Tag Archives: commercials

Three Pitfalls to Avoid in Preparing Corporate Communications

The forecast said the year ahead would be a fairly decent one. At the annual get-people-excited-about-the-year-to-come-all-company-meeting the senior sales exec gave a rousing speech all about the specific product lines that would be the tip of the spear for growth in the coming year. He had great market research information, forecast and pipeline data, and competitive analysis to back up his strategy. He wanted the troops to get excited about what they could achieve. The meeting finished on a high note and there was an n excited buzz in the room as the folks disbanded. It seemed the speech had done the trick, until the following day.

The support team called a meeting to discuss when they would be announcing end of the life on the product lines that hadn’t been discussed. That information wasn’t readily available so several more meetings were needed to get it, and then to try to formulate a strategy from it.

Account managers started asking for details on what they should tell customers who were on some of the product lines that were now “out of focus”. They needed to know if there was a migration path that would be made available to the product lines that were the new focus and so multiple meetings were called

Developers and technologists on the lines not mentioned were honing resumes and querying other groups to see if they had openings. HR suddenly felt the need to meet to discuss what seemed like unrest in product groups that had always been stable.

After two weeks of churn and close to two-dozen “what do we do now” meetings the senior sales exec called another company wide meeting. He explained that there were NO plans to retire ANY product lines but that the coming year would see additional focus on the lines previously mentioned. No one was at risk for losing a job, no customers needed to be given bad news, and no support policies needed to be changed. This time the meeting ended in relief, if not mild annoyance.

Sadly this is a true story. The staff at Dynamic Communicators was asked to come in and provide communications training to help this company avoid the madness in the future.  I’m not sure if we ultimately achieved that goal or not because, while we did meet with a couple of groups, the executives didn’t think they needed help.

Even sadder is the fact that this sort of thing happens all the time and being diligent to look out for three pitfalls in corporate communicating could easily squelch half of it.

Pitfall #1: FYI-tis

Giving information is great. We all like to be informed. At the end of the day people care much more about “why” they should know something than they do about the “what”. Just passing information without a word as to why you’re passing it, FYI, leaves people to interpret the “why” on their own. As seen in the case above that interpretation may be quite different than what was intended. If you find yourself saying, “but they need to know this” without answering “why” in the next sentence you’re at risk of falling into the pit.

Pitfall #2: Confusing Content and Context

In the case above the senior sales exec thought he’d rouse the troops by providing strategic forward thinking based on the numbers by which he lived everyday.  He’d interpreted the data and presented it at the annual get-psyched meeting, a context in which people expected to get direction for the coming year. By giving incomplete information based on an FYI approach the meeting spawned two weeks of unnecessary mania. The context in his head was not the context of the meeting. Ask yourself what the audience is expecting in the context of the presentation.

Pitfall #3:  Audience Amnesia or Passion sans Perspective

In the example above the senior sales exec presented with passion. He had good, exciting information and he wanted to share it but he forgot that the audience almost always starts from the perspective of “what’s in it for me?” Unless you know what your audience is looking for you can’t address their need, you can’t answer the question “why” am I giving this information from the audiences perspective. Oh, you can answer it for yourself, you know why you want to GIVE it but that may not be why they want to receive it. What is the need that they have that your information meets?

You have the info, the 411, you know you need to pass it along, whether in a meeting or an email, or a white paper. Start by asking yourself why, why does my audience need this? Then pause and check their contextual expectation, what do they expect out of the context in which they’ll receive this information? Then pause again and ask why, why would THEY say they’re interested in this information? What is THEIR purpose for listening?

Answer these questions BEFORE you deliver the info and you’ll find you’ve wended your way successfully through the pitfalls.

What’s the worst you’ve experienced? How could the problem have been solved by better preparation?

The Power of Analogy, Story, and Illustration

It was two years ago I suppose, though it seems much longer ago. We were preparing to meet with several executives to discuss matters most serious and teasingly technical.

On the one side of the discussion were those of us who wanted to allow a “guest log in” feature to our web site that would allow even known users to begin conducting business without having to formally identify themselves.

On the other side of the discussion was the party that wanted known customers to continue to have to provide their customer number. Something every customer had but few knew and even fewer ever used for anything other than logging in to the web site.

On our side we had numbers, good numbers, interesting numbers. Numbers that showed abandoned transactions and numbers that showed potentially lost revenues and numbers that showed opportunity for growth.

On their side they had numbers, numbers I wanted to call bad but couldn’t, numbers that showed the amount of additional work in hours and dollars that spawned every time a known customer transacted  as though they were new ie: without using their customer number.

Ever have to go into one of those showdowns…er… meetings? In the worst instances voices raise, emotions boil and conclusions scamper out the window like so many scared rabbits. In the best instances they’re tedious affairs that result in begrudgingly compromised half-measures that wind up satisfying no one, something akin to rice pudding.

To make matters worse this conversation had been had before, several times. Each time each party brought new, more compelling numbers to bare and yet no one was compelled. So I suggested something new, devious perhaps, but new.

As each person arrived at the appointed meeting room a polite and warm representative greeted them outside the door.  “We’re glad you’re here!”, they exclaimed, “As a new measure of security for this meeting we’re asking that you provide the VIN from your automobile. Now we understand you may not have anticipated this new development but as your car is just outside in the parking lot, and the weather today is quite fine, it should be no trouble for you to track down the required information. If you’ve never used your VIN before it can be found on a small plaque on your dash or, in some cases, on the drivers side door.”

The  reactions were priceless and I could see them all because the meeting room had a small window in the door. I was seated inside having actually captured my VIN with my phone that morning.

Rather than going through the minor hassle of walking a couple hundred yards to provide the required credentials the surprised attendees tried to push past as though it were a joke. When they found the way blocked and the ‘doorman’ quite serious they actually headed for the elevator in a huff, not to get the number, but to leave the meeting! Ok, ‘huff’ is too weak a word, they were really hacked-off!

At this point our staunch doorman apologized for the minor ruse and allowed them to enter the meeting, as a guest.

The first words uttered in the meeting? “Ok, we get it. How do we fix it?”

Allow me to suggest three reasons why this approach worked, reasons that are universal benefits of using analogy, story and illustration.

1. It moved them from mind to heart.

We’d talked through all the issues before. Both sides knew the others arguments and rationale and in many cases agreed with the numbers. This experienced moved the conversation from a head talk to a heart talk. The participants understood the situation in a new way, one that moved from the intellectual to the emotional.

2. It moved them from observation to participation.

Interestingly enough the way we first start learning in life is through story and the BEST storytellers make us feel like we’re a part of the story! When my children were youngsters I read them the Harry Potter books. When the first film came out the boys’ comment was: “But dad, what if they get the voices wrong?!?” They’d been a part of the story in a way that made it feel like they had it the ‘right way’.

In the case of our meeting we actually put folks into the experience of the customers. It moved the presentation from being a story heard to a story lived. They experienced the voices of the customer in a way they hadn’t before as the voices became their own.

3. It moved them from understanders to believers

Understanding and belief, on the surface, seem like familiar bedfellows. The difference is in the mind versus the heart. I always understood that a cruise vacation could be restful but never believed it until I’d been on one…and another one…and another one…and another one!

Too many ‘corporate’ conversations rely solely on the head, the intellect, the numbers. We talk about mind share and convincing and countering objections. Just winning the intellectual argument often results in failure, “I agree with your numbers but I’m just not feeling it.” But find a way to win the heart and the head follows easily.

What near term opportunity do you have to use a story approach to communicating a corporate message? What’s holding you back from trying?


Commercial Perfection

Have you seen the new Perrier commercial?

This is really brilliant stuff, especially when held up next to much of what is being aired these days. If you’ve seen it in context, meaning on TV, it really stands out from the commercials on either side of it. Why? you may ask, what makes it so appealing? Let me suggest three simple elements:

1) It Understands the Medium:

Television is a visual medium. The visuals of all the melting landscape and props are artistic candy. Watch the actors as they interact with their melting surroundings…great stuff. There is a trend in commercials today to be more reliant on audio, the thought being that people are headed to the fridge with their back turned to the tube so we better give them an audio message. This piece is purely visual communication. Walk to the fridge with your back turned and you won’t know what the commercial is about but watch it, and you’re captivated.

2) It Tells a Story:

We’re drawn in early on to the mystery of why stuff is melting. We shown the main character with a look of confusion approaching panic. She moves toward resolution and then the story arc peaks as the bottle falls off the ledge, a moment of high tension. We get it, we know where this is headed because we’ve seen it before but the piece is so artistically done, the story so visually well told, that we follow it anyway.

3) It Resolves on the Product:

The moment we see the “heroine” drink deeply in the pool we think, or at least I thought, “refreshment”. No slogan is spoken, no print on the screen, but the idea is clear, and more importantly, it is centered on the product. Not the funny person in the video, not the comedic climax, not the tag line, the product. We’re given one word “Perrier” and we provide our own tag line, highly personalized, subconsciously.

What are the places in life where you are trying, or have to try, to convince people to do something, or try something, or decide something? Do your “commercials” understand the medium in which you’re presenting your idea? Do you have a story to tell? DO you focus on “the product”? The thing you want them to choose?

It may be trying to get your kids out of bed in the morning. It may be trying to convince a friend to start exercising with you. It may be trying to sell your boss on a new idea. How can you leverage these three elements to convince your audience in a more compelling way?