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.

One Way to Confirm Your Suspicion Company Messages Are Being Ignored by Staff

Do you have a gut feeling that your team members have their own ideas about how they should describe your company, your products or service or your vision?

One quick exercise to get those disagreeing ideas out into the open is having staff contribute to a “good word-bad word” list. Laugh if you must. But, this very simple exercise will showcase opposing ideas quickly and efficiently. Nothing gets differing opinions on the table faster than to get people to admit what words they believe should always be associated with your organization and which words should never be associated with your company.

What to do:

  1. Get everyone around the conference room table. Or, bribe them with a free lunch or a late Friday afternoon wine and cheese party. But, get as many folks from your company around an easel or white board as you can.
  2. Draw a line down the middle of the blank space. Write “good words” on one side. Write “bad words” on the other side.
  3. Now ask everyone in the room to start calling out words that they believe everyone should use when sharing your company’s offerings (good words). Also, have them share words they believe should never be used (bad words).

Encourage people to avoid over used words such as “professional” and “excellent” on the “good word” list. Rather, seek more powerful, differentiating words like “formidable” and “catalyst.”

For the “bad words” encourage people to identify jargon (e.g. “solutions”). Have them identify words someone might use, but you would rather they did not (e.g. you are a nonprofit but people might assign you the “trade association” label and you’d rather they didn’t). Resist the urge to write down words that simply are opposite of what is on the “good word” list.

Now, watch the sparks fly as the Chief Marketing Officer throws out the word “creative” and your Chief Financial Officer’s eyes grow wide with surprise. Creative? Doesn’t that mean risky? the CFO may ask. The CMO may respond, it’s what sells. The CFO then retorts, There is selling and then there is staying in business. You get the picture.

Open the discussion to talk about why certain words are important to use and the words that are important to avoid. By having an open dialogue, you can get prejudices and default language out into the open. From there you can address disconnects and inappropriate language that may be causing confusion or a misinterpretation of who you are in the marketplace.

This exercise also helps boost your messaging by throwing out the old tired words and forces everyone to seek out some really differentiating and special words that only you can claim.

At first blush this exercise appears to be far too simple. It is simple. But, it could be one of the most eye-opening things you do around messaging.