Posts Tagged ‘brand’

Focus your message for greater impact and success

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate, Nonprofit Communications on July 16, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Sometimes, getting your message out there is easy. You know what your organization does and you can sum it up nicely.

When it’s not easy, the problem usually isn’t finding a message. More often, you can’t decide which message to put out there. You do so many things, in so many ways, how can you possibly narrow it all down to one succinct statement?

That’s the dilemma I was trying to address when I put together the slide above for my recent participation in a “Developing Effective Messaging” webinar conducted by Achieve for its nonprofit clients.  I admit it’s a pretty crude, inelegant illustration, but I hope it makes the point: Put too many messages out there, and they’ll get lost in your own clutter, confuse your team, diffuse your impact and, every now and then, crash a couple of metaphoric planes together.

 Why is it so hard to focus the message? Often, it’s because every time you choose to communicate one message, you’re choosing not to communicate others. And every time you choose not to communicate something, somebody says, “Yeah, but …”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve helped a client focus its message – defining objectives, wrestling words, sharpening syntax – only to have an executive or department head come in at the end of the process and say, “Perfect! Except it doesn’t say anything about our … [quality control, customer services, longevity, etc.]. Can you add that? And maybe something about … [cost-effectiveness, environmental awareness, fun culture, etc.]?”

Here’s the deal: I’m not suggesting that an organization can’t have a lot to offer, or that a company can’t provide a bunch of benefits. I’m simply saying that, when it comes to communicating, simple is best. Forge your primary message, and communicate others as appropriate.

How do you choose? By asking yourself a couple of questions:

  • “What are we trying to achieve with this communication effort?”
  • “What message will help us achieve that objective most efficiently?”

Other messages might be true, but if they won’t help you reach your objective, they simply create interference.  

Remember the old Miller Lite “Less filling! Tastes great!” campaign? I can almost guarantee that someone at Miller wanted to add “Incredible bargain!” “American-brewed!” and other messages. But “Less filling! Tastes great!” made the point that needed to be made and nothing more. As a result, it worked.

Choosing is hard, but not nearly as hard as watching a communications effort fail. Make hard choices, focus your message, and you’ll be a lot more successful.


What social media won’t do for you

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate, social media, Uncategorized on May 24, 2010 at 7:35 am

You’ve no doubt heard a lot about what social media can do for your life or your business. Build it, maybe. Improve it. Transform it.

In fact, if you listened to all of the hype, you could be forgiven for thinking social media can do just about anything. But it can’t. So, to offset the endless hype about what social media can do, here are four things it won’t do.

Social media won’t substitute for a strategy. Social media is a tool. It’s one of the things you use to implement your strategy. It’s not a strategy. Before thinking about how you can use social media, think about what it is you’re trying to achieve and consider the best ways to achieve it. Perhaps social media will be a part of your strategy.


Social media won’t substitute for a message. Yes, once upon a time the medium was declared to be the message. But, face it: Without a message, you’ve got nothing to put into the medium. If you don’t have anything engaging to say, no one will listen – no matter what media you use to say it.


Social media won’t substitute for a brand. You’ve heard it over and over, but sometimes we forget these sorts of things. Your brand is not your organization’s name, a product name, a slogan or logo. It is, indeed, the complete experience a customer has with you. As such, social media will help you build, establish and connect a brand, but it won’t substitute for a brand.


Social media won’t substitute for a purpose. Even if you started Facebook, founded Twitter or came up with whatever is next, social media is not your purpose. Know why you exist or no magical media will make you worthwhile. Or interesting. Or successful.

Keep social media in perspective. It’s a great tool that can help some businesses succeed. For other businesses, though – those that don’t have a strategy, a message, a brand or a purpose – it will be a drain on resources and an unnecessary distraction. And, ultimately, OK, sure: It will indeed transform those businesses. In a bad way.

Change required: Social media demands a new way of thinking

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate, social media on March 4, 2010 at 7:45 pm

Leaders can be funny people. They talk about driving change, about wanting to lead dynamic organizations and about “pushing the envelope.” They say they need their people to “think outside the box” and urge their organizations in new directions. “If we’re not leading the way,” they say, “we’re following the herd.”

But when their people come to them and say, “OK, in order to go in this new direction, we’re going to need to change the way we do things,” too many leaders slam on the brakes. It’s as though they’re saying, “I’m all for change, so long as everything can stay the same.”

The latest issue to spark this change/stay-the-same tug-of-war?  Social media. Most leaders know they’ve got to tap its potential, but, again, they hesitate when they realize the changes required to make it work.

What changes? Consider the following:

Out. Of. Control. The more you use social media to communicate, the less control you have over your message. It’s OK: Let go. Trust your customers to carry your message forward.

Keys, not key. You know your key message. You’ve drilled it into your people’s heads. Great. Now, let it fragment into a dozen messages, a hundred messages, and more. Don’t worry: Deep down, it’ll still be the same. It’ll just sound a little different to each audience that hears it. And that’s why they will, indeed, hear it.

It’s not about you. Really, it never should have been, but social media consumers must feel that your products, your mission and your communications are about them … or they’ll move on.

Friend of a friend. Make a new friend in social media, and you suddenly have access to hundreds more. Win a new customer, and you’ve suddenly got access to hundreds more of those, too. Cool, huh?

Stand and engage. Once upon a time, you crafted your message for one-way communication. Now you develop the foundation of a conversation. Stop delivering messages and start engaging in discussions.

It’s not what you make; it’s what it does. Products can be cool. Products can be innovative. But what consumers really want is an experience, a solution and a “feel.” Your products are simply a vehicle for delivering that experience, solution and feel.

There’s no place like home … page. That website the organization worked so hard to perfect? It’s not necessarily your home page any more. Instead, your “home page” becomes a virtual concept, a role filled by a Facebook page, a blog or some other web-based outlet.

Give it up. You don’t own your brand any more. Your consumers do. The good news? If it’s a good brand and you stay true to it, they’ll do more to spread the word than you ever could.

Off the clock. Your brand is being discussed while you sleep. That doesn’t mean you can’t sleep. It simply means you have to be prepared for a marketplace in constant motion.

Now, if all of that change makes your leader curl up into a fetal position, let him or her know the good news: Even in the face of all this change, a few things remain the same. In fact, they’re more important than ever:

Strategy. Social media isn’t a magic wand that solves all problems. Like any other tool, it only works if it’s employed as part of a focused strategy.

Relationships. Business always has been about relationships, and always will be. The good news? Social media makes it easier to forge relationships.

Focused message. Remember what we said about being prepared to fragment your message? It’s true, but it only works if you have a strong, focused message to begin with.

Quality. Social media doesn’t make silk purses out of sow’s ears. However, if you make a really good silk purse, it’ll help you spread the word.

Risk. Some things never change. If you want to get the greatest reward from social media, you’ll have to take a big risk. There are no guarantees. Just a lot of potential and opportunity. Are you up for it?

Social Media Debrief: Lessons from Atlanta

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate, social media on February 25, 2010 at 10:01 am

I’ve got those post-conference/my-brain-is-full/now-what-do-I-do blues.

The good news is that my brain is full of good, useful information. The bad news is that now I’ve got to sort it out, maintain that post-conference enthusiasm for new information and put it to work for clients.

I spent the first three days of this week at a Ragan Communications Social Media for Communicators conference in Atlanta, listening to gurus and pros give their insights into social media and how to make the most of it. I’m still processing and decompressing – which means I’ll probably have fodder for plenty of upcoming social media posts – but, for now, I can offer a few key concepts that rose to the top.

Social media is huge. OK, no great revelation there, but a little context: Ragan CEO Mark Ragan pointed out (I’ll track down the primary source ASAP), if the number of people on Facebook were a country, they’d be the fourth-largest country in the world. (I can’t imagine what the GDP would be.)

You don’t own your brand. Your customers do. This isn’t new information – when you think about it, consumers have always owned the brand – but consumers’ ownership stake has increased with social media because they have greater control over the communication of that brand. (This idea was repeated in a number of ways by a number of speakers.)

Every day is Election Day. Always be campaigning, says Clyde Tuggle, Coca-Cola SVP Global Public Affairs and Comm, because consumers are constantly voting. You can lose an election (or competitive position) every day.

Sometimes it’s a good-enough world. A number of speakers (most notably, perhaps, Shel Holtz) pointed out that quality standards (especially for video, but also in terms of grammar, style, etc.) relax in the social media world. A shaky, hand-held video is acceptable if the content is good enough. On the other hand, too shaky and too amateurish (notes Brian Solis), and we’ll ignore it. So “good enough” means just that: GOOD enough – not, “Well, it’s bad but who cares?”

It’s all about ‘communitainment.’ That’s Mark Ragan’s word for what the world wants – real information, real communication, and really entertaining stuff. My take: It’s kind of like dating. Meet someone funny but shallow? Fun for a while, but it ain’t gonna last. Smart and boring? We’ll put up with THAT even less. Funny and smart? This might be love.

Mom rocks. It makes sense that Mommy Bloggers have the power: Women make the vast majority of household buying decisions. What do they want, according to Mommy Blogger Ace Beth Rosen? Engagement, genuine interest, lasting connections and empowerment. Wait: Are we dating again? (And, by the way, DON’T call them mommy bloggers.)

If I had a hammer. Renee Hamilton, formerly of Operation Smile, had the analogy of the week: The way a lot of organizations approach social media is akin to someone buying a hammer and then looking for something (anything!) to build. In other words, don’t grab the tool (social media) unless you know what you want to build and why. Otherwise, you’ll probably just end up running around hitting things.  

Technology comes and goes; relationships last. SocMed and PR guru Brian Solis points out that, while the social media focus tends to be on the tools (Twitter, Facebook, Tweetdeck, etc. etc.), social media is not about technology – it’s about sociology and psychology. Just like old-school communications.

I’ve got plenty more in my notes, detail on these points and resources to offer in future posts. But, for now, one final thought:

It takes resources and tenacity. The people who are making social media work are dedicating time, energy and other resources, and they’re sticking with it. You have to be smart, relentless and untiring. Or you have to be willing to watch from the sidelines.

Extreme Makeover, Brand Edition — Will it be a “Love Shack”?

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate on January 22, 2010 at 10:08 am

At any given moment, too many people in funky glasses and expensive t-shirts are sitting in conference rooms having “brand discussions.” They’re trying to “capture the essence of the brand” or “leverage the brand’s full synergistic opportunities.” (Sorry: But these people really do talk like that.)

Now, full disclosure: I have participated in such conversations. I have done so in all seriousness and, occasionally, with some success. As I’ve done so, I’ve learned a few things.

First of all, most clients believe in the power of the world-changing brand (see: Nike, Pixar, FedEx, etc.). They want you to give them a brand that will set the world on fire, or a subtle tweak to an existing brand that will make it emerge from the crowd. They want miracles.

In pursuit of such miracles, I’ve seen great brand-development processes, and I’ve endured horrible ones. I’ve seen success and failure from both. That’s the nature of the beast: When you’re panning for gold, sometimes you succeed through a brilliant and focused process; other times, you trip over a nugget while fumbling around like an idiot.

I thought of these realities when I read a recent blog post from the smart people at Hetrick Communications (www.tellhetrick.com). Creative Director Mary Hayes mused out loud about the recent shift in the Radio Shack brand. The holder of a sharp brand brain, Mary summed up much of the brand conundrum with her headline: Radio Shack drops the Radio and threatens my brand experience. (Click headline to view blog.)

The key words are “my brand experience.” That’s what a brand is about these days: Making the “brand experience” personal. The responses to Mary’s blog supported this: People talked less about the wisdom or idiocy of the new “Shack” brand, and more about how it resonated with their personal experiences with Radio Shack.

I added these thoughts:

Sure, I always knew the radio geeks at Radio Shack could come up with that odd cable, bizarre converter, or funky universal remote, but I more often thought of them as sellers of cheap remote control cars, whiz-bang electronic gadgets and inexpensive versions of things I buy because I can’t afford the “real thing.” I’ve never gone unless I needed one specific thing, and I never left with more than that one thing. If I had to sum up the brand impression for me, it would be something like “Shabby Geek.”

Still, as a cycling geek, I have to suggest that Radio Shack’s masterstroke — beyond all renaming and rebranding — is signing on as sponsor of Lance Armstrong’s cycling team. Lance and his teammates (some of cycling’s top dogs) have wasted no time embracing the brand and talking it up as “cool.” The guy who put added new zip to the United Postal Service and Discovery Channel brands; who put the name of the capital of Kazakhstan on the lips of Americans; who made a global passion out of the Tour de France, a race that had a dedicated but tiny following prior to the Attack of the Texan; and who made the colors yellow and black synonymous with cancer fighting and little rubber wrist bands a global phenom … he now is powering The Shack brand. Frankly, I think they change the name to anything — Telegraph Hut? Morse Code Bungalow? — and Lance could pedal them to the top of the marketing mountain.

The challenge of a brand is to make as many people as possible feel like it is their own personal brand. I have until now felt zero connection to Radio Shack, but its relationship with Lance Armstrong and a US cycling team make me see it in a new way. A personal way.

Now, that’s all well and good, but will I translate my Lance-worship into buying gadgets at The Shack? Will you change your Radio Shack perceptions and buying habits as a result of its evolution into The Shack? That’s what matters. Because, let’s face it: The world is littered with “cool brands” that did nothing for their organizations. Why? They failed to translate a “brand relationship” into a cash transaction. And it doesn’t get any more personal than that.