Communicators are typically focused on the task at hand, the campaign to kick off, the product to launch.

We can tunnel so deeply that sometimes challenges and issues take us by surprise.

Our immediate response tends to be both combative and defensive, in our desire to protect the brand.

Regardless of the nature of the challenge or issue, we decide to find a ‘best’ face to put forward, and regard our faceless opponent – a customer’s complaint, a journalist’s investigative query, a business partner’s sharing – as something to draw a line at and go into ‘siege’ mode.

‘Siege’ mode can be something as simple as limiting external communications while we try and find the facts of the matter.

It can also be something inauthentic if the challenge is pre-empted, where organisations seek to divert attention away from the issue – whether through distraction or redefining the boundaries.

Optics: Friend or foe?

There is always the potential for optics to overshadow the substantive steps when managing a challenge or issue.

When organisations prioritise optics over real solutions and effective issue management, they risk coming across as manipulative to their stakeholders.

This leads to a credibility gap, one of the most significant challenges related to optics with a brand where there is a gap between the perceived image and the authentic values of the brand.

At its core, a credibility gap happens where the audience/s perceives the organisation’s responses as mere attempts to save face rather than sincere and genuine efforts to address the underlying problems.


Anticipation, pre-emption and selecting a different path.

Brands focus on projecting a certain image to the public, but if that image is not aligned with the core values and (especially) actions of the organisation, it can lead to a credibility gap and a crisis when issues arise.

Maintaining consistency between messaging, actions, and values is crucial.

When optics paint a picture that does not reflect the reality of how the company operates, customers and stakeholders feel misled and betrayed when a problem emerges. This misalignment can magnify the negative impact of the issue and erode trust in the brand.

Rather than merely trying to do damage control, and limit access (of the audience) to context and information, communicators would serve their brands better being the voice of reason and extolling the benefits of authenticity.

Anticipating and pre-empting such challenges – when they are first identified – and responding by seeking to resolve the issue in alignment with values should be the ‘different’ path taken.

Providing a perspective to influence perception.

While optics play a crucial role in shaping perceptions, they should never be a substitute for genuine action and transparent communication.

It is critical that organisations start to value and cultivate transparency, authenticity, and a genuine commitment to their stated values.

By proactively aligning optics with actions, brands can better anticipate and manage issues as well as build a resilient reputation that can withstand challenges.  

To navigate the challenge of focusing too much on optics, it’s vital for companies to strike a balance.

Optics should align with substantive actions and transparent communication. This means projecting an image of accountability and responsibility as well as demonstrating these qualities through concrete steps taken to rectify the issue.

By addressing the core problem effectively and communicating transparently, brands can strengthen their reputation and maintain the trust of their audience even in the face of challenges.

Sidebar: What you see, is often less than what you should get.  

Optics, in the context of shaping perception, refers to how an organisation presents itself to its stakeholders, including employees, customers, investors, and the general public.

This presentation includes visual cues, messaging, actions, and overall communication strategies.

Optics matter because of these psychological principles:

  1. Cognitive bias and simplification: Human beings have a natural tendency to simplify complex information and make judgments based on limited cues. Optics serve as these cues that help individuals form quick impressions and judgments about an organisation. This is known as cognitive bias, where people rely on heuristics (mental shortcuts) to make sense of the world around them. Brands leverage this tendency by strategically using optics to convey specific qualities or values they want associated with their brand.
  2. Social influence and group perception: People often look to others for cues on how to interpret situations and make decisions. This phenomenon, known as social influence, is particularly relevant in the digital age, where perceptions can spread rapidly through social media and online platforms. Effective optics can create a positive snowball effect, where a strong initial perception leads others to align their views with the perceived consensus.
  3. Confirmation bias and consistency: Once people form a perception based on optics, they tend to seek out information that confirms their initial impression. This is known as confirmation bias. If the optics consistently align with the desired perception, individuals are more likely to continue seeing the brand in the same positive light. This is why maintaining consistency between optics and actions is crucial for long-term reputation management.
  4. Emotional resonance: Optics often tap into emotions and feelings, which play a significant role in shaping perceptions. People are more likely to remember and react to messages that evoke emotional responses. Well-crafted optics that resonate emotionally can create a stronger and more lasting impression on stakeholders.

The consistency between optics and actual behavior influences a crucial psychological factor: trust.

When stakeholders perceive alignment between what a brand portrays and what it really does, they are more likely to trust the brand.

Trust is a fundamental driver of positive perceptions, loyalty, and long-term relationships.


Here are 5 actions to add to your optics toolkit.  

As shared earlier, optics should align with substantive actions and transparent communication and serve as a means of building trust with the various stakeholders and audiences.

Here are 5 actions to consider adding to your toolkit.

  1. Research, review and analyse the landscape constantly:
    • Work with leadership to identify key themes (based on business/strategy plans) that are critical to the financial year, or even just the quarter. Reverse engineer key areas that would negatively impact these themes if they are compromised.
    • Work out a set of triggers that can serve as an alarm for you to pay more attention to that area.
  2. Prepare a clear action plan to deal with pre-identified challenges and issues:
    • Prepare in advance clear and actionable steps that the organisation will take to address challenges and issues. Clearly outline the steps that will be taken to rectify the situation. This will reassure stakeholders that the organisation is taking responsibility and actively working towards a solution.
    • This clarity in action plans reinforces the alignment between optics and genuine efforts.
  3. Proactive messaging:
    • Anticipating potential issues and challenges allows communicators to develop proactive strategies to deal with it alongside the necessary messaging to be used.Being prepared with clear and empathetic messages in advance helps organisations respond swiftly and effectively when issues arise.
    • Proactive messaging allows the organisation to control the narrative, framing the issue within their terms rather than reacting defensively.
  4. Consistent brand voice:
    • Maintaining a consistent brand voice across all communication channels is essential. The brand’s values and tone should be reflected consistently in messaging, visuals, and actions.
    • Consistency in optics creates a strong impression of reliability and reliability, assuring stakeholders that the organisation’s response aligns with their core identity.
  5. Multi-channel communication:
    • Optics are shaped through various communication channels, from traditional media to social media platforms.Communicators should leverage a diverse range of channels to reach different segments of their audience effectively.
    • Having a plan, and a set of messaging and actions, segmented by the different and various channels ensure that optics are consistent and cohesive across various touchpoints, reaching a broader audience and reducing the risk of misinterpretation.

Importantly, the objective of engineering trust with audiences must start and happen pre-challenge and pre-issue. Waiting to be blindsided by an issue means we are responding by instinct and that initial set of unprepared actions might do more harm to our brand.

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