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C for Communicate follows B for Brexit

The UK is entering a new phase in the Brexit process. The vote has taken place across the nation. The decision has been made. The debate has been heard in parliament. And Article 50 has been triggered.

Britain now starts on its inexorable path towards separation from the European Union. Likewise, businesses are finding themselves propelled onto the same path, whether they want to be or not, and with it they enter a new phase of the Brexit conversation.

This means B2B marketers are being called on to figure out what to say. Brexit is obviously a divisive issue, so all discussion – both internal and external – needs to be approached with caution.

In the build-up to the June 2016 vote, many businesses lent their voices to the choirs calling for or against a change in our relationship with the EU. Immediately after, unsurprisingly few have been willing to say much beyond registering shock and surprise. Predictions are scarce.

The truth is, nobody knows what life will be like after Brexit.  All of us are waiting to find out.

Is Brexit a threat? Possibly. The finance sector in particular is concerned about London’s potential fall from grace as a global financial capital. One of the reasons for this position has been that the UK has been used as a Launchpad into Europe, which could well change.

Is Brexit an opportunity? Again, it is a possibility. Many business leaders believe the UK faces a more agile future, separated from the ties of EU lawmakers. With sovereignty returned, they hope the nation will be more empowered, and able to drive business growth.

The only thing for certain is that Britain’s relationship with the EU will undoubtedly change. The nuts and bolts of that change are now going to be pored over in great detail.

In this environment, silence is far from golden. Your stakeholders want to know that plans are being made and a proactive stance taken. Customers want to be reassured. Without communication of this proactivity, negative assumptions will undoubtedly be made. Marketing must act.

From a marketing point of view, this could even be viewed as an opportunity.

Now is the time for businesses to decide to be brave and take a firm position. Discuss how the business is preparing, without being alarmist. Demonstrate the vitality and strength in the industry they are part of, without appearing arrogant. Explore new high growth markets beyond Europe with a positive outlook.

Equally, is there a time when businesses should avoid the B word?

The Brexit discussion does mean an opportunity to air your political leanings but don’t be afraid to join the conversation. Whether it’s through stakeholder engagement, thought leadership or an events programme, there are plenty of discussions to be had to explore what the future might hold.

As Jonas Priser, chairman and CEO of Manpower Group, wrote two weeks after Brexit, “now is not the time to sit still; now is the time to act”. At a time when the UK could see its pre-existing skills shortages exacerbated by a tightened labour market, this is a wise stance for him to take.

Likewise, as one the big four consultancies, EY has been proactive in its post-vote stance offering consultancy from the outset in the form of webcasts, a Brexit Tracker report and dedicated section of its website. Steve Varley, EY’s UK chairman, wrote: “One thing is certain: Brexit will result in a number of large-scale changes for UK plc – in areas such as trade, employment, regulation and Government policy. Some of these changes will be positive, yet few are likely to happen overnight. As a result, businesses now have a prime opportunity to take proactive steps to prepare for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.”

All businesses, regardless of size or denomination, should carefully consider the potential ramifications of Brexit to their own industry and way of working. Those businesses who communicate openly and honestly may well be rewarded the most. If the Brexit majority has shown us anything, it is that the public is tired of rehearsed, stilted conversations that don’t reflect the reality of real life. 

Brexit is not a quick, rip-the-plaster-off situation. It will require months of careful thought and planning to reach the other side. Communications must be maintained and businesses should not halt their growth plans whilst waiting for these conversations to be finalised.

As professionals skilled in the complex task of scoping out audiences and developing relationships with customers, the role of B2B marketers will be more important than ever in helping businesses navigate these complex times.