In response to the technological shift of the Internet, an organization's identity may differ in a physical space (in real life - IRL) from its online identity. What implications does this difference have for strategic communication?
And second, strategic communicators should play a strong role in leading online communication. How would you advise an organization trying to strike a balance between the benefits of online communication and the hindrances provided in online communication?
One of the major issues facing organizations today is how to communicate their strategic mission in a consistent manner across a variety of channels. There are a number of organizations whose identities are highly linked to their brink-and-mortar presences, while others are more flexible and translate easily to the online world. Others are simply reluctant to create and develop an online identity for fear of losing control.
Traditional retail stores may have made the easiest transition, as most are able to present a consistent message in both mediums. In fact, many successful retailers have promoted both outlets through special offers that differ between the channels.
For example, I received a JCrew catalog in the mail today and really liked a pretty ring on one of the models. I looked for pricing and details in the catalog, but was directed to the website instead. Apparently, some colors are only available online and some in the stores. In this way, the company promotes consistency of message (cute rings!) across several channels. The company’s variety of options is not accidental; instead, they clearly have a sophisticated understanding of consumer needs and corresponding communication solutions. We don’t normally think of a clothing store as being a strategic communicator, but I believe these companies are at the forefront.
One of the major reasons that retailers have succeeded online is due to their ability to track their communications via subsequent transactions. Other industries do not necessarily have this ability, since they are not promoting online sales. On the contrary, most organizations with an online presence are promoting their strategic message and building relationships with the consumer market - by nature, a significantly harder goal to accomplish than selling a specific ring.
These organizations might be tempted to dedicate scant resources towards their online identity, thinking it’s only a secondary part of their overall image. However, this would be a mistake. An online presence has become a necessary part of a corporation’s strategic communications, even if it’s somewhat static. Again, a corporation must include this media as yet another channel under the strategy umbrella - for the simple reason that consumers expect this presence. Secondarily, an online presence provides a corporation with the ability to react in real-time to any crisis or strategic changes.
Other organizations are hesitant to enter the online world for a number of reasons, primarily fear. Many organizations are unwilling to find out what their consumers are saying about them. These companies see the web as separate from the real world, and consequently dismiss any negative online comments as “disgruntled, pajama-wearing bloggers”. What these companies don’t realize is that online discussions mirror discussions in the real world, and by dismissing them, they are missing out on a valuable window into their consumers.
So what’s a company to do? In my opinion, they should look at their web-based presence as simply another channel for their strategic message - not as something novel or cutting-edge. By considering their online presence as nothing more than an extension of its real-world presence, an organization is able to better translate their existing communications without getting caught up in semantics and trepidation.