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.

Messaging and Storytelling for Greater Influence

dreamstime_s_49594866One of Four Leaf’s signature services is helping organizations refresh and update their messaging and storytelling abilities. I often hear, “well, messaging and storytelling are kind of the same thing, right?” No, not at all.

To over simplify, a message is a specific idea you’re trying to get across. Storytelling is a way to get your ideas across.

In coming weeks, this blog will be dedicated to positioning, messaging and storytelling–what it is, how to use it for greater influence, and simple exercises you can do to refresh or heighten how you communicate.

Some thing we’ll go over:

  • Defining positioning and the three main components for a strong communications position in the marketplace.
  • The top three exercises every company should go through annually to ensure their language is relevant, powerful and effective.
  • Storytelling techniques that go beyond Mother Goose and make business communications head-and-shoulders above the competition.
  • The top mistakes made in business communications around messaging and storytelling–and how to avoid them.
  • The biggest changes in communications today and how to use them to your advantage.

Check back often, or better yet, subscribe to our RSS feed to bring these posts to you.

To learn more about Four Leaf Public Relations’ positioning, messaging and storytelling work, click here.

Part Nine of the Modern Communications Plan: Messaging, Positioning and Storytelling

Golden apple 3d render (clipping path and isolated on white)

Now we get to a fun part of communications planning: what you want to say.

Every modern communications plan should include a positioning, messaging and storytelling guide.

When you have a guide you are positioning your staff to be more successful in executing your strategies. It also brings consensus to employees, senior management, business units and divisions about where the organization is headed. Having an arsenal of messages to use is key to creating a strong brand and making your communications plan stay on target and be effective.

Note that I used the word “guide.” It should have enough detail to provide the right tone, top-level messages and language to help people be creative but not stray so far that they are making up their own ideas about what you’re trying to get across

It may include a positioning statement, value proposition and spotlight pitch to start, with an arsenal of anecdotes and proof points, to help the people tasked with executing the plan develop more specific and detailed messages for content and presentations.

Why is having a guide so important? Whether you know it or not, when it comes to describing your organization, products and services, you are delivering messages that set people on a path to either include you or exclude you from their future. People also naturally fall into a default way of speaking and writing. Without identifying your language, you’re leaving it up to their employees to describe the good works and products you offer in whatever way they choose. You wouldn’t leave your finances up to chance, so why treat your communications that way?

Four Leaf has a proprietary technique that involves a series of facilitated meetings with an organization’s leadership over several weeks in addition to background and intelligence-gathering about the organization, its market and its customers to help set the stage for educated message development.

Below are a number of exercises to get your started:

  • Develop a “good word, bad word” list: What words do you always want associated with you, and which words do you never want said about you? Dig deep. What powerful words, if spoken by a referral source, might get someone to act? Also, don’t just choose bad words opposite of the good words. What could people say about you, but you wish they didn’t? What buzz words in your industry have no power left in them? (e.g. solutions)
  • What is unique about your products and services that no one else can claim?
  • You started this communications planning route with an idea in mind. What was it? How would you prioritize your ideas? What’s the most important idea to get across?
  • If you could tell anyone about you and your products what would it be?
  • What is your origin story? How did the company start and why? What special ideas did the founders have?

Avoid language that states “buy my products.” No one cares. What they care about is how your product or service will make their life better.

When you go through these exercises (and there are many more), you’ll discover language, phrases and stories you’d like to get across. From there, a guide can be developed.

Read the entire template for the Modern Communications Plan here.

Four Leaf has taken about 40 organizations through its Positioning, Messaging and Storytelling process. Learn more here.

 

Part Four of the Modern Communications Plan: How will you get the word out?

When planning how you’re going to share your story, products and services with the world, it’s imperative to choose the right channels to do so. What channels will have the greatest probability of reaching your specific audience?

Do not be seduced by a shiny new social media platform or distribution service without understanding who it will reach.This is where the “we won’t” list comes in handy. (More on that section later.) It’s tempting to do or at least try everything—and keeping tabs on “the next big thing” is important—but you want to focus on what is working right now with your audience.

For instance, a major Facebook strategy may not be necessary if your audience is Generation Z (think current tweens and high school students). But you better familiarize yourself with Snapchat and Instagram to reach this audience. Or perhaps, you’re trying to reach Generation Y or Millennials. This also may mean you’d have to revamp your content strategy—get away from white papers, trade shows (unless you’re going to Comic Con) and print advertising and move to digital mediums like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Baby boomers? Try Pinterest, community media outlets, and targeted advertising.

Conduct a “deep dive” into where your target audience goes online, what they watch or monitor, and where they get their information. Then devise a strategy to use those channels.

Next up? Developing strategies and tactics.

Read the entire modern communications template here.

 

 

channels

 

The Most Overlooked Part of a Powerful Message

Nouns. I lead with the punch line.

Far too many companies and organizations lead with the benefits, the adjectives, and the scintillating catch phrases, forgetting to do one simple thing: tell your audience who you are and what you do using simple-to-understand nouns.

How many times have you read: We bring unparalleled results to your most thorny problems instead of We can fix your computer?

Unless your brand is Apple or Dell or Google, no one can actually hear what you are saying (or read what you are writing) if they don’t hear a noun.

Your organization is an airline, a computer technology company, a retail store, a nonprofit association that represents lawn mower manufacturers or something entirely different. But, it is something. Say it. And, say it early.

Communication Lessons from A Recent Speed Coaching Event

The other night, I joined four other communications experts to provide “speed coaching” on various marketing and PR topics at a joint UVA Innovations and Charlottesville Business Innovation Council meeting. Naturally, my topic was corporate storytelling and messaging.

Talking with business leaders and UVA Darden School students that night was a real pleasure. For one, it reminded me that not everyone thinks about language as much as I do! But, also their questions were very telling. Below are the top three questions received in the arena of messaging and storytelling.

1. Is my elevator pitch any good?

Answer: Sometimes. The most common mistakes I hear in elevator pitches include forgetting to tell people what you do upfront (hint: It usually involves a noun, like ‘I make widgets’), leading with benefits that sound jargon-y or like scintillating ad copy, and forgetting to differentiate the company, product or service from the competition. An elevator pitch should include:

  • what you do
  • what benefit is provided (that the customer cares about and can relate to, not just what sounds good)
  • something that backs up the benefit (statistics are great for this)
  • how you are different, more or better
  • a call to action

2. At what level should I differentiate myself in my messages? Wouldn’t I be boxing myself in by making it sound like I only handled a particular niche, and, therefore, send some potential customers away?

Answer: No. If you don’t take a strong position, people won’t understand why they should choose you over others. Also, don’t you want to send away those people who will never be customers and just suck up your time? Help them self-select themselves out. Differentiate yourself early and often.

3. How do I incorporate storytelling into my materials, such as press releases and my Web site?

Answer: Easily. Consider how the idea emerged in the first place. Why this idea? Who was involved? What colorful anecdote can you share? What lessons were learned along the way? Was the journey hard? Don’t bother with a boring CEO quote about how “delighted” he is to make this announcement. Rather, the CEO, in his or her quote, can introduce the “a-ha” moment around the new product or service. Or, perhaps a paragraph can be included about the journey it took to get to this point.

Also, to this last question, take a look at the About Us pages of the following companies: Dyson (the vacumn cleaner manufacturer), Nike and Adidas. They talk about their origins, how they came up with ideas, their mottos and why, where they are going and more. They read like stories, not a long list of statistics and corporate facts. (Leave that up to the Web pages aimed at investors.)

What are your burning questions about storytelling and messaging?

5 Things To Do When You Are Too Busy To Communicate

You haven’t heard from us in a while. We have been so busy with client work (Hello, Fall!) that blog entry writing, touching base with potential clients, networking and all the things people like me tell you to never, ever stop doing, stopped for us. Just call us the Cobbler’s kids. But, that’s no excuse. Here are 5 things to do when you believe you are too overwhelmed with “real” work to keep the marketing communications machine going.

1. Do not open your e-mail first thing in the morning. Rather, go to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or [insert communications vehicle of choice other than email) and post one line about why you are so busy. Done? (Okay, you can open your email inbox now. Once that Pandora’s box is open, it’s all over.)

2. With every customer or client you have, the next time you talk with them end your phone call or email with a thank you for allowing you to serve them. It’s a simple thing, but can be a powerful touch point right in the thick of frenzied activity.

3. At the end of the official work day, send an e-mail to thank someone who works with you for being there during a very busy time. These small acknowledgments can be the difference between someone wanting to work with you again during a particularly harried time or not.

4. Ask yourself who are the most important people to keep lines of communications open with today. Not everyone needs attention immediately. Limit your phone calls, emails, texts and posts to those who need to hear from you in that 24 hour period. (But, be cautious about putting tier 2 and 3 groups off forever. At some point they need to rise to the top or be cut loose forever.)

5. Increase the speed with which you communicate. Choose the fastest way to talk or write. Hey, it might be 140 characters on Twitter – or not. How can you get across what you need to in the fastest, most efficient way and not just your favorite or the way you’ve always done it? Sometimes talking live is the way to go. Remember the phone?

Also, remember that no communication is communication. You are telling people by your silence that they are not immediately important to your work and life.  Know how long you can live in the void before damaging your image and reputation.

Getting Everyone on the Same Page With A Concept Pyramid

The concept pyramid is an exercise we’ve used to help get client’s employees on the same page. But, unlike the “good word-bad word” list exercise, which ferrets out default language your staff is using, the concept pyramid exercise helps set message priorities. It organizes everyone’s thoughts and ideas about who you are, what you deliver, and why.

It is important to note that the concept pyramid is meant to simply get ideas down on paper. It will not be the official language you use.

Similar to the “good word-bad word” list exercise, it starts with getting your key people around a conference room table (or take them somewhere where they can relax and be forthcoming). Now answer the following questions:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • How do you do it?
  • Why do you do this?
  • Why would anyone care?
  • What else do you do that people would care about?

If you can’t answer these questions, you aren’t ready for messaging – yet. Get on the same page, conceptually, and then seek that scintillating copy to express it.

Punchy Infographics Made Easy

by guest blogger, Christine Hohlbaum

What is an Infographic? It is a story-telling image that conveys complex data at a glance. A good infographic tells a story using the visual medium. A bad one plunks down seemingly random data without an overarching narrative.

Essentially, there are four basic types of infographics:

1. The “state of” an industry/trend/idea: These infographics are great for celebrating a milestone or sounding a warning alarm. The best ones combine timelines with a vision of how fast the world is changing.

2. Viewer Resource: Great for building goodwill via “how to” resources, supplying a utilitarian bulletin-board “guide” to a topic, curating “sticky” experiences with interactivity or repurposing promotional items, these infographics can be posted on a wall and used as a guide.

3. Comparative Image: Comparative infographics can inject humor and levity into content with items that are clearly different, or can help extent a public debate, such as a Mac vs. PC infographic.

4. Evolution: Good for “food for thought” content, establishing authority, triggering deeper discussion or debate.

Before you can even put your fingers to the keyboard, you have to consider several steps first. Like a movie script, infographics require a certain level of brainstorming and sketching to plan out your storyboard before you get to the details.

Research. Decide what your subject is going to be and do some research. An infographic is not just a pretty picture: it says something. Avoid presenting stale, outdated information. Ask yourself, “What do I want people to know? What do I want it to say?” Hard data is essential. The more powerful statistics you have, the better. But don’t overload your infographic with random data as you might your plate at Thanksgiving dinner. The consequences are a jumbled image with too much information!

 Brainstorm. Once you have some hard data to work from, consider the layout and design. Infographics often work best when the graphics reflect the subject of the data, so let the data inform and drive the design. In this part of the design process, explore as many avenues as possible.

Develop Concepts. Once you have outlined your ideas into a storyboard format, identify several more coherent concepts. Get your business partner or friend to help bounce ideas around. Like a doctor’s visit, getting a second opinion can never hurt.

Pare it Down to One Idea. As you refine your idea, continue to draw the infographic. You can use index cards with each idea if you are a hands-on type of person to easily move the various parts back and forth. At this point, you should begin to see the finished product coming into form.

Finalize. Put on the finishing touches with any last-minute tweaking. With infographics this usually means adding highlights/textures to really make the graphics pop.

Best Practices 

  • Always include your sources, including your own Web site URL, somewhere on the image.
  • Use HTML for people to embed the image while linking back to your site (SEO-friendly solution).
  • Host the infographic on your Web site. Have people link to it. Some blog platforms (WordPress.com) allow you to post an image without having to upload it using the link itself.
  • Make it snappy. Snapshots are punchier than super-long images that require scrolling.
  • Add every image to your Pinterest.com account.

Christine Louise Hohlbaum is a long-time consultant at Four Leaf Public Relations. When she’s not tweeting or posting an update, she’s thinking about her next blog contribution. Her motto? I blog, therefore I am. http://powerofslow.org

The Most Overlooked Part of a Powerful Message

Nouns. I lead with the punch line.

Far too many companies and organizations lead with the benefits, the adjectives, and the scintillating catch phrases. They forget to do one simple thing: tell an audience who they are and what they do using simple-to-understand nouns.

How many times have you read: We bring unparalleled results to your most thorny problems instead of We can fix your computer?

Unless your brand is Apple or Dell or Google, no one can actually hear what you are saying (or read what you are writing) if they don’t hear a noun.

Your organization is an airline, a computer technology company, a retail store, a nonprofit association that represents lawn mower manufacturers or something entirely different. But, it is something. Say it. And, say it early.