Tag Archives: marketing communications

Book Review: Platform by Michael Hyatt

I am, by my own admission, a bit of a bibliophile. I have shelves and shelves of books many of which I have read cover to cover multiple times.

THIS book, however, will not be amongst them.

… yet it essential that you own it.

Curious? Good.

 

  • If you have a message to get out to the masses
  • If you’re an artist with a passion for creative expression
  • If you’re a fledgling politician
  • If you’re a pastor, a speaker, or just someone with an opinion you want heard on a global scale

You need this book.

So, why my statement above?
Because this book isn’t a cover to cover read.
This book is a start-in-the-spot-you-need-most, find-the next-important-bit-and-apply-it book.

You’ll probably find much you agree with, some things you’ve tried, some bits you’ve failed at, and some concepts you never even considered.

Michael makes it easy to understand how to build the platform that will allow you to more easily and readily connect with your audience, even if you have no idea who or how many they are, where they exist, or how to get to them today.

Whether you’re starting from scratch, struggling to get your blog to the next level, or trying to work out how to take your already decently successful game into the big leagues this book is chock full of practical instruction on how to build a platform that attracts and keeps a loyal following.

Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World gives you the keys to understanding how to think about creating a successful product, how to get the word out in a a focused, targeted manner, and how to create fans out of mere contacts.

You’ll learn how to effectively leverage social media to create visibility for your product, amplification for your message, and connection to your audience.

With all that being said this book won’t find a home amongst my shelves of well read favorites.

Instead it will find itself on my desk, oft consulted, dog eared, highlighted, spine bent and flipped through. This is NOT a book to read, digest, and set aside. This book is a day to day reference tool you’ll want to keep within easy reach.

Check back 6 months, maybe a year from now, and we’ll see how well I’ve been able to apply it.

If you have a message to share, a product or idea to promote, or an audience to reach this book will become indispensable. Don’t let another day go by without having this on your shelf.

(Of course, what good is an endorsement without a link?)

What message do you have that is burning to get out? What product, or work of artistic expression do you want to share with the world? What are you waiting for?

What is Your Customer’s Experience? Take 2.5

The Hotel where I have found myself residing since Monday here in Newcastle, Australia in equipt with what I refer to as the “room power off” feature. If you’ve never experienced it before it is a slotted light switch just inside the door. When you enter the room you insert your card key into the slot and this turns the power on to the room. When you leave you take your key with you, obviously, and the room powers off.

A nice energy saving feature to be sure. Except…

When you power off the room you power off the clock radio. When you power off the clock radio you reset the clock. When you power the room on upon your return the clock radio informatively tells you it is 12:00…12:00…12:00. Nice power saving feature but a hassle to have to reset the clock every time I come in the room.

Lame.

This trip is one of several I have currently booked with United Airlines. When I go to the United web site and log in I am presetned with a list of all my current reservations. I can easily click on the VIEW button next to any of them to see the detailed itinerary. And then…it asks me to log in again.

Lame.

We were wending our way down restaurant row in Newcastle the other night looking for a dining adventure. We found ourselvs attracted to a particular place based on the menu posted out near the sidewalk. As we made our way to the counter where we anticipated placing an order we discoevered that the ONLY menu available was the one posted out by the sidewalk. There was no way, inside the store, to know what was available to eat.

Lame.

Great that you a want to save me money on my room by saving power costs but ridiculous that I have to reset the clock everytime I come in the room

Great that you want to protect my information but ridiculous that you make me log in after you have already shown you know who I am.

Great that you entice me with the menu but ridiculous that you set up your establishment like a drive through without a microphone.

I’ve been working on a paper on customer experience of late which, frustratingly, has put me in a position of looking at the world through customer experience tinted glasses. In the next wouple posts I’ll be looking at the concepts of customer effort and customer delight.  But in the mean time…

What other examples do you have of poor customer experience? 

The real  irony behind all this is that WordPress failed me no less than 5 times in trying to post this…post. If I hadn’t had a series of good experiences with WordPress THIS experience would have really set me off. 

How to Create Your Corporate Story

Since we’ve already looked at WHY you should have a corporate story and we’ve looked at the elements that make up a good corporate story I thought it might be helpful to those who find themselves stuck in the desert of creative drought to look at how get started creating your corporate story.

Remember we said that this could apply to a company, a team, a small group, or even a family.

I’ve had some interesting conversations with folks around the notion of applying this to family and to me it really speaks to the notion of legacy. How do you want to be remembered? Which is where we start…

Step one in scaling the dunes towards creating your corporate story is to Start at the End.

Imagine your group, whether it be a company of your family, has, for some mysterious reason, been removed from this worlds realm. A group of celebrants have gathered to remember your group fondly, sad that you have left, made curious by the mystery, but gathered in fond remembrance. What do they say?

  • “They really went out of their way for their customers”
  • “They really had some mind-blowingly-creative products.”
  • “They really were an amazingly generous family”
  • “They really knew how to invest in friendships”

You can see how these kinds of statements lead toward a good corporate story. They lend themselves to the kind of short descriptions from which good stories are built. Phrases like: serve customers – anticipate needs,  packaged creativity, ask how we can help, build lasting relationships.

Step two in creating your story is to Make it Personal.
By simply putting a phrase like “We’re the people who…” in front of any of those statements above you start to get a defining point in your story. This is a subtle but important difference.

Growing up my dad never told the three of us boys, “I want you to be well rounded individuals” or “I’d like you to experience a lot of things”, instead he encouraged us to be renaissance men. Try out the feel of that. Compare “I’m someone who is well rounded.” which is a description, to “I am a renaissance man.” which is a definition.

Which leads us to step three. As you’re refining your story Make it Definitive not descriptive.You aren’t looking for acute semantic accuracy here. You’re looking for something that feels like a fit. “I’m well rounded” just feels like a product label description. “I’m a renaissance man” almost sounds like a song title!

  1. So first I’m thinking through what the people gathered in celebration say to describe my group and creating solid phrases from their description.
  2. Next I’m making that into a personal statement.
  3. Then I’m refining that statement so that it is a definition and not a description.

If your family, or company, moved out of the neighborhood tomorrow and for some mysterious reason lost all contact with the neighbors, when they gathered a year from now to remember you what would they say?

 

 

Elements of a Good Corporate Story

My Family tree has it’s roots somewhere back in Scotland, or so we’ve come to believe. The Scottish clans, way back in the day, were not only identified by their tartans, those color full patterns seen on their kilts, but also by there clan motto.

The Fletcher clan, at least the branch to which I belong , has as it’s motto: Alta Pete which is translated as “Aim at High Things.”

Good words for folks who made arrows for a living. But a little lean in terms of a story.

Corporate mission statements and marketing tag lines are similar to clan mottoes. They look good on a letterhead but they can fall a little short in terms of really identifying, and differentiating, a company.

In my last post I looked at some reasons why it is important for any corporate entity, and by corporate I mean any group, too understand and articulate its story. Today I want to suggest three of elements that make up a good corporate story.

Southwest Airlines is a model company having maintained profitability and growth consistently for more than 30 years. Their mission statement, boiled down to it’s simplest form is “We’re the low cost carrier.” But, go a step further and look at how they expand that statement into a kind of story:

“If you get your passengers to their destinations when they want to get there, on time, at the lowest possible fares, and make darn sure they have a good time doing it, people will fly your airline”

Not THAT starts to have meat on the bones.

Michael Hyatt, who is the chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers…and all round good guy, was kind enough to send me a link to a piece of the Thomas Nelson story.  If you read the article you’ll find mention a kind of vision statement originally articulated by their founder:

“honor God and serve people.”

Go a little further back though and you’ll find a sentence that, in a very short story, puts meat on those bones as well:

Unlike other publishers who catered to the wealthy, Thomas Nelson had a vision to make the world’s greatest books affordable to “common folk.”

These two example, and there are hundreds more, provide some insight into the make up of a solid corporate story.

1. It needs to tap into why you exist. 
This sounds simple enough really but too often the story starts off muddy. For example a company that claims they are the “leading provider of enterprise software” isn’t really telling a story so much a providing a descriptor. Words like “leading” and “enterprise” and fine but they lack personality.

Thomas Nelson’s version of the same type of statement might have been something like: “We’re the people who make the classics available to the common folks”. There already seems to be a story in the making there.

2. It needs to have a customer focused element.
Both the Nelson example and the Southwest example are clearly pointed in the direction of their customers. It is this customer element that makes the corporate story start to tick as a differentiator.  This is where you are able to begin setting customer expectations.

What would you have expected from Thomas Nelson? Affordable classic literature. What would you expect from Southwest Airlines? Affordable FUN travel.

(Point to note here, your story doesn’t ALWAYS have to include “affordable” Apple has a great story but “affordable” isn’t a part of it!)

3. It must be something that influences decisions
Southwest can always bump new ideas against the question: How does this make us the low cost carrier? Thomas Nelson can run new ideas up against: How does this honor God or serve people?

Your corporate story, the story of your committee, company, church, or clan helps set you apart. It helps defines you. It helps people understand what to expect from you. It helps guide decisions and influences direction.

Stories help us interpret the world around us and your corporate story helps you create the space in which you fit rather than allowing others to fit you into the place they want you to be.

Think about your team at work. Your running group. Your family. What is the story that defines your purpose, focuses externally, and helps guide decisions?

What is Your Corporate Story?

Image courtesy of ButterflyPromQueen at DeviantArt.comI’ve been doing a LOT of work lately on the “how-to’s” of creating better customer experiences. Well, I really shouldn’t say “lately” as it has been a part of my work for more than a decade.

What has struck me afresh though is the notion of context. Customers have experiences in a context of some sort and that context typically is derived from expectations which are majorly influenced by story. Your story.

Which got me thinking…

The idea of a “corporate story” applies to ANY group. It applies to the company from which you receive a paycheck. It applies to the group within that company where you do your daily labor. It applies to churches. It applies to teams. It even applies to families!

Far too often though we allow those stories to be created by circumstances.

  • “Oh you guys are that company that acquired so and so.”
  • “Oh yeah, that’s that church that does the big Easter drama.”
  • “Your group is the one that did the cool power point at last years annual meeting.”
  • “You guys live over by the school right? Friends with the Jones?”

Let me suggest a couple of reasons why you ought to be intentional about creating your corporate story:

  • If you let others create your story you allow them to define you.
  • Because the world LOVES story, if you don’t have one, one WILL be created for you.
  • Circumstances will often act as an introduction to your story. It is up to you to be sure there are chapters to follow.
  • Creating your story helps you define your place in your industry, your company or your community and serves as a filter for circumstance.

By way of experiment let me suggest four NFL teams. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you see each name:

  • Denver Broncos
  • New York Giants
  • Oakland Raiders
  • Dallas Cowboys

Now, unless you’re a fan of one of those teams or a storied NFL aficionado  you probably thought something like:

Broncos: John Elway, the team that got Manning, the team that traded Tebow” Circustances
Giants: Won the Super Bowl, Manning’s brother” Circumstances
Raiders: Man I hate those guys, bad boys of the NFL, use to be good, now just thugs” and THAT is a carefully crafted story. A mythos that Al Davis built around his team for years.
Cowboys: America’s team, Romo, Super Bowl, Big BIG screen” Circumstances in there for sure but this is another “storied franchise” we think of them as perennial winners.

Let me ask you this. Who was more recently in a Super Bowl, the Cowboys or the Raiders? Funny, we tend to think of the Cowboys, America’s team (and I am NOT a Cowboy’s fan) as being the one who had to be there more recently right? Nope, the Raiders played in the big game in 2003. The last time the Cowboys were there was 1996.  But their stories tend to make us believe otherwise!!

There is an interesting philosophical exercise that is right in the ballpark of what we’re talking about. The prof asks the student: “Who are you?” The student answers, “Curtis Fletcher”.  The prof replies, “No, that is your name. Who are you?”  The student tries again, “I’m the guy sitting in this seat”. The prof replies, “No, that is your location. Who are you?” Fletch takes another go, “The guy getting frustrated by these questions who’d really rather be outside drinking a beer?” The prof, “Nope. That is your current circumstance. Who are you?”

The exercise typically creates frustration for the students. If you’ve ever seen it done you understand that the frustration comes because the students answer with descriptors and circumstances rather than story.

Later this week I’m going to talk about the elements that make up a good corporate story but for now let me ask you this:

If you were allowed a max of two paragraphs how would you tell YOUR story? The story of your company, your team, your church, your family?

3 Strategies for Developing Loyalty by Promoting Your Brand

I do believe that the first rewards program to which I was ever subjected was in Sunday school somewhere around second grade. We knew if we came prepared with our memory verse each week for enough weeks in a row we’d earn the reward. Pencils, stickers, small toys, whatever it was we wanted it.

The trouble was we always forgot about it until Sunday morning. Mom would ask in the car en route to church if we had our verse memorized and the scramble would begin.

This is really no different than the challenge faced by most loyalty programs today. They’re looking for repeat buying behavior but they have to find a way to stay top of mind so that you’re not scrambling to remember your card, or your coupon, or you membership number when you’re already out the door.

Granted a lot of that trouble is solved with electronic record keeping, I don’t think I have used my Block Buster card at the video store in years, but the challenge remains: How do you keep your brand top of mind for your customers in a way that promotes easy loyalty?

Allow me to suggest three strategies for building *brand loyalty:

1. Offer, don’t Overwhelm
Don’t think that just throwing your name out there time after time after time will build loyalty. It WILL build name awareness sure, but it might build annoyance as well.  Customer Loyalty assumes a customer exists and that you’d like them to be loyal, this is different than pure acquisition.

You offer them the opportunity to self-identify and connect, that’s your loyalty card, or your buy 5 and get the sixth free, or your “subscribe to my blog via”. Now they’re bought in. Don’t feel you need to keep throwing your name at them so they’ll remember you. Move to strategy #2

2. Serve, don’t Suffocate
Now that your customers have self identified find opportunities to serve them. That doesn’t mean sending them a 50% off sales flyer every other week. It means providing value that fosters connection.

In the blogosphere Michael Hyatt is a master at this. If you subscribe to Michael’s blog and follow him on Twitter, as I do, you’ll find that he doesn’t inundate with you email updates about new posts. What he DOES do is regularly tweet links to things he believes his subscribers will find valuable. In short he provides a service to his community. He gains credibility in an unobtrusive manner and in that way he stays top of mind because he serves.

3. Analyze, don’t Assume
I’ve mentioned this one before but your long term strategy must be based on understanding your customers behavior. Capture, analyze, test, don’t assume that my return visits automatically mean I am a hug fan of everything your brand entails.

Starbucks is a great example of a company that want’s to tailor your experience based on your behavior. Their Gold Card program helps them understand who you are as a customer and react to you accordingly. It isn’t nine stamps on a paper card to get your tenth coffee free. It’s knowing what you order and when. Their analyzing you as an individual because you have self identified and joined. That analysis helps them make you feel known, valued, and cared for.

Whether you’re a blogger, a coffee shop, an author, or a hotel chain you need to offer, serve and analyze. In doing so you’ll stay top of mind and they’ll remain loyal.

What tactics do you use to keep your brand top of mind for your customers?

*There is no way to build brand loyalty if you have a crappy product or service. That goes without saying, which is why I didn’t say it.

Customer Loyalty Programs: Some Do’s and Dont’s

I knew I had a couple loyalty program cards around somewhere. It turns out this wasn’t even all of them.

Let’s face it everybody has some flavor of loyalty program these days. Almost every last one of them is designed to do the same thing: get you to come back to buy more. Airlines, hotels, grocery stores, restaurant chains, they all have something to offer.  In fact the notion of a loyalty card or membership card is so pervasive we almost take them completely for granted.

So how do you rise above that mess on my desk?

1. Don’t assume: just because they come back doesn’t mean they’re loyal.

Loyalty programs are funny beasties. On the one end you have people who love you and WANT to come back. In the middle you have people who feel they OUGHT to come back, they’re more loyal to attaining the next level than doing business with you specifically. On the far end you have those who feel that they HAVE to come back because that’s where they have all their points.

I confess I’m typically of the ought to variety. Old Chicago’s World Beer Tour is one of the loyalty programs to which I am most loyal. I’ve completed the tour twice and am working on my third trip. But that doesn’t drive me in there any more often. It just makes me mad when I forget to bring my beer card.

DO pay attention to whether your loyalty customers are WANTs, OUGHTs or HAVEs.

2. DON’T forget: Loyalty and Appreciation are close relatives

Most loyalty programs include discounts. I’m becoming less of a fan of discounts because they seem to speak to value. I rather like the Chick-Fil-A approach, if they’re going to give you something they’ll give it to you for free. They aren’t going to comment on the value by discounting.

While discounting does make me feel appreciated as a customer it’s really just price manipulation. I’d rather get “something else”. Maybe it’s a particular set of items only available to members, even the standard “tenth one is free” is ok.

Even better though I’d like you to tailor offerings to how I do business with you. For example, United Airlines should know by now, after hundreds of thousands of miles, that I will do whatever I can to get an aisle seat. What if in knowing that preference they offered me priority aisle seating? Not only would I feel appreciated, I’d feel like they knew me.

DO appreciate your loyalty customers by showing that you know them.

I could go on for quite some time on this topic, and probably will. For now though ask yourself two questions:

1. How do I get my loyalty customers coming back because they love us rather than because they are after the next point level?

2. Do I know my loyalty customers well enough to appreciate them personally?

More to come…

In some industries it cost cost as much as five to ten times as much to get a new customer as it does to keep an old one. What are you doing to keep your old ones? What does loyalty look like in your customer base?

 

Qualifying a Customer? Give Something Away

I was asked an interesting question at lunch today:
“Curtis, when you’ve been in charge of managing sales process has there been a set of questions you use to qualify customers to figure out if they’re a legitimate prospect or not?”

I had to pause and think about that one. I’ve been in places that have deployed nearly every sales methodology known to man and some invented by alien beings. I’ve created branding, campaign messaging, and go to market strategies. I have certainly created marketing pieces designed to generate interest and response but qualifying questions? Hmmm…

In sifting through the nearly non-relational, free associated, database that is my mind I lit on the answer I was searching for:
“Free Bagels”

Years ago, when Einstein Brothers Bagels opened in Denver they had a policy of giving everyone who came into the store a free bagel. Not sure if they still do this today or not but back IN the day they did. At the time I was just building a web design business and my partner and I decided the notion of the “free bagel” would be a part of every site we designed.

If we were doing a web site for an author we suggested giving away a sample chapter. If we were doing a site for  a speaker we wanted a sound or video file available (This was the early 90’s so video on the web was virtually unheard of kids). When we did a site for a builder of custom golf clubs we suggested a free putter grip replacement. Why you ask? Because of the 3 mystical benefits of the free bagel.

1. You find out who is interested.
People who don’t like bagels won’t even take one for free so there has to be interest on their part enough to make them take one. In distributing your free bagel you want to be sure you capture contact information, a minimal ask in return for something of value. If they won’t give you that then they aren’t really interested.

If they do give you that contact information they’ve as much as said, “I’m interested enough to tell you who I am and I have opened the door to conversation at LEAST about the free bagel you just gave me.” Open doors are good, conversations are even better.

In effect the taker of the free bagel is self qualifying.

2. You whet the appetite.
The free bagel allows you to establish credibility with a sample of your product or service. You’re no longer trying to hawk what you do, you’re putting the proof in the pudding, even if it is only a small sample pudding.

By attaching a clear secondary response mechanism to your free bagel, contact us, come into the store, come get your free grip etc you create a channel through which your prospect can continue to self identify.

If they’re NOT self identifying your bagel is no good, or they don’t know it is there.

3. You establish a foundation for relationship
Too many purveyors of goods and services want to talk about themselves. By giving something away at the front end you establish that you’re more concerned with the customer  and meeting their need than you are about “differentiating yourself through a unique set of features and functions”.

You’re providing customer service before they are even a customer. It does set the bar high sure, and you need to be ready to live up to the commitment, but you’re building relational capital right out of the shoot.

People love to try before they buy, free bagels let them sample the goods.

What opportunities do you have to provide free bagels that will help qualify potential customers?

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?