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. (http://www.tvb.ca/pages/comScoreMediaMetrixTrends_htm).

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.

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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.”

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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.

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.

http://youtu.be/kIiPa3V6O2g

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.

Image

source: http://www.analytictech.com/mb021/organic_vs_mechanistic_structure.htm

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!

Sources

Borgatti, S. P. (2001, September). Organic vs Mechanistic Structures . Introduction to Organizational Behaviour. Retrieved July 7, 2012, from http://www.analytictech.com/mb021/organic_vs_mechanistic_structure.htm

Corkindale, G. (2011, February 11). The Importance of Organizational Design and Structure. HBR. Retrieved July 7, 2012, from http://blogs.hbr.org/corkindale/2011/02/the_importance_of_organization.html

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 http://www.scribd.com/doc/37483762/Organizational-Structure-of-The-Coca-Cola-Company#outer_page_15)

Culture: The Paint for Your Organization’s Picture

Define culture.

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

Image From www.dictionary.com

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 (http://www.zappos.com/c/code-of-conduct). 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).

ImageFrom http://www.zappos.com

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!”

http://youtu.be/kiFMJfrCO_0

Sources:

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 http://www.strategy-business.com/article/10311?gko=c784e

Taylor, B. (2010, September 27). Brand is Culture, Culture is Brand. HBR. Retrieved June 23, 2012, from http://blogs.hbr.org/taylor/2010/09/brand_is_culture_culture_is_br.html

ZAPPOS.COM, INC. CODE OF BUSINESS CONDUCT AND ETHICS. (2010, May 1). Zappos. Retrieved June 23, 2012, from http://www.zappos.com/c/code-of-conduct