Can businesses adapt their comms to the rise of nationalism?

As some of the world's superpowers take a more nationalistic approach and their societies become more divided, global businesses are facing entirely new comms challenges.

Do nationalism and globalisation mix? Tom Clive asks (┬ęThinkstockPhotos)
Do nationalism and globalisation mix? Tom Clive asks (┬ęThinkstockPhotos)

We have seen tectonic shifts in our society over the past 18 months and all the signs suggest we're moving towards a more inward-looking society as nationalism, sovereignty and protectionism dominate the global news agenda.

In particular, multinational organisations that operate across borders may have to rethink their comms strategies.


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Traditionally, regional marketing departments of multinationals have always focused on themes such as ‘alignment’ and ‘harmonisation’ across the markets that they operate.

For instance, many US companies have kept the same values, perspective and tone of voice when expanding into Europe.

Will this kind of behaviour become more challenging in a more nationalistic and divided world?

Aside from this rise of nationalism, the second issue that multinationals face is communicating to deeply divided audiences within the same nation or state.

The US is deeply divided over president Trump, and the UK is almost as divided over Brexit.

According to a YouGov poll, only a quarter of 18-25 year olds in the UK voted for Britain to leave the EU, while 61 per cent of people over 65 years were for Brexit.

Around the world, organisations are presented with the problem of having to embrace globalisation and hyper-connectivity, whilst at the same time, acknowledge the rise of nationalism.

Globalisation fits well with multi-nationals and the corporate world. However, digitisation doesn’t sit so well with this notion of ‘national identity’.

Branding isn’t confined to geographical borders, and the nature of comms and digital means that we cannot create something purely ‘national’ anymore.

Instead, business must look to engage all of their audiences through authenticity.

The societal changes that we’re witnessing globally are due to dissatisfaction of the status quo.

In light of the financial crisis and perceived lack of corporate social responsibility, there is anger amongst many people. People are losing trust in multinational organisations.

The rise of Donald Trump to US president revealed the case for authentic comms.

Trump may be extreme in his beliefs, be he spoke simply and plainly, directly addressing his audience. It is still early days, but he also appears to be delivering on the promises he set out.

In contrast, Hilary Clinton had more rational views, but was inconsistent in her policies.

Good PR used to be about saying the right thing at the right time, but in 2017 it’s about repeated and continuous ethical behaviour.

A robust CSR strategy isn’t enough anymore; organisations must leave a positive footprint in the communities, industries and societies in which they operate.

Businesses must also be aware of the power of their own employees in authentic communication. The general public have, and always will, trust the views of the mass workforce.

If employees can be motivated to transmit the values of their organisations in a powerful and simple way, it will help rebuild the trust deficit, even in a nationalistic, protectionist society.

Tom Clive is an associate partner at Sermelo

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