Modern Communications Planning: The Target Audience Section

Continuing our series on modern communications planning, today we discuss the target audience. Or, to whom are you trying to communicate?

In my 27 years working in the communications field, I have found many organizations spent much time talking about how the proverbial “we” were going to get our ideas across to people “we” were hoping will spend time and money with us. In fact, most of the time was spent talking about what “we” want to say, and a smaller percentage of the time was spent talking about who was going to hear it. If this sounds familiar, it is time to reverse that trend.

Including a section that has basic information about your client or customer base, such as top-level demographic data, key market research findings, descriptions of their world, and other information helps keep your decision-making real world and relevant.

First, honestly answer how well you know your audience. You may believe you know them quite well. Sales force feedback, focus groups, surveys, and direct conversations give you good information. But, is it proving to be enough?

In  the book Transformational  Speaking, author Gail Larsen, offers the following four questions to ask yourself about an audience:

  1. Is your audience seeking information?  Is your audience moved by data? Do they just not know much about your topic and they want to know more?
  2. Is your audience seeking insight?  Are they just looking for what to do? Are they looking for someone to lead
    the way?
  3. Is your audience seeking to expand their imagination? Are they seeking to make something new happen?
  4. Is your audience seeking to be illuminated? Are they seeking to be changed at a deep level? Do they want to be moved?

These questions are mostly used before developing a presentation. But by knowing where your audience falls in the above four categories, you may now set the tone of all your communication efforts.

But, then, dig a little deeper before delving into the strategies and tactics portion of your communications planning. Answer the following questions about your prime target (your sweet spot customer):

  1. What are the top 5 things on their minds right now? What is keeping them up at night? (e.g. keeping their jobs, growing their company, completing a project? Something more specific?)
  2. And, what magic wand do they wish they had to resolve their concerns, issues or challenges?
  3. What are 3 things that motivate them? What is most precious to them (e.g. time, money, health/vitality, power, success/admiration, security, comfort, leaving a legacy, making a difference/contribution)?
  4. What tone of voice attracts them? (e.g. humor/entertainment, serious business/security, urgency?)
  5. What was their defining moment or defining experience that led them to possibly needing you and what you have to offer?

Layer the demographic data and market research data on these answers to develop a one page profile of your target audience. Include:

  • Job title/where they fit into the organization
  • Where they get their information
  • Who influences them
  • What they need solved, advanced or changed, and why
  • What are they worried about
  • What messages would likely resonate with them (the tone, word choices, and stories)

You’ll find  that the communications strategies you choose will be (or should be) developed to fit the needs of this profile.

A Template for the Modern Communications Plan

Beyond the usual strategy and tactics (reaching out to reporters, attending trade shows, etc.), what are some of the things that need to be considered as part of today’s communications planning? Below is a template that we use for planning our clients’ overall communications and special projects. Each day I will blog about the main parts, including providing questions  that need your answers, tips and techniques, and identifying the big changes taking place in the world of mass communications.

  1. Vision. This section is a one paragraph answer to how the organization wants to be known. Or, if it is a project, what do we want to leave behind when the project is complete?
  2. Our Greatest, Desired Accomplishment.  This section highlights the single most important communication accomplishment that the organization or project can achieve in one year.
  3. Goals and Objectives. This section differs from the greatest accomplishment in that goals are things you reach (milestones such as audience numbers) and objectives are things you create (new creations, such as new conversations and ways of thinking or a new status).
  4. Target Audience. This section can include demographic data, market research, and other information that describes who you are communicating to.
  5. Main Communications Channels. This section should describe the main channels (social channels, traditional, media outlets, events and shows and more) that you are going to use to push out your information, thought leadership and ideas.
  6. Strategies. This section discusses the main strategies employed and why.
  7. Main Tactics. This section is the action plan. It answers what you are going to do on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to move the communications effort forward.
  8. “We Won’t” List. This section does precisely what the title says. Knowing what you will not focus your attention on (but could) is vital to having a focused effort.
  9. Content Strategy. The section addresses how you are  going to assess, develop and manage the ideas, thoughts and content you will use to direct conversations, viewpoints and reputation and image.
  10. Positioning, Messaging & Storytelling. This section should include your story and message guide, from a positioning statement, value proposition and spotlight pitch on the organization or project to a few signature stories that illustrate what you are accomplishing or how you think.
  11. Monitoring & Measurement. This section, one of the most well-intentioned but often ignored  areas, will go into measuring how well you are doing and how to share that with managers, executive teams and other stakeholders.
  12. Team Players. This section will identify – by name – who is going to design and implement the plan.

We are open to your ideas, as well. If you believe a modern day communications plan should include sections we neglected to include, let us know. In the meantime, check back daily for the plan’s breakdown.

Organizational Storytelling: A Synopsis

Over the last few weeks, I’ve shared the steps to organizational storytelling using the Hero’s Journey template. I have been asked to put the steps into one post.

The general pattern is from Joseph Campbell, the great philosopher and writer. He wrote extensively about the template, which goes something like this:

A hero is called to leave his common everyday life to explore the wonders of the world.  Mystical forces are there encountered and a conclusive victory over an adversary is won. The hero returns from this mysterious adventure – forever changed and more powerful – and with this new power, understanding and wisdom, can (and does) bestow benefits and gifts upon his fellow man and the Universe is now a safer place. The End.

There are 17 steps in Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, but I boiled it down to four parts for the business world.

Step 1: The Call. This is the beginning. The hero of the story goes out into the new world responding to a call to action. There also is a sense of a resisting this call to action, as if he or she knew the journey was going to be hard.  What was wrong that had you believe something could be better? What idea did you have that could move the organization from point A to point B? What did someone say when they brought this idea to the meeting? There are a myriad of ways stories start. For more, including examples, read it here.

Step 2: The Journey. This is the largest part of any story and is generally considered the middle. It is what happens or the expedition. Often our hero quickly discovers the road really is harder than it seemed at first. He or she meets friends along the way, runs into obstacles, meets a villain or adversary, and there are twists and turns. Show how you thought how something was going to go one way and then it didn’t. That will make it more interesting. Read more here.

Step 3: The Achievement. This is where the hero slays the villain or adversary. The achievement is simple, really. What happened? Just say it. It’s the pay off. Give it to your audience directly and succinctly. Read more here.

Step 4: The Transformation & Return. This step is meant for the storyteller to share what was learned. How were you or the company changed? And, what does that mean? How is your department, company, industry better? How was that customer’s life changed? Also, share what it means and how life is better for others. A story that can convey a message, wrapped in a narrative with meaning, can inspire change in people just by them listening to it. Read more here.

Yet Another Hazard in Storytelling: Weighing It Down with Endless Detail

While there are many snares in organizational storytelling, a few have been worth noting: too much corporate jargon, nothing unexpected shared, and telling an irrelevant or even insulting story to an audience.  But one snag that trips up many presenters and communicators is making the story either too long or too short.

In our experience, too many business stories are too long.

Brevity is the soul of wit, wrote William Shakespeare. And one of the most famous stories of all time by Ernest Hemingway is just 6 words. “For sale, baby shoes. Never worn.”  But, what is too short, then? Be too brief in a business setting and the message gets lost.

A story is the right length when just enough detail is given – 2 or 3 small details – to paint the right picture of what happened.

Wanting to get in every detail to share an accurate account of what happened appears to be a strong pull. However, you should be striving to tell the truth of the story – not ever detail that got you there.

Another Storytelling Danger To Avoid: Predictability

If you are interested in adding the storytelling technique to your communications arsenal, good for you. Storytelling, the art and science of sharing information via narrative, is an ancient form of communication. Human beings around the world have used storytelling to get their ideas across for millennia. Over the ages, it has outlasted every fad, technique and notion around persuasion and discussion. And, there is a good reason for this. It works.

But, avoid the dangers that lurk. The last few day’s I’ve been blogging about some of the pitfalls. Here’s another: nothing surprising happens.

We all know that stories have to have a beginning, middle and end. But, they also need to have some air of unpredictability to be interesting. What do we mean? Having an ending that isn’t easily identified is good. But, hearing something in the middle that they weren’t expecting, as well, is even better.

Too many business stories do not have enough suspense or twists and turns. No need to turn your story into a saga with such details. But, do include soemthing that will perk the ears.

Be wary of adding something that is meant to trick, however. Audiences don’t like to be deceived. Film director M. Night Shyamalan is brilliant at his sudden twists. But, even he sometimes can miss the mark. The surprise introduction of new information worked in the Sixth Sense. (The psychiatrist was really a ghost.) It didn’t work so well in The Village, with critics (and viewers) feeling they had been duped. (The time frame of the movie went from years past to suddenly being in present day.)

Think of a twist along the veins of Mattel finally having to admit that their famous Barbie doll’s measurements were an impossibility. (Should she be a real woman, her original measurements would have been an impossible 36-18-38.) Or, how Walt Disney had numerous business failures and bankruptcies before finding his magical formula. In fact, he  was fired by a newspaper editor because, “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Leaving those details out of their stories would have made their eventual success less interesting, no?

 

Yet Another Pitfall in Organizational Storytelling: Too Much Jargon

We are so fond of our big words and our intelligent phrasing.  We thinkmarketing speak” – the way of presenting products and services that is meant to convey that we are intellectual, smart and savvy – grabs attention.

Even when we tell a story the pull to throw in a few buzz words is strong. Because, we must create a sense of being so smart that you simply must listen to us, right?

Wrong.

If you believe your 24/7 enterprise solution brought that mission-critical project to fruition, adding to the corporate bottom line and realizing a greater ROI than the other guy down the street – and you tell the story that way – you have successfully put your audience to sleep. Or, running from the room.

You may have all the elements of a good story — the hero/main character, a villian or adversary, twists and turns, a big change for the person or organization. But, don’t forget that real world language is necessary to create a relationship between speaker and listener. If your audience is highly technical, of course, use the language of that audience. But, authenticity trumps jargon any day, no matter who is listening.

Too much jargon makes it appear you are trying too hard — trying too hard to sell. No one wants to be sold to. They want to willingly buy-in.

Lead your audience to somewhere new with your organizational storytelling. Don’t hit them over the head with how smart you are by trying to sound like it.

The Final Step To Powerful Storytelling: The Real Payoff

The final stage in the four steps to powerful storytelling is the Transformation & Return. 

The most important part of storytelling — to keep it from being relegated to just an anecdote – is that you must share how someone changed. Someone was one way at the beginning of the journey and now they are another way. You have to share how a person or a set of persons is different and how that has meaning for whomever you are talking to. A transformation has to have occurred, and it leads people to believe they could change, too. Otherwise, what is the point, right?

Luke Skywalker found his courage and his place (not to mention his father much later down the road). Frodo’s quest lay in a spiritual awakening. The series of events I shared over the last few days about James Dyson could have been reduced to just a historical timeline by an inventor. But, in his story, he can say to this day, other manufacturers try to copy Dyson technology. It changed the entire vacuum cleaner industry’s focus. And, I am sure if he were here to tell you his story he would talk about epiphanies he had along the way, how he is different and what lessons were learned.

When you think of a story you wish to share in an organizational setting, think about what was transformed. How were you or the company changed? How is your department, company, industry better? How was that customer’s life changed?

But, it doesn’t end there. The final part of this step is to then share what it means and how life is better for others.  After their  journey where the hero achieves a victory, they return home not to go back to life the way it was. Frodo returned to the Shire forever changed and eventually passed on to the West. Luke Skywalker continued to fight the good fight with his friends. And, James Dyson, now successful, didn’t settle for just changing the vacuum cleaner industry. He birthed a foundation, the James Dyson Foundation, which seeks to inspire and encourage young people to study engineering so that they may bring the world better design and innovation.

This is where the story can be elevated from survival and individual gain to inspiration and community gain. A story that can convey a message, wrapped in a narrative with meaning, can inspire change in people just by them listening to it. And, we all know that — from the business world to the non profit world – we all could use a dose of inspiration right now.

 

Step 3 To Powerful Storytelling: The Achievement or So What?

The third step in telling a good story in a business or non-profit setting is to share the “win” or the Achievement. ” This is where you or someone slays the dragon. (Click here to read steps one and two.)

Every good story has a villian or adversary that puts up a roadblock. And, this obstacle must be overcome. Luke Skywalker blows up the death star. Frodo throws the ring in the fire (among other achievements along the way). And, for James Dyson, his story continued when he decided to keep his patents alive, paying the hefty royalties to do so, even while on the verge of early bankruptcy. He thought he might need it someday. And, he did. In 1999, he won a copyright infringement suit against Hoover, one of the largest vacuum cleaner manufacturers in the world. In essence, he slayed the copycats.

The achievement is simple, really. What happened? Just say it. We cut the head of the enemy off with our sword. We won the funding. We sold him the deal. We won the court battle. This could be the shortest section of your story. But, it’s the pay off. Give it to your audience directly and succinctly.

This step is where most action films stop. But, the ones who continue on to the fourth step are the ones who receive the accolades and awards. Can you guess what it is? On Monday, we will discuss the fourth and final step of the Hero’s Journey and how you may apply it to your own communication.

Step 1 of the Hero’s Journey for Organizational Communication

Yesterday I wrote about the Hero’s Journey and how using this simple pattern can elevate your ordinary communication style to one that is more powerful and effective.

Joseph Campbell, the great philosopher and writer, identified the pattern:

A hero is called to leave his common everyday life to explore the wonders of the world.  Mystical forces are there encountered and a conclusive victory over an adversary is won. The hero returns from this mysterious adventure – forever changed and more powerful – and with this new power, understanding and wisdom — can (and does) bestow benefits and gifts upon his fellow man and the Universe is now a safer place. The End.

Step one of the pattern is The Call. The hero ventures forth into this new world after hearing a call to action.

Because, really, something had to start this whole story. Gandalf shows up at Frodo’s house looking for the ring. R2D2 shows up at Luke Skywalker’s ranch with a message that he accidently encounters.

There also is a sense of a resisting this call to action, as if you know the journey you are being called to is going to be hard. For instance, Frodo and the other Hobbits didn’t want to leave the shire. Luke Skywalker felt there was more but he couldn’t leave his aunt and uncle.

But, they all felt like there was something more. Frodo was given the ring and enticed by Gandalf. Or, in Luke’s case, his Aunt and Uncle were killed. In a business setting, it might look like the following.

In 1978 James Dyson, now founder of the Dyson vacuum cleaner company, noticed how the air filter in a spray finishing room was clogging with powder particles. So, he designed and built an industrial cyclone tower, which removed these particles by exerting centrifugal forces greater than 100,000 times those of gravity. And, he thought – could the same principle work in a vacuum cleaner? That was his call.

(Note: You can read this on their version of an “About Us” page. Brilliant communication move on their part.) 

Every story you want to tell in business had a beginning. What was wrong that you believed could be better? What idea did you have that could move the organization from point A to Point B? What did someone say when they brought this idea to the meeting? There are a myriad of ways stories start. But, they all have a call, a beginning.

Tomorrow I will write about part two of the Hero’s Journey for organizational storytelling: The Journey.

4 Steps To A Powerful Story (Warning: You’ll Never Watch a Movie the Same Way Again)

Using the storytelling technique in business communication appears to be the new cool kid on the block. But, there’s a secret about this storytelling business. It’s not a big secret, but people seem to want to discount it because it seems too simple. The truth is, there is one basic story pattern that humans around the world accept as a story (versus an anecdote, message or just a series of events). It is called the Hero’s Journey.

I did not make up the Hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell, the great philosopher and writer from the 1930s and 1940s is widely credited for examining it thoroughly and explaining why we are so drawn to this pattern. His book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, explores this monomyth, as he called it.

For business, the good news is you don’t have to follow all 17 – yes, 17! – steps of the Hero’s Journey to have effective business storytelling. The difference between classic storytelling and applying storytelling techniques to business communications often comes down to this: Storytelling in business does not require a full saga. You don’t have to take people through a narrative epic. There isn’t time for that anyway. Just one wrinkle can be enough to elevate an anecdote to story. But, it does have to be follow some basics.

First, know your purpose. You want to tell a story that is going to drive people to a place. What is the message you are trying to get across? What is the meaning of your story? Once you know that you are ready for your Hero’s Journey tale.

Over the next few days, I will explore the four necessary parts of the Hero’s Journey that a business or organization should use when using storytelling. (I will now apologize in advance that I am about to ruin your ability to watch a movie without running the steps in your head to see if the director knew what he was doing.)

The basic pattern goes like this: A hero is called to leave his common everyday life to explore the wonders of the world. Mystical forces are there encountered and a conclusive victory over an adversary is won. The hero returns from this mysterious adventure – forever changed and more powerful – and with this new power, understanding and wisdom, can (and does) bestow benefits and gifts upon his fellow man and the Universe is now a safer place. The End.

Sound familiar? What does this have to do with business and how on earth do you break that down into a communication that makes a positive change in your organization or business?

Tune in tomorrow and we’ll begin to break down the four main parts. And, you’ll see there are heroes all around us.