2020: Is it even possible to plan communications?

Climate change. Artificial Intelligence, blockchain, robotics. Lack of clarity around Brexit. U.S. Presidential election. Overall sociopolitical uncertainty.

These are just a few key market dynamics that will impact business in 2020. So why bother setting up a communications strategy at all, right? If everything is going to change in a few months why not just embrace “semi-controlled chaos” in our messaging, outreach and reputation and influencing strategies?

Resist this idea.

Sure, everything is changing around us all the time, but it always was changing.

Not this fast, you say? Not at this level?

Consistency in who you are in the market is the way to get the market to notice you, as much as launching a brand new idea. Sure, we want people to believe we just invented the New Big Thing — with as much enthusiasm as the launch of the Internet, the iPhone, and the scientific proof that wine is really healthy for you. (Okay, I made that last one up.)

The key to gaining quality attention (i.e. attracting people who are seeking what you have to offer) is to showcase a consistent story, which includes delivering quality, effective products and services while acknowledging the trends and changes around them. Clients and customers want help they can rely on, but which includes how you are listening, improving and responding to them – not just debuting “what’s new” all the time.

If you change your story frequently it sends the message you haven’t nailed down your strategy, products or delivery mechanisms. In other words, it shows chaos. Why give your customers a reason to delay in engaging you?

The Only Question You Need To Ask for 2019

As organizations scramble to meet year-end and fourth quarter goals, take a moment to pause and ask yourself this question: Did more people who are important to your goals “get” your story this year more than the year before?

“More” people means more reach and more opportunity to sell, enroll or engage. And, this is what I mean by “get” your story:

  • They reacted to you in some way when they heard what you do and/or what you offer. This means they at least got “a” message.
  • They may have asked a question. Asking for clarification or more information means you’ve hooked their interest at the most basic level.
  • They understood you. They could accurately reflect back what you’ve communicated.
  • They acted on your story. They bought your stuff. They signed up. They participated in some way.

If the answer is “no” the next thing for you to do–and I mean the VERY next thing–is to find out why.

If the answer is “I don’t know,” why? Are you measuring your communications efforts? And if not, why not?

Ask yourself these questions. More importantly, act on the answers.

Happy Holidays–and may you find all the answers you require for a successful and effective 2019.

5 Ways To Kickstart Your PR Efforts When Your Muse Has Fled

It’s the start of a new year. You should be energized, right? Ready to hit the ground running and fresh ideas should be bubbling up like a Colorado spring, right? Perhaps.

What if that’s not happening? What if every idea you have feels stale and unoriginal?

Here are five things to do to kickstart your public relations efforts if your muse is no where in sight.

  1. Spend a whole day doing things differently. From the route you take to work to moving your ‘office’ to the conference room instead of your desk, change the scenery. Then, change other things like the time you go to lunch, the colors on your desktop, the font you use in word documents. These small, seemingly inconsequential changes will disrupt any complacency that has set in. They also aren’t permanent; if the changes have the opposite effect, you can easily revert to “doing things the way you always had.” (But that’s not why you’re reading this list, is it?)
  2. Declare a “no screen” day. Get off the computer, phone, television and more. Pick up a pen and paper, go outside and walk around. Do anything to give yourself a break from reacting to what’s in front of you. This will give your mind (and eyes) a break to do what it does best—think.
  3. Interview your team. Ask your colleagues the number one lesson they’ve learned in their careers or about your business. Ask them why they are here, what they love about their job and their single most proud working moment since joining your company. From their answers, develop “Why I Do What I Do” pieces and other human interest stories to spruce up your web site, newsletters, social channels and more.
  4. Visit the physical place where your customers live. It’s tempting to let others, market research and the online world tell you all about your customers. But when was the last time you visited a store–or other physical place–where your customers buy your products or services? If you don’t sell something physical, when was the last time you sat down with your customer in their office? Observe how they operate, what language they use when talking to you and how they interact with others in their office. Take notes. Now compare that to how you’ve been talking to them or about them from your office. See any differences?
  5. Go through the last year’s worth of research, data-mining, media interviews and white papers and select a few interesting nuggets. Develop visual memes and soundbites that you can spread over social channels or send to bloggers and reporters to spice up their coverage. In other words, think about everything you’re trying to say visually. Forget words for a minute…or two.

What’s This Storytelling Thing?

plato“Those who tell the stories rule society.” ~ Plato

Storytelling was considered the communications industry’s”hot thing” a few years ago. I say it never went out of style. Business communicators who use a narrative style in their communications, where they tell the story about their company, products and services, are just more interesting than those who spew a set of messages.

But what’s a story anyway? Isn’t just sharing what you’re doing a story? No.

Rather than spew a list of statistics and data about yourself and your offerings, engage people with a narrative that illustrates what you want them to know about you.

Who is involved with your organization? What are they doing that’s so interesting? Why does it matter? Where did you make a difference to them? What happened?  How did they start out one way but ended up differently once they engaged you? The answers to these questions are part of the larger story of why your organization matters.

The story of what you do provides context, paints the larger picture and evokes emotion, connection, understanding and action.

When you tell a great story, people connect what they are hearing to their own lives and experiences. They also retain what you’re telling them. Stories are stored in long-term memory whereas data is stored in short-term memory.

What to be memorable? Tell a story.

Three Hours and Three Exercises for Communications Success

Natural Stone LandscapingEvery company should go through three exercises annually to ensure their language is relevant, powerful and effective.

  1. Good word-bad word list
  2. Red dot/blue dot game
  3. The concept pyramid

Okay, laugh if you must. But these simple exercises will show where your team is disconnected and therefore saying different things about you which only breeds confusion among your customers. They also should show you where your communications efforts are working–or not.

GOOD WORD-BAD WORD

First, the good word-bad word list. This exercise can easily be done over a lunch or one hour meeting. On a white board, have your staff list all the words they want associated with your products and services. Avoid cliches and jargon. Excellent, solutions and innovation lost their power years ago. Try to list things that you can truthfully “own” and which incite excitement. Propel, champion, advocate and other less-used words are far more powerful than tired language that everyone uses. Speaking of which, what are some phrases that your competition does not use?

Once armed with a good word list, move on to “bad words.” These are words you never want uttered when someone describes who you are and what you do. Also, don’t just list the opposite of the “good words.” Rather, select words, terms and phrases that someone could use when describing you, but you’d rather they didn’t. If you’re a nonprofit, do people call you a charity when you’re really not? Could someone label you as a web hosting company when you do so much more?

RED DOT-BLUE DOT

Now move on to the red dot-blue dot game. This exercise also can be done in about an hour. Plaster your conference room walls with phrases you’ve lifted from marketing materials, your web site, sales pitches and other collateral. Give your staff six stickers — three red and three blue. Ask them to put a red dot next to the three messages they believe are the most important for your organization to convey. Ask them to put a blue dot next to three messages they believe are the least important. Notice a pattern? Were you surprised by any selection? This will tell you much about how your team views the company–and how they are likely talking about it. Discuss why people chose certain phrases. Also, discuss what people viewed as the lowest priority message.

CONCEPT PYRAMID

Now take your good words and your three winning messages and prioritize them in a pyramid. This exercise can be done in thirty minutes or three hours, depending on results of the first two exercises. See a story unfolding? If you don’t see a logical pattern emerging, you know you have some work to do around positioning, messaging and storytelling. Hopefully, you’ll see a clear path to the most powerful story you can tell about your organization. If not, call us. We’ll help sort out your communications.

More about our Messaging, Positioning and Storytelling work.

Positioning Your Organization. What the Heck Is That?

yellow-arrow

Positioning basically means where your organization stands against all the other choices your customers have. When someone needs to hire a service or buy a product, they are exposed to any number of options. If you have a good position, you will be considered in the running and have a good chance of being chosen as the winning provider. If you have a poor position, you are overlooked.

What does this have to do with messaging?

Every organization should have a positioning statement to showcase who you are and who you are not. The positioning statement leads people to either put you on their short list of who they wish to deal with or exclude you.

Below is an example of a positioning statement we helped develop a number of years ago for a venture organization seeking to attract more people to their events (their main product).

CVG: By entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs.

Simple, direct and to the point. Why is this powerful? First of all, you know who you’ll meet at their events. Entrepreneurs. If you are one, you will meet like-minded people who will understand you.

It also tells you who they are not. They are not the Chamber of Commerce. They are not a technology council (popular back then). They are not a trade association.

When proactively positioning yourself, you’ll first want to identify:

  • the piece of the world you want to own (or at least where you can effectively compete)
  • how you stack up presently against all the other options people have
  • what you’re willing to do to get to where you want to be

It’s key to be honest here. You can’t reach your goals if you aren’t willing to take a hard look at where you stand and why you hold that position.

The next step is to identify how you are different, why someone should be interested in you, and, again, what is accurate about your products and services. You need to know this because a powerful positioning statement:

  1. Differentiates you (tells your audience who you are compared to everyone else)
  2. Is compelling to your audience (tells them something that is interesting to them)
  3. Is truthful (tells them what they will honestly get when doing business with you)

The positioning statement is just one message in your communications arsenal. But it’s powerful, and every organization should start here before developing an elevator pitch, soundbites, advertising copy…even your tag line (what many people want to start with).

After all, if you don’t know how you want to stand out in a crowd, all other messages and stories will be like shouting into the wind.