Communication should bridge social divides

Today, more so than ever before, we live in a society driven by communication. Technological advancements continue to amplify the complexities of our diverse, dynamic world — a global environment in which economic success is strongly correlated to the dissemination of tailored messaging. Institutions have been forced to evolve in response to these changes and the conflicting interests of diverse populations. As a result, effective public relations strategies are now among the most salient of organizational priorities.

If the past is even remotely indicative of the future, it stands to reason that the efficacy of strategic messaging is going to become increasingly dependent on the extent to which brands understand the importance of culture, consumer engagement and behavioral psychology. My argument is that future competitive advantage will favor brands that employ intellect and intuition in pursuit of consumer empathy, using communication as a means to bridge social divides.

To achieve financial and growth goals, a brand’s success is solely dependent on attracting customers, which means reputational risk is always a concern. Because today’s intensifying digital climate features a media curriculum with limitless social impact, an organization needs to understand its market terrain before launching a stratagem. Our globalized communications arena — where information is democratized and rhetoric elicits followers — is full of consumers with more power than ever before, all of who humanize and drive branding, which means even the most innocuous of decisions can subject an organization to the vicissitudes of today’s polytheistic brand consumption. Contemporary brands that resort to commercially imprudent tactics and opt to become part of social decision-making leave themselves vulnerable to a polarized America in which consumers are split into mutually antagonistic subcultures. When a brand favors one audience over another for the sake of ideology, it limits organizational influence; that brand may not have necessarily signed its own death warrant, but it has significantly capped its upside.

Because contemporary brands continue to become entangled in political and social issues, alienating proselytism fueled by social constructionist positions is becoming an increasingly common way for organizations to try and reap benefits from niche target audiences. Although public relations practitioners can sometimes leverage controversy to increase sales, in the long run, such performative tactics limit organizational influence, relegating brands to little more than restrictive definitions of names, logos, and colors — thereby ignoring the opportunity to galvanize meaning and connect communities by generating shared interest from diverse groups. Over time, selective audience exposure will silo a brand’s strategic outlook and limit tactical initiative, hampering an organization’s ability to communicate a genuine value proposition that can be understood and consumed by a diverse group of stakeholders.

Business is about creating specific value and subsequently presenting it in a way that others will be inclined to appreciate. If behavioral psychology drives consumerism, then it follows that PR strategists should explore psychoanalysis for insight and a competitive edge while remaining mindful of the basic tenets of relationship-marketing theory. Doing so will facilitate strategic messaging that transcends political differences and maximizes social capital, ensuring practitioners avoid instigating the kind of disconnect that undermines marketing diversity. Going forward, the brands that capitalize on expanding stakeholder engagement and embracing consumers of all opinions, beliefs and perspectives will be the ones to separate from the competition and set the standards.

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