With the Covid-19 pandemic currently affecting the world, the delivery of key government guidance is of paramount importance. The information the government passes on to the public needs to be clear and delivered precisely. In the UK, it would be a fair assumption to say that this messaging has, at times, been confusing and lacking clarity.
A strange opening to an article about brand, by a corporate communications company, I’m sure you’ll agree…
It is a commonly held opinion that companies with a coherent and consistent brand perform more effectively than those without. A well-considered brand allows the audience to absorb, assimilate, and react to a message that is being delivered, creating an opportunity to increase brand awareness or engage in a new message among an already established identity.
Being able to translate key messages from a corporate entity to an extremely wide audience in a single act of marketing, advertising, or engagement piece is usually only possible with a focused, concise approach.
Where these two different facets meet was clearly established during the Downing Street briefings, towards the beginning and during the national lockdown.
As our leaders and advisers first took their places behind the lecterns to update and inform the nation on news of Covid-19, they were presented behind the Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom: a symbol, when used at Downing Street, of serious news.
During this time, we were advised there were precautions we were to take and the lecterns were emblazoned with the website address for the NHS Coronavirus information page. As time went by, and precautions became warnings; restrictions, and newly formed rules of which we were to abide by, the messaging and accompanying visuals began to change.
The messages were first displayed in blue text on a white background.
This changed to coloured boxes of the main political parties – implying unity – with the key message written on them.
Then, the messages were stacked on top of each other rather than alongside.
Next, the messages on large yellow signs with fine red hatching and large arrows.
Then, the messages on large yellow signs with large red hatching and small arrows.
Next, as the key messaging changed, the hatching became green (nothing says ‘this is a requirement; pay attention’ as much as green and yellow together, this commentator says flippantly).
Finally, we are now being presented with white icons on blue backgrounds.
Why are we pointing this out? In times of crisis, most people will look to someone to guide them through the troubles they are experiencing. For all of us at the beginning of the pandemic, we looked to the government. The messaging was relatively simple and easy to understand. But as the official guidance changed, the way in which the messages were visually delivered also changed. Doubts over the severity of messaging crept in. Comprehension of the requirements began to alter. Are we, as an audience of these briefings, now being told something different?
The irony of this, is that the advice as of October 2020, is the same as the mantra we were told seven months ago.
It is undoubtedly fair to say that during the pandemic, the government had other things to worry about than the colour or width of a hatching on the front of a lectern. But those messages were put on the lecterns for a reason. Every time someone spoke, regardless of what they said, the printed message was always on screen.
Frequently changing the delivery of your message ultimately weakens the message it is intended to deliver.
Consumers, whether of retail goods, social media, or indeed government messages, engage with the producer of the message before the message itself. Good brands prepare their audience to be receptive of what they are saying before they say it. The consumer – if aware of the brand – immediately associates the recognisable elements of the brand, and prepares to understand the message that is about to be passed onto them, which creates brand association, and subsequently, brand affiliation. The government, (which in itself, regardless of which party is in power, has an instantly recognisable brand) in changing the delivery of the message, missed an opportunity to create ‘message affiliation’.
Similarly to brand affiliation, an affiliation to a message could have powerful consequences. The more people who understand, and vitally, want to know more about what the message means, will lead to a higher number of people that conform to its content. A company that has a high brand affiliation will find it easier to release new products, inform its customers, and crucially, be able to change its own messaging confidently, as those affiliated to the brand are more accepting of change.
There is no real way of knowing whether the lives we live now would have been any different if there had been a consistent approach to advising the public, but in utilising the techniques of well-branded companies, there’s a chance the frustrations and anxiety felt by the public may have been lessened.
For more information on how we can help to review your current messaging to ensure that your delivery is consistent, get in touch.