Communications Strategy: A Philosophical Approach

By Phumulani Mngomezulu

Phumulani Mngomezulu is an award-winning Business Author and Brand Strategist whose thought leadership work has been recommended by business, marketing, brand and psychology experts across Africa and from successful brands in Africa. Phumulani’s strategy and thought leadership work focuses on sustainable brand building and branding for purpose-led/impact entrepreneurial development.  

In this Article, Phumulani presents his philosophical view towards communications and presents a framework that entrepreneurial brands can use as part of their communication strategy planning. 

The way you are going to design your communication strategy will be influenced by the way you holistically think about communications. The chances at successful communication are more likely to come from a seasoned understanding of the concept of communications as a whole. Therefore, I will provide a tentative model as a result of how I think of communications, which might also help you in how you understand the concept of communication.

The first thing to note is that the way people think about other people is exactly the same attitude they use when thinking about brands. Think about your favourite person in your life right now. Let’s say, for example, your best friend.

You have managed to grow a bond with this person based on attention and contact.

Attention is about how important this person is to you, and this importance is created by a need for this person in your life. When you need people, they become important to you and because they are important, they easily have your attention, making it easier for them to communicate with you.

Contact is about emotional attitude. Every contact you had with this person delivered impressions that have strengthened your view of this person and that is why you are able to say they are your favourite person. With this bond that you have with this person, they are more likely to have your attention every time they talk or write to you. It is easy for you to communicate with this person effectively.

Now I need you to think of someone you do not need and you totally dislike. Let’s say an enemy or someone who has wronged you. Not having any need for this person in your life, they become less important to you. So, this decreases the communication effectiveness, even if the person writes to you or talks to you, you are less likely to be attentive. Whatever they have to say has no bearing to you.

Similarly, the Contact also has negative or no emotional standing because this person does not represent a need in your life, so that influences negative feelings towards them. Those negative feelings weaken your view of this person and because of this decline in the emotional attitude that you have with this person, you are less likely to have effective communications with this person.

Have you ever tried to talk to a person that is angry at you? How did it go? Did they care what you had to say? I’m guessing not.

For effective communication, we need this importance factor that distils attention, and then this emotional attitude factor that distils impression.


A tentative model:

The model above discerns between Contact and Attention and it demonstrates how as peoples’ emotions become more negative towards others at contact, the more they lose interest and attention.

Similarly, it is the same when it comes to brands. Every brand contact delivers an impression that can strengthen or weaken how the customer views the brand. Creating a communication strategy is about strengthening brand imageand brand knowledge.

Brand Knowledge 

Brand Knowledge refers to the extent which customers are able to recall or recognize the brand. It’s a function of attention. What you would want to strive for with brand knowledge is that subjective knowledge of a brand, as we have seen how it gave Coca-Cola an advantage in the famous test against Pepsi.

The customer needs to remember how the brand made them feel and that they need it, in order for them to recognize it as an important factor in their lives. As customers engage with the communication media of the business (advert, email, cold call, etc.) they should immediately be able to pay bottom-up attention and recognize the importance of the brand.

Example: if you do not drink alcohol, would an advert from Heineken grab your attention? I highly doubt. That is because you don’t drink and you do not need Heineken in your life, so the Heineken brand is not important to you. That means you are less likely to pay attention to the communication media from the Heineken brand. However, if you drink alcohol and Heineken in particular, the chances are much higher that when you see a Heineken advert you would instantly pay attention. Heineken is a need to you and you regard as important in your life.

Brand Image 

Brand image is the impressions your customers have about your brand. Those impressions create judgements and feelings that can strengthen or weaken how they view the brand. But where does the customer form these impressions

The Sales Funnel

The sales funnel is the process that the customer goes through in learning about the brand. From becoming aware of the brand, to trying it out, to buying it, buying it again and becoming brand loyal.

At each part of the process, the customer communicates with the brand and it is where the brand should strive to deliver positive impressions through its communications.  That will strengthen the view of the customer so they can become brand loyal.

In summary, what we learn from this approach is that communication is a very deliberate and sensitive process that needs time and investment in order to get it right. It is more than just sending and receiving, it is also about the intention to send and intention to receive. At the centre of that is emotion and attention. These are the two key action points:

1.      On harnessing brand knowledge: Be clear about the need or opportunity that your brand represents. Yes, it is solving some kind of problem, but what unique opportunity does it represent? Why is this an important brand that people should get behind? The more you are clear about the need the brand represents and you communicate it, the more the customer recognizes its importance. Once customers start recognizing it as important, they start giving it attention. The kind of attention you want your customer to give your brand is bottom-up attention, not top-down. Bottom-up attention means they subconsciously recall it, which is more powerful. If it’s a subconscious memory (non-declarative) then it suggests that it comes from an emotional place, whereas with top-down, it means they have to think in order to remember it and that is not so a good because emotional engagement is much more powerful than cognitive engagement.

2.     On harnessing brand image:  Focus on creating experiences with your communications. Don’t just write or talk, be engaging. Be relevant and make your sales funnel process an emotional experience where you leave long-lasting impressions on your customer, making them yearn for more. Example: Think about how Nando’s communicates, they are always relevant and humorous. Same goes for a brand like Kulula. People love experiences and if you give them a great one it will help build positive brand image.

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