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Why there are no rules in communication

April 27, 2015 by Andy Bounds

Why there are no rules in communication{{}}“Give me some rules of thumb with communication – rules that I can follow without thinking.”

So said one of my clients recently. I asked what areas he was most interested in.

Him: “Well, when I’m making a formal presentation, should I use PowerPoint or not?”

Me: “I don’t know. It depends what the audience wants. Your best bet is to ask if they want you to use it or not.”

Him: “OK, but if I do use PowerPoint, should I send information in advance, or take everything with me on the day?”

Me: “It depends. Ask them what they want.”

Him: “Should I start my presentation with background information, to set the scene?”

Me: “It depends. Ask them if they want it.”

Him: “Who should present the information? The best presenters on my team? The people actually doing the work? Does it matter?”

Me: “It depends. Ask...”

My client interrupted me: “This is exasperating. I’m looking for some rules of thumb.”

I said: “Can't you hear the rule of thumb? Ask.”

The best way to ensure you give people the communication they want... is to ask them what they want. Contact them before the communication, and ask such questions as…

  • What do you want me to cover?
  • What do you want me not to cover?
  • Have you any concerns, that you want me to address?
  • Who else will see this communication? Is there anything I should include for their benefit?
  • Would you prefer a formal PowerPoint, or a more informal discussion?

If you don’t ask, you don't know. And that means you are guessing. This makes it less likely you'll get the outcome you and they want.

Copyright © 2015 Andy Bounds is a communications expert, speaker and the author of The Snowball Effect: Communication Techniques to Make You Unstoppable. His latest book is Top Dog: Impress and Influence Everyone You Meet.

Why communication is like tennis; and how to do both better

January 05, 2015 by Andy Bounds

Why communication is like tennis; and how to do both better{{}}"Andy, you are rubbish at this."

So said my tennis coach, Vicky, last week.

She wanted to know what was going through my mind every time I hit the ball.

So, she had asked me to shout “good”, “bad”, or “OK” every time I hit it.

Now, I'm not very good at tennis. So, I shouted “good” if I got it over the net and “bad” if I didn't.

But she told me: "Your objective is not just to get it over the net. You’re supposed to hit it where I'm not. You aren't just trying to get it in; you’re trying to win the point."

To be honest, I was a bit embarrassed that I needed this pointing out! In fact, I've since found out that everyone else in the world knew this.

But, as soon as I changed my focus, my game improved ­– almost immediately. I now know what “good” looks like. So I'm aiming for it and often achieving it.

So how does this apply to communication?

Well, if you had to grade each of your communications as “good”, “bad” or “OK”, how would you decide which each was? Would it be whether your communication:

  • covered all the agenda items?
  • finished on time?
  • engaged the audience?
  • had 100% attendance?
  • was better than last week’s?
  • wasn't derailed by detailed discussions about irrelevant issues?

All these are useful, yes. But they aren't the true measure of good communication.

So, here’s my version of Vicky’s advice:

"Your objective is not just to communicate. You’re supposed to trigger actions as a result. You aren't just trying to say things. You’re trying to cause things."

And, once your focus changes to this, like my tennis, your communications will improve – almost immediately. You now know what “good” looks like. So you aim for it. And you will often achieve it.

If I'm being brutally honest, even though I'm focusing on the right things now, Federer could probably still beat me. Probably.

But that’s fine. I'm better than I was. And I always aim for success, not perfection. And, now that I'm focusing on the right thing, I keep improving.

What about you? Will your communications be better today than they were yesterday? Well, if you focus on the right thing – their impact, not their content – you've got a great chance.

Copyright © 2014 Andy Bounds is a communications expert, speaker and the author of The Snowball Effect: Communication Techniques to Make You Unstoppable. You can sign up for his free weekly tips here.

Are you committing the cardinal sin of modern marketing?

March 16, 2012 by Grant Leboff

Irrelevant in the dictionary{{}}Envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth and wrath — these are what we commonly think of as the seven deadly sins. However, in marketing today, there is another sin being committed by companies the world over. This offence creates so much dissatisfaction for prospects and customers alike, the punishment for committing such a crime is becoming increasingly severe.

This deadliest of marketing sins is — irrelevance.

There was a time when we all regularly received irrelevant communications. This is because there were very few companies who knew the timing of a purchase. For example, a car insurance company may be able to ascertain when your car insurance was due for renewal based on an enquiry from the previous year. However, how would a training provider know you were looking for training, an accountant know you were looking for a change or a watch manufacturer appreciate that you were currently saving for this luxury purchase?

Marketing guesswork

Most companies would have no reasonable way of knowing who was interested in their products or services. It is because of this that companies focused very much on the demography of their clientele. If you had no idea who was specifically interested in buying your product or service, at least you could target the “most likely” group of people. The result of this is “business owners” would receive messages about an accountancy service even though they were delighted with their current supplier. Meanwhile, HR directors would receive training catalogues even though they were not currently purchasing training, and people living in affluent areas would receive communications about a new luxury watch although they had no current desire to make a purchase.

However, we all put up with these irrelevant communications for one good reason. In a world before the internet, where we had relatively little access to information, it was often marketing that informed us of what was going on in the world. The value exchange was clear. We would often find out about interesting developments in products and services that we may have not discovered in any other way. In turn, however, we would have to put up with irrelevant messages which we could ignore if we wished. For most, the exchange was worthwhile.

Widespread access to information

Today, however, the value of being interrupted by these marketing messages has all but disappeared. The internet, combined with the ubiquity of modern communication devices, means that we can now access all the information we require wherever we are in the world. Consequently, we no longer want to be interrupted by communications when a company feels like shouting at us. Today, we will go and find the information we require at our time of choosing.

Of course, if a company were to send a direct mail about their new carpet cleaning service at the very moment we were thinking of having our carpets cleaned, then we may appreciate the communication. The problem for most companies is, in order to get the timing right for one customer, they have to send a mass mail out which annoys another 5,000 potential clients. Of course, when we do require a carpet cleaning service, between our networks and the web we are assured that we will be able to access all the information we require to make an informed buying decision.

The point of many digital platforms such as websites, blogs and social networks is not that companies can shout at individuals in lots of new irritating ways. Rather, it is that when people are interested in what you do, they can access your marketing at any time of the day or night. This is when it is both convenient and more importantly relevant for them.

Customers have been empowered. The most effective companies are the ones that understand this new paradigm and leverage it to involve customers in what they do. The cardinal sin committed by the businesses that don’t understand this, is to shout at prospects with irrelevant messages. 

For customers and prospects alike, receiving irrelevant communications from any quarter is irritating and will leave a bad taste in the mouth. Consequently this sin is one that will be increasingly unforgiven by consumers who will vote with their wallets and no longer engage with that business.

Grant LeBoff is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and CEO of the Sticky Marketing Club.

Want to get results? - ditch the jargon

October 11, 2010 by Drayton Bird

I learned what irritates business people most a few weeks ago. It's jargon. In fact a few years ago I read that over 25 per cent of business executives admitted to using jargon they didn't understand in meetings.

No wonder, then, that when it comes to selling technological things, so many messages dissolve into a sort of linguistic swamp.

Here's a good example from an e-mail someone sent me:

At Blah-co we have just developed an email stationery online software package that allows one in house member of staff to deploy all email users with a professionally designed Email stationery template, designed by one of our team of designers to all users and to include their unique contact details, meaning not only will the presentation of their emails improve but equally as important all be consistent throughout your organisation. (whew!)

Because of the way the templates are constructed our solutions avoid all types filtering ensuring your mail always arrives.

Well, I think I understand the beginning and the end and recognise all the words but I'm damned if I know what they mean when put together.

More incomprehensible blather

Here's another series of examples extracted from mailings sent by another firm.

"Are you one of those lucky few who have bedded down IT operations?"

"Would you realise a significant increase in business agility, accelerated decision making, employees pursuing a common agenda and a heightened awareness of your strategy?"

"Miss or ignore priority system availability or leadership messages"

"Adopting a new change driver that communicates change and strategy in a high impact and engaging way"

"Intranets suffer the limitations of pull technology"

"A controlled feedback channel enables you to capture a snapshot of employee morale in real time"

"Cascade this down to your people"

They actually have something great to sell, so we tried to translate their stuff into English.

What that piffle means in English

Every day, you send tens, hundreds, maybe thousands of e-mails to people who want or need to hear from you.

Maybe they're your colleagues, your customers, your employees or your prospects: many may actually have asked to hear from you.

Then what happens?

Your "wanted" messages get lost in a sea of Spam. So the poor recipients go through the infuriating task of fishing out what really interests them from all that rubbish.

A **** sends your messages on a different route. One that avoids the traffic jams. It's a desktop alert that jumps onto your screen no matter what you're doing. You can't ignore it; it appears whether you're onscreen or off.

And that's why firms as varied as Sky, Arsenal Football Club. Kelloggs and Warner Brothers use them.

Winston Churchill said, "Use simple words everyone knows, then everyone will understand."

This is important especially if you're selling a financial or technical product or service. Use a bit of jargon to reassure the anoraks, but put the rest in plain English.

Why things go wrong

Confucius said that if language is used incorrectly, what is said is not what is meant, everything goes to pot and "the people stand about in helpless confusion".

If you wish for a few text-book cases, consider the National Health Service or the police force.

On the other hand, if you actually relish a little chaos, you need the economy bullshit generator. Click here and give it a go. It will add a welcome touch of drivel to your meetings.

Don't make a meal of multi-channel marketing

September 23, 2010 by

This month John Lewis launched a new multi-channel marketing campaign aimed at promoting its new-look luxury womenswear department. For many small and medium businesses, however, marketing across different channels can be a challenge. Here are a few suggestions to help focus on the necessities. They won’t make it as easy as slicing bread, but they will help maximise the effectiveness of multi-channel communication, and help put bread on the table.

1. Be consistent

For a variety of reasons, partly historical and technical, different marketing channels are often handled separately, and sometimes by completely different people with different skill sets. Often, conventional marketing such as advertising and direct mail may be handled in-house, and hi-tech marketing may be outsourced.

To be most effective, it’s important to keep the branding and messaging consistent across all channels. Make sure that through web pages and emails to printed advertising and leaflets you maintain the same look and feel, with consistent messaging and corresponding calls to action. Don’t confuse the customer but be concise, be direct, and be memorable.

2. Co-ordinate

Make sure that ideas, plans and results from each channel feed into the others, and that lessons learned through one channel can inform future plans for all.

Think carefully about timing. You may want to kick off all your communications at once, for maximum impact, or stagger them, for more sustained effect. Before throwing everything at one strategy, try some small-scale tests and measure the effect.

3. Pay attention to detail

More channels mean more work, and the temptation is to cut corners, but assumption is the mother of many mistakes.

Make a list of the key elements that should appear throughout the campaign, and check systematically that they are included in every communication. Add them to regular communications like letters and email signatures. Rope in family and friends to help with things like proof-reading and testing web pages. Use financial inducements, free samples and offers of beer wherever necessary!

4. Track with caution

Do track each channel separately, with unique landing pages, response codes, 0845 numbers etc. But take the individual results with a pinch of salt, and judge on the basis of the overall campaign. Some channels will be more effective than others at triggering an immediate measurable response, but judging the overall contribution of each one over time is notoriously difficult.

How do you communicate your green credentials?

August 04, 2010 by Fiona Humberstone

This is part two of a series of three. Part one can be read here.

According to the experts, Egg – a branding & marketing company in the States, just 7 per cent of consumers are socially responsible to the core, but 70 per cent of the population (I’m assuming they’re talking about the population of the USA) will recycle and occasionally seek out organic food. So there’s a huge market out there for offering sustainable products. But you can’t badge your company “green” and hope that your product will walk off the shelves – there simply aren’t enough consumers that care to their core to make that happen.

No, what you need to do is engage your client with your values. And that’s why I asked you what shade of green your business is. Consumers are looking for brands with values that they identify with, plus communicate with them honestly and create transparency. And that’s why you need to put your brand values at the heart of your marketing plan. And if “green” in whatever form is a part of your brand values, then you’ll find it much more authentic to market your green credentials than if it’s a periphery activity.

If I think about brands that place green at the heart of their marketing strategy, I think of Dorset Cereals, Abel & Cole and Riverford. Their marketing communications are about so much more than say, how good the oats and raisins are in the cereal. They’re about community, sustainability and the environment. Dorset Cereals, in particular have taken their brand values much wider than food, their communication is about “simple pleasures”. They build edible playgrounds for schools and they team up with like-minded businesses who share their values.

How clever is your communication? Dorset Cereals don’t continually bang the drum that “we’re green, we’re green” – it’s implied through their activities, their copy, their packaging and their design. Is your marketing strategy as sophisticated as that?

Fiona Humberstone is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and runs her own creative consultancy.

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