Seven Questions to Ask Before You Communicate

Two primary responsibilities of a marketer are to listen and to tell a story. Without these two critical skills, a marketer will fail an organization and its consumers. Listening helps the marketer gather information; figure out what people are thinking, saying, and doing. (Both with respect to you and your product, as well as a general understanding of their behaviour, demographic, attitudes, and location). Once you have been able to gather this information, it is time to tell your story; time to tell them how you will make their lives better by fulfilling their needs better than anybody else.

The following post summarizes what I have learned about the communication process. I have broken the entire process down in a few simple questions which can you can ask yourself and apply to any method of communication. Ask yourself these questions to make sure you are communicating effectively, clearly, and strategically.

1. What are your objectives?

What is your mission? Why are you in business? What problem are you addressing? This is really the most crucial question, and one you must answer before moving any further in the process. These objectives must be strategical, SMART, and must dictate where you will place your effort. Your objective might be to change a certain behaviour, or to send a particular message – whatever it is, all your efforts must come back to these objectives and meet them.

2. What is your communication objective?

Now that you’ve identified your overall objective, what is the objective behind your specific communication? This objective is one which is a bit more specific and can address the factors which affect certain behaviour. For example if your objective is to increase your sales by 20%, your communication objective may be to change the perception that your product is inferior, or that your product provides better value than your competitors.

3. Who are you sending your message to?

This one is easy – if you haven’t identified your target market yet, get back to the drawing board. You should not be communicating without knowing who your audience is.

When considering your audience, it is also important to remember the context in which they will be hearing your message. Think about what is going on in the world when they hear your message. Think about what else could be going on – what else are they hearing, what personal situation could they be facing, what noise needs to be drowned out in order to hear your message?

4. What is your message?

This one may seem like an obvious one, but don’t forget to put yourself in your audience’s shoes. You may be giving them a lot of information that they need to filter through and process. If you want your audience to walk away with one or two key points, what are they? What are the key messages of your communication, and are they being presented clearly as such?

Think about various ways to present your message without having to explicitly state it. You can use various text styles, typefaces, colour schemes, and layouts to send a clear message. Your message may also be clearly identified simply by using a specific tone or emotion throughout your communication.

You want your message to be remembered. If your key message is clearly identifiable and relatable, there is no question you have succeeded.

5. How are you sending your message?

Now things get tactical! You must decide the most effective and relevant way to reach your audience. Do they need to hear your message? Read it? Touch it? You can choose from a variety of means, and hybrid them to come up with the perfect mix.

Paid Media

You can think of paid media as your one-way communication channel to your audience. As the name suggest, this is the media you pay for and put out; the television ads, magazine ads, posters, billboards, etc. Before selecting your media (and budget) think carefully about who is going to see it versus who needs to see it. By the way, for those of you who think “traditional media” is dying, TVB reported that individuals older than 18 spent more than 20 hours watching television per week in 2012. (

Owned Media

Owned media are methods which you own and manage – this can include things like a website, Facebook fan page, or physical spaces such as a retail store or facility of some sort. Owned media can often generate two-way communication between you and your audience. Conversation and engagement is good for your brand so the more owned media, the better.

Earned Media

When positive, earned media is probably music to every organization’s ears! Earned media is attention your organization receives from individuals outside of the company. So when videos or efforts go viral, people retweet, blog, and talk about you through various means – that is earned media; media/attention you have earned because of something you’ve done. Again, when its positive, brands love it. When its negative, brands should work on some form of damage control (more on that next).

6.  How do you mitigate risk?

The success of every plan is in a strong Plan B. This is another point in the communication process where, if you don’t have an answer, its time to go back to the drawing board. You may encounter a variety of challenges along the process and it is important to identify potential risk, and mitigation strategies.

Potential risk could be the misinterpretation of your message – how will you avoid this risk and if you encounter it, how will you manage and control the damage done?

7. How do you evaluate success?

Remember when I asked your objectives? Your objectives are your measuring stick for success.  Analyze your key findings and results and weigh them against your objectives. Keeping your objectives SMART make this fairly easy to weigh against.

And there you have it. 7 easy questions to answer which will help ensure the success of your communication plan. These are the 7 easy steps to successful communication – if you don’t have an answer for all 7, do not proceed. Sit back and think about your objectives, and plan accordingly.


Two-Way Communication: The Role of Social Media in Online Marketing

Its difficult to imagine the world of modern marketing without social media. Suffice to say that without a prominent online presence, companies can and will go unnoticed. Infact, more than 50% of consumers begin a search for a new business or service online. So businesses who are not online and not interacting with their customers online, are missing a huge opportunity. (footnote 1).

Information out Fast!

Never before has it been so easy get information out to your audience – and never before has it been possible to do it so quickly and inexpensively. Social Media makes it possible to give your customers information at blink-of-an-eye speeds. This information doesn’t necessarily have to be new products or new ideas but, as Raj Agnihotri points out in his post, “this can mean offering suggestions and solutions on a regular basis, or it might mean conducting live Q&A sessions on Facebook with customers.” He further points out that this type of interactivity “is a signal that the [organization] really cares about the buyer’s bottom-line goals.”

Athelic Company, MusclePharm, has mastered this in a great way. MusclePharm has succeeded in creating an online community on their Facebook page. They post regular fitness regimes and provide their followers regular instruction on certain exercises. This has created forum for fans to come and discuss the things they liked, didn’t like, or need help with – and of course gives MusclePharm the perfect forum to advertise their products. And so, when shopping for supplements, which brand will the audience go with? The one they recognize as the company who actually seems to care about their success, of course!

Instant Feedback

The other advantage of being able to disseminate information quickly is instant feedback. The online community can tell you almost instantaneously what they think about what you’re doing or what they’ve experienced.

“Conventional marketing wisdom long held that a dissatisfied customer tells ten people. But…in the new age of social media, he or she has the tools to tell ten million.” says Paul Gillin, author of The New Influencers. If customers can tell that many people about a bad experience that quickly, it is vital to solve their concerns quickly, efficiently, and perhaps publicly.

This means showing the customer and your audience that you are listening – when customers give feedback, it is important for them and others to see that somebody is listening and cares. It is so easy to respond directly to the feedback (positive and negative) and makes the customer feel valued. They may not tell ten million people about the issue was resolved, but certainly many many more people will see how well the concern was handled.

Engaged Audience

Social media is a simple way to engage your audience, and in turn build loyalty and share value. When customers are engaged with a brand or company, their loyalty for the brand increases. Car manufacturer, Nissan, recognizes this and has taken to this idea in their next marketing initiative. Over the Summer of 2012, brand managers had been asking fans on Facebook, Pinterest, and other Social Media outlets about their suggestions for future product planning.

Says Erich Marx, Nissan’s director of Interactive and Social Media Marketing, “We want to take our social media engagement to the next level – We have all these people following us who are obviously interested in what we’re doing and where we’re going. The next level in that relationship will be to get their input on where we should go.”


There is no doubt that social media plays an important role in online marketing. Social media isn’t just limited to Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Social Media is every single medium that an audience uses to be social. That is, blogs, SMS, photography, anything – being creative about expressing your vision and about getting your audience to share in the experience are what make your social media strategy effective. Anybody can communicate one-way, but two-way communication is the advantage that social media gives to online marketing.

UCV-COW-BA: Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model

“By changing nothing, nothing changes.” -Tony Robbins

Change is part of everyday life – its inevitable, its constant, and its not always easy to deal with. While we all have our own way of dealing with change in our personal lives (some of us may shy away), organizational change cannot be avoided. Recognizing the challenge of adapting to change, organizations implement various theories and programs for change management. Any change, personal or organizational, should be well thought out to avoid disaster.

In using the health care system as an example, Max D. Ray and Burnis D. Breland discusses that, in an organization, leaders are required to be change agents. They to on to say that, “To be effective,… leaders will need to be guided by a well-thought-through practice model that is based on the broad goals [of the department].” (Ray and Breland, 2011).

UCV-COW-BA (pronounced, you-see-vee-cow-ba). Have I gone crazy? No. Please repeat after me, three times. UCV-COW-BA. UCV-COW-BA. UCV-COW-BA. Now, before calling me crazy again, let me explain this.

UCV-COW-BA is an acronym to help you remember the 8 stages in Kotter’s 8-step change model. John Kotter (click for information and blogs posts), who is a professor at Harvard Business School, developed these 8 steps to lead change.

Step 1: Create Urgency

This one is pretty straight forward – we know that if we want something to change, we have to convince somebody (probably the boss) that something is actually wrong. Kotter points out that “ 75 percent of a company’s management needs to “buy into” the change.”

Step 2: Form a Powerful Coalition

The power of many! The more people you can convince that change is needed, the stronger case you can make to implement change.

Step 3: Create a Vision for Change

Determine what the overall goal is for change. Figure out what will be better and how it will be better because of the change. 

Step 4: Communicate the Vision

Tell people!

Step 5: Remove Obstacles

Identify individuals who may resist the change. Bring them on your side. Realize that you won’t convince everybody, but you have to convince the ones who have decision making power.

Step 6: Create short-term Wins

It’s all about baby steps. Every step forward is one to celebrate and bring forth the success of the change. The more success everybody sees, the more motivated they are to carry on.

Step 7: Build on the Change

Don’t stop there – keep going! The change helped create short-term wins; now analyze them and win more!

Step 8: Anchor the Changes in Corporate Culture

In order for the change to be successful, it should become vasible in most part of the company.

(Steps and paraphrased description from

For a real life example of Kotter’s 8-step model in practice, one only needs to look back a few years to 2006. In her article, Leading Bold Change, Ann Schulte discusses her experience when MasterCard went public. Employees were instructed through the “Leading Bold Change” training program – which was based off of Kotter’s 8-step model.  During the workshop, participants developed action plans to apply the model.  (source)

Have a read over the Leading Bold Change PDF to see how MasterCard actually implemented these 8 steps to manage their big change.

There you have it. UCV-COW-BA. You can easily master change with these steps. Learn it. Live it. Love it.






Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model. (n.d.). Mind Tools. Retrieved July 20, 2012, from

Ray, M. D., & Breland, B. D. (2011). Methods of fostering change in the practice model at the pharmacy department level. American Journal Of Health-System Pharmacy,68(12), 1138-1145.

Schulte, A. (2010). Leading Bold Change. Leadership Excellence, 27(4), 4.

The Trend Toward Organic

We’ve all heard this recipe for disaster – too many bosses! When there are too many people taking charge or too many people to report to, a particular arrangement becomes very difficult to work in. Messaging gets lost in the convolution, you get conflicting information from various “bosses” and it all seems highly inefficient. Structure puts everybody in line, and a good structure clearly defines everybody’s role.

In addition to pointing out the ineffectiveness of an outdated organizational structure, Gill Corkindale points out that. “[In an organization with an unclear structure] responsibilities can be overlooked, staffing can be inappropriate, and people — and even functions — can work against each other.” (Corkindale, 2011).

This funny animation about waiting in line sums up a poor organizational structure really well – it may look like there is order, but in reality people (or bears) are going back and forth and have no idea where they should really be. They can end up in the wrong line, the longer line, and waste more time doing their task inefficiently.

Many newer organizations operate under an organic model. That is, a flat structure using cross-hierarchal and cross-functional teams. They have low formalization and rely on collaborative decision making. (Robbins & Langton, 2003, p. 446)

This table below compares a Mechanistic Structure (hierarchal, highly formalized, stereo-typical things we think of when we think of an organizational structure) to an Organic Structure.



While of course it is important to have a clear leader, there is no denying that employees will be more motivated when empowered to make some of their own decisions. Coca Cola recognizes both these needs in their structure, and functions with a hybrid of both a mechanistic and organic structure. It is common for regular meetings between top managers and employees to keep one another up-to-date on the operations of the company. With these organic characteristics, there is still a level of formality in decision making to ensure consistency throughout the brand.  (Valluri, Nahata, Jangalwa, & Sethi, 2010, pp 11-15)

A fusion of both these structures can ensure the greatest amount of efficiency. Imagine if there was one person directing the bears in the video. The bears are free to pick whichever queue they like. If there is a person managing the lines and making sure everybody is moving at a fair pace and not being held up at the desk, the bears won’t switch back and forth and end up wasting time and resources.

Thought of the day: Food or organizational structure – a bit of organic never hurt anybody!


Borgatti, S. P. (2001, September). Organic vs Mechanistic Structures . Introduction to Organizational Behaviour. Retrieved July 7, 2012, from

Corkindale, G. (2011, February 11). The Importance of Organizational Design and Structure. HBR. Retrieved July 7, 2012, from

Robbins, S. P., & Langton, N. (2003). Chapter 12- Organizational Structure. InOrganizational Behaviour: Concepts, Controversies, Applications. (3rd ed.). (p. 446). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc.

Valluri, H., Nahata, S., Jangalwa, A., & Sethi, G. R. (2010). Organizational Structure of The Coca-Cola Company. Scribd. Retrieved July 7, 2012, from

Culture: The Paint for Your Organization’s Picture

Define culture.

Sure, I will wait while you go to and look it up! Infact, I will save you the trouble, here it is:

Image From

Now, in your head, without the Internet – define culture (in an organizational sense). You may think of ideas like openness, clothing attire, behaviours, core values – but you are likely struggling to put this into a well constructed sentence. Organizational culture is intangible – it is something we feel, we experience, and we value; but we cannot define it (with full justice).

In “Organizational Culture” Dorian LaGuardia makes a similar point. He says, “Organizational cultures are not so encompassing, lacking the broad links that help define how we understand ourselves among others.”(Laguardia, 2008, p. 56). He further, quite accurately, points out that organizational culture is interpretive. This means that it is very possible that any observer will have a different perception of an organization’s culture. Some may view a particular organization’s culture as enriching and fruitful, others may see it as arrogant and proud.

Zappos, an online shoe store, their culture appears to be defined by their 10 core values ( In his writeup, “At Zappos, Culture Pays” Dick Richards take particular note of core value number 3- “Create fun and a little weirdness.” (“ZAPPOS.COM, INC. CODE OF BUSINESS CONDUCT AND ETHICS”, 2010). Richards points out the hidden link on Zappos’ website that reads ‘Don’t ever click here’ which Rickrolls the user vis-a-vis the Muppet Rock Band. (Richards, 2010).


Now, put THAT culture into words.

However you define culture, or understand a particular organization’s culture, there is no question that culture plays a key role in every organization. Every organization has a different “vibe” – this “vibe” ferments because of their culture. This is what attracts or repels employees or customers.

As Bill Taylor points out in the title of his blog post, “Brand is culture, and culture is brand.” (Taylor, 2010). Your organization’s culture is how you will be viewed. He further says, “[Culture] helps you stand out among your customers, and stand out from the crowd in a hyper-competitive marketplace.” (Taylor, 2012). Well said, Bill. Your company’s culture is depicted by your advertising, your website design; your overall public-facing content. It paints a picture of your brand and it is how you’re judged.

Every organization wants to stand out from the rest. They want to be the ones who attract and who are admired. The company’s “vibe” is what builds this attraction. Culture paints the best picture for an organization. Its what makes internal users feel good, and its what attracts external users.

I close with a wise adage, and great video – “Culture eats strategy for lunch!”


LaGuardia, D. (2008). Organizational Culture. T+D, 62(3), 56-61.

Richards, D. (2010, August 24). At Zappos, Culture Pays. Strategy + Business. Retrieved June 23, 2012, from

Taylor, B. (2010, September 27). Brand is Culture, Culture is Brand. HBR. Retrieved June 23, 2012, from

ZAPPOS.COM, INC. CODE OF BUSINESS CONDUCT AND ETHICS. (2010, May 1). Zappos. Retrieved June 23, 2012, from

Diversity – It’s all about perspective

“Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.” – Malcome Forbes

Life would be pretty boring if we were all the same. We’d all speak the same language, have the same skin colour, be the same age, have the same experience, share the same values, and think the same things. We aren’t all the same – and the more diverse we are, the stronger we are as a group. The experience and perspective that diversity can bring to any workplace situation is unmatched. Yes, they can be both positive and negative, but the negative experiences help us learn new things and gain new perspective.

Many companies have recognized the strength of diversity and pride themselves on their diverse cultures. In 1993, Microsoft launched the GLEAM – Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender resource group.  GLEAM is now about 700 people large, and hosts various events along with employee initiatives within Microsoft. (Microsoft, 2012).

Diversity, however, is more than sexual orientation or ethnic background (as may sometimes be the default thought). In 2008, Samsung highlighted their recognition of strength in diversity, when they received the “True Company” award for excellent performance in disabled employment. (Samsung, 2009). Samsung’s “Respecting Global Diversity” report published in 2009 can be found here.

While embracing diversity as a strength is a trait critical to success, it may not be something that can be taught to each employee. Part of having a diverse culture means accepting those who have no value for diversity. (Yeah, wrap your head around that one!) In his article, Peter Bregman points out that “Diversity training doesn’t extinguish prejudice. It promotes it.” Perhaps it’s true, bringing the elephant in the room to everybody’s attention only makes it more visible. (Bregman, 2012).

Bregman makes a good point to conclude – “Instead of seeing people as categories, we need to see people as people. Stop training people to be more accepting of diversity. It’s too conceptual, and it doesn’t work.” (Bregman, 2012). Yes! I could not agree more! People are only “different” when we point out their differences. John is disabled when we make a point to mention John is in a wheelchair. Jane is Hispanic when we say she is Hispanic. John is a man, and Jane is a woman – that’s all.

Diversity is not a policy, not an attempt to eliminate conformity, and it is not about hiring people with different skin colours and beliefs – diversity is simply perspective. Diversity brings different perspective to different situations.  The more perspective any situation or decision can have, the more likely it is that a widely accepted solution will come about.






Bregman, P. (2012, March 12). Diversity Training Doesn’t Work. Harvard Business Blog. Retrieved May 27, 2012, from

Microsoft (n.d.). Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Employees at Microsoft. Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Employees at Microsoft. Retrieved May 27, 2012, from

Samsung (2009). Respecting Global Diversity. Samsung. Retrieved May 27, 2012, from

The Boss’s Pet – Making the Workplace not so Equal

Does anybody else compare a workplace environment with the storyline of NBC’s “The Office?” No? Just me? Regardless, ever notice how much Michael Scott hated Toby and loved Dwight? Of the two, who got the cool projects? Who was always the brunt of Michael’s criticism and last on the list for any opportunities?

We’ve all been there – an “equal workplace” that really wasn’t so equal. There’s always the one or two co-workers who get the special projects, that get away with a couple extra sick days, and seem to do no wrong; the boss’s pets. These are the one’s who seem to get preferential treatment from the boss over anybody else. Eventually, of course, as they do more advanced tasks and are first in the mind of the boss, these individuals are also first on the list for a promotion.

Barbara Moses notes in her post “Does your boss play favourites? “A recent survey of 300 executives at large U.S. corporations by Georgetown University researchers found that 92 per cent have seen [favouritism] influence promotions.” Startling isn’t it? Even if it is not the case, the fact that workers feel this way is a sign that management is not communicating clearly with their workers.

A boss may choose their “pet” for various different reasons – these may include past or current friendships, reminders of themselves, possible physical attraction, exchange of gifts/money; each as unethical as the previous. A boss may also do this without realizing. Perhaps they have noticed a strong work ethic, a consistent delivery of results, and an overall satisfaction with performance of a handful of employees. Or maybe, as Ellyn Spragins suggests, the boss is “oblivious to its existence.” In a situation that has too many possible factors, it is important to address it without causing the most damage.

An organization’s training program can help managers be more aware of this. It can include the consequences from a legal perspective, a company culture perspective, or a job performance perspective – basically scare the managers away from deliberate favouritism. Now of course, natural tendencies may kick in a managers might play favourites unknowingly. Strategies like transparencies in decisions, creative ways to distribute special projects, and clear criteria in selection strategy will help the manager avoid unknowingly play favourites. A manager also needs to be careful in drawing the line between friends and colleagues. When you spend so many hours per week at work, you likely make some friends. But friends should be friends outside of work.

Nobody ever said being a manager was easy. On top of delivering team results consistently, intangibles like culture, morale, and employee satisfaction play a huge role in success. Employees strive to be Dwight, and hate to be the Toby of your workplace.  A manager can be trained, however, to fairly find the happy middle – the “Jim.”







Moses, B. (2012, May 10). Does your boss play favourites?. Globe and Mail. Retrieved May 10, 2012, from

Spragins, E. (2003). Taming the Boss’s Pet. FSB: Fortune Small Business, 13(9), 30.