are these new obligations? We’ve readily obliged and stayed indoors and kept our distance, but now, more than ever, we need to be in this together to fix the country; the national economy has the frailty of a newborn foal.

The importance of consumer spending when it comes to the resuscitation process is not lost on me, but this is not an anti-spend message which I put forward, it is a stakeholder message.

Our messaging can help achieve growth in different ways. My argument is that a messaging strategy that taps into these inherent consumer obligations to re-build the nation will have far more reputational kudos for the businesses behind them, than one that points solely to the idea of individual needs.

Let’s make this a little more material. As an airline, hotelier, or cruise line operator, you can pitch the escapism line to your potential customers, or there is something more shared in purpose, which plays into a more collective responsibility and talks of the benefits personal travel and tourism plans have for others. The smart messaging will be mindful of the pandemic’s brutal effects on an industry’s eco-system – the vendors, suppliers, and contractors – and if we’re truly in this together, will make the consumer think about how they spend.

It’s not a new approach; some of the recent bushfire campaigns talked up the need to visit those affected regions, but the scourge of COVID-19 comes after those earlier difficulties.

People are tired and need a break – they need to dream – but I would argue the smarter move in terms of those corporate narratives would be to hold off on the dream building and focus on making the togetherness message a reality.

That reality, however, can only be achieved if corporate actions speak louder than words. At a time of widespread uncertainty and growing mistrust, businesses will need to walk the walk if this idea of inclusiveness is to land. So, best not to talk about being in it together if creative tax avoidance practices or offshore labour arrangements are a feature of the organisational strategy; the regeneration narrative soon caves in.

We face an unprecedented mutual situation – the smart businesses out there will use it to cement their communal credentials; they will continue to bring people together and in turn, start the national recovery process.

There will never be a better chance to highlight the value which togetherness brings, as we’ve all felt the loss when it’s gone. And as a message, it has to be now, because it won’t work any time later.

Peter Roberts is the managing director of the Corporate Reputation Practice


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