Expert advice

Getting your brand ready for the next economy

Paul Kennedy from Two Thirds Sky shares his insights.

The best economy is the one you’re ready for. Use this time to get your business and brand ready for the next economy.

They say you only get one chance to make a first impression. The good news is that the exceptional times we’re living through right now might just give everyone a second chance to form a favourable impression.
It’s an unavoidable, instantaneous reflex by the oldest part of our brain. All incoming messages and signals are filtered to assess our risk and response – fight or flight?

Tough economies have always come and gone, but what makes this disruption different is that it presents a common enemy that transcends financial wellbeing, social status or postcode – a villain in our collective story that together, we all want to slay.

Sharing a common enemy has the potential to rally people as they search for positive outcomes. Watch when we experience and share the collective devastation caused by floods, cyclones and bushfires anywhere in Australia or around the world. The upside of these events is that the worst of times can bring out the very best in all of us. It’s part of the fabric that stitches humanity together, making us feel connected to something that extends beyond our immediate circle and community.

Tough times shape the collective memory of those who live through it. They remind us of what’s important, and it provides an opportunity to rebuild and renew.

It also sets the stage to lead.

At the centre of any uncertainty, positive, reassuring and confident messages cut through and ring louder. It provides a rare opportunity to reposition and gives the messenger a new frame.

Right now, a new value is being placed on our home, our neighbourhood and community, our friends, our wellbeing, our jobs, and our businesses. The development industry has built – brick by brick – the homes people now use as a sanctuary, the neighbourhoods and communities that glue people together, and the spaces they enjoy and yearn to get back to.

Community engagement is a critical part of development, it always has been. But for too long it has been a source of angst for all stakeholders, developers and government alike. To avoid the fight with communities, and in the absence of a framework to constructively engage, many stakeholders have understandably opted for flight from engagement or they’ve ‘hidden behind’ the formal consultation process.

The Institute’s Industry Leaders Research Group (ILRG) has found the key to unlock successful community engagement.

Those guidelines have been widely published and made available to members. The guidelines counsel first, to be a good neighbour. Second, engage early and willingly – before the ‘formal’ consultation process is required to start and third, bring something good to the neighbourhood.

The Institute’s community engagement guidelines are now more relevant than ever, but this moment has set a new stage for engagement. There is a clear opportunity for developers and allied industries that employ the people who build strong, healthy, and connected communities – the things we now all appreciate and value more than ever – to be a positive part of the narrative, and to act as the hero in a shared story.
The upside of a crisis is that it glues people and communities together. The upside of this crisis is the yearning to connect, to appreciate and to engage with positive messages. That means everything we do and say – from our language, the words we choose to use in our communication and messages, through to our tone of voice – can make people feel comforted and engaged, or make them feel fear and cause them to withdraw.
Community engagement is an opportunity to be positive, confident, and authentic rather than simply a process that must be ‘endured’. In other words, now more than ever is a time to lead and to be seen as part of the solution.

As a strategic market researcher for over 30 years, I’ve been standing between companies, customers, and communities during the early 1980’s recession, the “recession we had to have” in the 1990’s, the ‘financial contagion’ that caused the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, the dotcom crash of 2001, and the GFC in 2007. This cloud will pass – and when it does, the best economy is always the one you’re ready for.

So use this time to build a big bonfire, and find the right voice for your business and brand – one that aligns with the times. This is a rare opportunity to rethink everything. Our world is being reframed for the future right before our eyes. So ask yourself, what would do if you could harness everything that you know now, and start again?

If you want to position your business and brand as a community builder, then start now.

If you’re thinking of building your own platform to engage your communities, a good place to start might be Engagement HQ (, an online platform founded in Australia to make digital community engagement easy. Engagement HQ is used by local governments and organisations around the world to foster meaningful community relationships, and there’s handbooks, information, and tools that might help to get your creative juices flowing. That’s not a direct endorsement, I’m just aware that they exist.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that the human spirit is enduring. Almost 100 years ago, in 1928, John A. Shedd penned some elegant words about facing your fears and being true to your purpose: “A Ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what Ships are built for.”

The essence of Shedd’s message was that ships serve no purpose sitting in a safe harbour. They are built to cross the horizon into lands we cannot see. They invariably encounter rough seas, storms – even pirates!! – or other dangers on that journey. But if you build your ship well and you navigate it wisely, you will make it past all those obstacles to reach your destination. And if you do, it won’t just be reaching the destination that you celebrate, it will be what it makes of you to achieve it.

This article was originally published in our establish magazine. 

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