While humanity has come a long way from the grunts and hand motions that turned into fire and food, how much of our potential for personal and professional interaction have we really tapped into?
I asked my Twitter followers and Facebook friends whether they thought people today were better or worse communicators compared to past generations. The replies were mixed, but there was an underlying feeling from everyone that despite the advanced digital and telephonic tools at our disposal, our communication skills were headed in the wrong direction.
That conversation got me thinking about how businesses communicate their message in today’s marketplace. A challenging economy has made many businesses become bruised and battered in the eyes of the public to the point where they aren’t recognizable as the companies they started out being. I wonder how much of that can be attributed to economic factors out of their control and how much is related to poor communication skills.
My day job as web editor for JCKonline.com has given me the opportunity to sift through old jewelry ads stretching back all the way to the late 1800s. Whether watching television commercials or reading an ad in a magazine or newspaper—yes, newspapers still exist—I’ve noticed that the most effective ads are ones that tap into our collective consciousness and bring us back to a place we’ve already been. Shiny, new viral ads are all fine and good, but it’s the ads that are a throwback to a former brilliant idea that truly influence our behavior.
So are businesses today screwed? Have all the good ideas been used up? Are we left with a bunch of companies that are only struggling to see which one can slap together the right combination of pre-existing material to articulate their message?
As an optimist and a firm believer in human potential for growth and reinvention, I don’t think we’re nearing any kind of communication innovation-less apocalypse. But just in case you don’t share my rose-colored glasses, here are some tips businesses can use in order to become better communicators.
Be Simple, Direct, and Honest
Believe it or not, folks in the 18–49 age range actually want to buy things and then have a social media parade telling people how awesome these things are. A company’s goal should be to make that process as easy, clear, and enjoyable as possible in a simple, direct, and honest way.
So far in 2012, I was retweeted and replied to on Twitter by the pizza chain Mellow Mushroom, Oban Single Malt, and the Red Hook Lobster Pound truck in New York City. I was a big fan of all three already—which prompted my tweets about them in the first place—but after the brands engaged me, I was over the moon. None of the tweets were long or involved; they didn’t prompt me to do anything extra; and it gave me something to brag about in the office for five minutes. More importantly, it influenced me to want to influence others to experience each company’s goods and services.
The thing companies should keep in mind though is that there is a limit to a consumer’s desire to be involved in your marketing strategy. Incessant Facebook posts and tweets, lousy and time-consuming surveys and contests with the promise of lame and unexciting prizes, and slipshod ad work done for expediency’s sake are going to do more lasting harm to your message than if you had a bad message to begin with. The author of a recent post on The Atlantic’s website presented a case study of a social media ad for Dove that she felt was counteractive to the company’s main goal—more customers engaging the brand. While she applauded the company’s efforts to innovate, the author pointed out the flaws in their execution. Essentially it boils down to not making the consumer work EXTRA hard for a good that he or she might have been predisposed to purchase before being presented with a lackluster ad campaign. They may still buy the product, but the company may have killed any chance that customer was going to try to influence others on behalf of the brand.
Repeat after me: simple, direct, honest. Got it? Good, let’s move on.
Write Better Press Releases
I can’t tell you how many awfully written press releases I read every day.
Oh wait, yes I can. Zero.
Businesses can’t just be worried about communicating with consumers directly; they also have to get better at reaching writers, bloggers, and opinion-makers who influence what those consumers want. I understand that it is really hard to talk up your business and sound folksy and relatable at the same time. But there is a way to do without making me reflexively toss your release into the garbage can sight unseen.
Explain to me what your product is, why it’s cool, and why I should pass along information to people in my circle or to the readers of my material. Please, don’t use flowery adjectives that are just going to get cut anyway. Don’t use greetings like, “Hope you’re well” or “I don’t want to waste your time, but…” No, no, waste my time—that’s the whole point—but make it time worth wasting.
Remember your three words often as you’re developing your press release. Having a succinct and well thought out mission statement is half the battle. Once you have that, craft a couple of paragraphs, include some eye-catching images, and be accessible to any follow up questions. Follow that formula and more than just my eyeballs will be seeing your message.
Train Your Employees to Use Their Voices Effectively
Press releases, social media, and advertising aren’t the only effective ways to promote your business and spread your message.
Your employees are your frontline soldiers and should be trained early and often on how to use their voices as primary business weapons. PowerPoint presentations, spreadsheets, flowcharts, sexy financial figures are great, but they don’t mean anything without a powerful voice articulating what you want consumers and business professionals to believe about your company.
Business leaders don’t have the luxury of hiding behind performance fears and anxieties. For those employees that are more shy or reserved, offer Toastmaster classes, have them speak one-on-one with a senior executive to get them prepared for larger groups, and give them an overload of useful information about your business so that they are capable of answering any question or concern. Even better, stage debates between employees about your company that has one person pointing out potential weaknesses in your message or brand. You’ll not only educate more effectively, but also learn where your company is vulnerable as well, which can lead to more discussion and solutions.
If you want to get your message across, you need to be willing to listen to someone else’s.
As revolutionary, historic, and impressive as your company’s ideas are, they aren’t the only ideas out there. Listening to constructive criticism won’t kill you; it’s only going to make your company stronger. Scour social media to find out what people are saying about your business—both positive and negative. Figure out what works and doesn’t work about aspects of your advertising campaigns.
Listen to what your competitors are saying about your company to better understand your marketplace and your place in it. Are you the industry authority? Are you the feisty new kid on the block with sex appeal? Your identity is tied to how consumers and industry professionals perceive you, so the more you listen to the voices engaging in your brand, the better able you’ll be in defining what it is.
[Image: Cameraman Phil]