Behind the Headlines With Madhuri Sen
Madhuri Sen, owner of Ace Brand Strategist, says authenticity needs to be a priority for brands.
In this interview, Madhuri discusses the importance of building trust with your audience, why less is more for content and how to improve your communication by listening.
You recently set up your own brand consultancy, Ace Brand Strategist. What do you aim to accomplish in this venture?
Ace Brand Strategist was conceived to bridge the gap that brands are today experiencing in aligning brand purpose to brand expression and access, threatening their social relevance and thereby business endurance.
Ace’s fundamental raison d’être is to “Shape purposeful brands that create enduring value for their tribes.” Ace builds a brand’s trust with their tribes by “listening” intently and aligning brand voice to brand action and by communicating to explicitly express trust and to earn it in reciprocation. Thus, giving brands the ability to have lasting relevance, making them enduring and less dispensable.
What was it like to establish WE Communications’ presence in India? What did you learn from that experience?
WE was the sixth venture I set up after four “intrapreneurial” leadership roles with Text100, another communications consulting firm.
Specific to WE, there was always the pre-agreed intention that I would work towards setting up the foundation operations in India and handover for it to be part of SEA operations at the right time – as it became a stable, solid business poised for the next phase of growth.
Working with WE gave me that edge in having the opportunity to work with 360-degree communications mandates to drive measurable business impact for clients. WE’s processes are very focused on measurability and budget optimization – driving more organic influence and less through paid platforms.
This let me unleash my research thinking and creative acumen to the fullest in driving brand strategies that were held accountable to business KPIs such as market growth, inviting investment, attraction or retention of talent, driving favorable issues outcomes with regulators, etc.
What are some of the biggest communication mistakes brands make?
Today most brands have the right insights – that they need to build a) trust with those they have greatest relevance to, b) authenticity of purpose, c) social relevance to build more endurance and not be threatened by the next disruption or innovation.
However, many of them are still searching for the right manner in which to act on those insights! In the cognitive model, it is well known that the individual brain cannot think, listen, speak and act at the same time. So it is with the “collective consciousness” of the organization that the brand represents – in fact even more so than it would be with individuals.
In the chase for exponential and constant growth, brands often get out of alignment in how they “speak” and “act,” from what the original intent may have been and its resonance with those for whom they exist – their customers, teams and society at large.
In the hyper-connected world, the lack of alignment of purpose to the end experience can threaten the very survival of a brand.
Not just building trust, but being actually trustworthy and keeping the trust placed in the brand authentically gains priority in how a brand engages, behaves and expresses itself. “Evidenced conversations” and authentic storytelling or expression is in many ways harder and also more time consuming and expensive than just buying up space that allows one to say what one likes – whether or not it’s true!
In the information age, the price of a brand lacking authenticity and social relevance is a direct one that threatens the bottom line.
With so much content saturating the marketplace today, how can brands stand out?
In terms of content, really “less is more.” Like in normal conversation, you don’t need to say more – you need to say whatever you do in a more meaningful, impactful, engaging manner so that it naturally gets repeated more often and wider. This really calls for better listening skills.
The same is with the brand to make sure they “act in their purpose.” They need to have two- way conversations and end one-way campaigns.
Basically – the new mantra is DO IT – and make sure your “tribes” have platforms to spread the good word FOR you, in turn building larger “tribes” – rather than doing it yourself.
It’s no secret that digital has changed the way we communicate. What are some of the ways brands need to adapt?
Digital makes us more hyper-connected, making building trust more important. Listening is the new speaking!
Contrary to what we are often taught, now the audience wants to be heard more than hear. They want to be trusted before they trust, and experience the brand by how they express authentically!
How do you shape a brand’s communication strategy? What is involved in that process?
Ace has a proprietary process that draws from the principles of industry best standard brand consulting, change management and neuroscience based leadership coaching.
The first stage is to understand the business and brand challenges that the organization would want to overcome to meet their desired objectives. Following which, a typical full brand strategy consulting engagement of three to nine months would start with a brand purpose audit, followed by brand purpose discovery, articulation, expression, through to brand access and experience until the sales closing stage. These are all fully customizable modules.
The outcome of the brand purpose audit would help us recommend the modules that are most relevant to address the business or brand challenge posed.
What advice do you have for brands looking to improve their communication?
a) Listen more, and speak less but more meaningfully. Keep insights in mind from what you heard to make it more impactful and engaging.
b) Align brand purpose or intent (thought) with 360 communications (expression) and how the brand is actually experienced.
c) Focus on people by understanding their psychographics – what they need, want and feel, NOT just demographics that tell you what they are or have!
Rapid Fire Round
1. If I was stuck on a desert island, I’d…practice my singing and dancing, (both of which I am formally trained for and passionate about) with whatever time I have left from ensuring I survive and hope that I would be found soon.
2. My favorite social media platform is…can’t say I have one favorite. It depends on what I am doing. Facebook to stay in touch with friends and family, LinkedIn to keep my professional relationships growing and engaged, Twitter to listen to and gather information about subjects or voice my opinion about them, Instagram to indulge my photography hobby, and many others.
3. My hobbies outside of work include…singing (trained in Hindustani classical music), dancing (continue to train in various Indian and Western forms), reading, writing, socio-economics, quantum mechanics, spiritual (non-religious) practices, travel, archeology, architecture, cooking and adventure sports.
4. One thing most people don’t know about me is…I am essentially shy.
5. My biggest pet peeve is…a lack of adequate healthy food that’s easily available as much as junk is!
6. I laugh most at…Tom and Jerry.
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