So many great ideas never happen because of communications problems. Here are the five critical strategies for framing and communicating a new idea — and building support for it with at least 10% of the people in your organization.
So many great ideas never happen because of communications problems. Here are the five critical strategies for framing and communicating a new idea — and building support for it with at least 10% of the people in your organization.
If you’re in marketing or corporate communications you’ve been in that strategy meeting where someone inevitably says, “We need to do more storytelling.”
But most leaders, marketers and communicators don’t really know what to say when they’re told to “tell a story.”
“About what? To what end?,” many wonder. Others push back, “Oh, I don’t like telling stories about myself.”
Here’s my take. Before telling useful stories, organizations need a narrative, the reason for being. The uber purpose. The big picture context. Then it becomes much easier for people to share anecdotes and stories that support that narrative. More importantly, it helps the people — citizens, employees, customers — understand what’s important and how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.
A narrative is like a clothesline, and you hang your policies from it, says David Gergen, communications adviser to four U.S. presidents. Similarly, companies hang its products and services from the clothesline.
Narratives are simple explanations. You shouldn’t need training for people in the organization to “get it.” (A communications executive of a global company told me that his company has a narrative, but I’d have to read the PowerPoint deck to really understand it. Sounds like there’s more work to do.)
Here are a few examples:
These narratives can be like North Stars — a fixed point in the sky that can be used to guide decisions, serve as a organizing prompt for telling relevant stories, open up thinking about new products or ways to work.
Narratives can also be a quest. I like John Hagel’s view in this Forbes article:
Story chronicles the path and progress of a limited set of protagonists – from the beginning, through the middle, to the end of a story arc. Narratives, in contrast, are designed for a growing number of protagonists — many of whom are yet to be defined — who share a common quest or journey that is yet to be fully resolved or completed.
To help companies find their narrative, I invite people to think of their organization as a cause or movement and speed write a rallying cry, starting with a verb. Or quickly write many responses to the “I believe that ….” prompt about their organization or company. No over-thinking, self-editing or corporate speak. Just ideas, beliefs and aspiration, from the gut.
I’ve also been suggesting to marketing and corporate communications executives that they NOT make this a formal process. Take some narrative possibilities and insert them into casual business conversations. Then into some presentations as a way of setting context to your ideas. See how people react. Ask them, “Does this help you better understand our strategy? Do you see how this new product line fits with our overall business? Can you imagine how this policy falls outside of our focus? Is this something you’d like to be part of?”
See how well the narrative serves you. If it works, quietly seed it so it can grow and serve others without bringing in committees, copywriters, lawyers or naysayers. Insert it into the CEO’s talking points. Use it to frame the next acquisition or product launch. If it helps, then make it better known and part of the company’s leadership strategy.
And if it doesn’t resonate? Keep experimenting.
Finding a narrative gives your organization meaning.
And meaning changes everything.
“Still Waiting for the Narrator in Chief: Why the president lost his ability to tell a story,” by Matt Bai, New York Times Sunday Magazine, 11/4/2012.
“The Pull Narrative: In Search of Persistent Context” by John Hagel
Making things happen is as much about how we express our ideas as the ideas themselves. If you want to get people to believe in your ideas, show your conviction. Enthusiasm and belief are contagious. “Safe” business proposals, presentations, sales pitches are often so boring that no one pays attention to you. It’s no longer safe to play it safe. When in doubt, watch this video.
“I’m so tired of hearing about corporate storytelling,” a corporate communications manager confessed to me recently. “Really, what does “storytelling” mean for businesses? What am I suppose to do to create “stories.”
“There are nine story themes that people like hearing about from companies,” I explained. “If you create content based on those themes you’ll be turning your messages into stories.”
I introduced these nine story themes four years ago when I published the book Beyond Buzz. This simple model is used around the world by companies and agencies of all sizes to get unstuck and come up with fresh ways to connect with customers, employees and analysts. Guy Kawasaki included these themes in his new book “Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions,” writing,
“These story lines from Lois Kelly, author of Beyond Buzz, will help you craft a story that does your cause justice.”
Sean Moffit and Mike Dover also include them in their excellent new book “Wikibrands: Reinventing Your Company in a Customer-Driven Economy,” saying:
“People love to tell stories. When repeated they reinforce a message; when told well they become viral. Lois Kelly suggests nine types of stories in her book Beyond Buzz that get talked about.”
Not in the mood for reading books to learn more? Click here to visit the Foghound resource center, and download a copy of the eBook, “Beyond Buzz: Let’s Talk About Something Interesting.” Or check out Guy Kawasaki’s post, “How to Change the World: The Nine Best Story Lines for Marketing.”
Want to learn how to make it exhilarating? Want to be part of a powerful visioning process, learn for free and/or see my approach in case you want to hire me in 2011?
I’m leading a series of workshops in the coming weeks for Trinity Rep theater in Providence, RI. (Uncovering a shared vision is part of the strategic planning process, and key to our capital campaign. Disclosure: I’m a Trinity board member.)
If you’ve been to at least two performances at Trinity and want to roll up your sleeves for an intense and exhilarating three-hour workshop, please consider participating in one of the following sessions, all of which are being held in Trinity’s rehearsal studio in downtown Providence.
Others participating in the workshops are actors, theater subscribers, high school students who have been part of Trinity’s Young Actors Studio, Project Discovery teachers, board members, donors, and people who just like going to the theater at Trinity. It’s bound to be serious fun, for a seriously great arts non-profit. (But the lessons you’ll learn can easily be applied to the for-profit world as well.)
If interested in participating or learning more, please drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The process you’ll be part of is based on my belief (and experience) that the vision of most organizations lies within the people who are most passionate about the organization. Articulating the vision is more about uncovering the hopes, dreams, and views of these passionate people, and far less about “expert” wordsmithing.
Yet uncovering these views isn’t a direct process. Asking people, “what should our mission statement be?” usually freezes us, and asks us to use too much of our head and not enough of our heart.
A far more effective process is to engage people’s heads and hearts in a playful, guided way that helps them find the feelings, words and images to express why the organization they love so much matters so much, and what its intent, or mission, is – or should be.
Hope to see you.
Last week I received an RFP with a key question: what is your organization’s mission and beliefs? I love that question because it will help the evaluators get a sense of the firms in a way that the factual questions can not.
However, many firms struggle in answering this question. Or they play it safe. Or answer in bland language. Having reviewed hundreds of RFPs my advice is to answer this question passionately and genuinely, in language you would use in talking with someone.
This RFP question is designed to help the evaluators get to know the personality, people and passion of your firm. Don’t waffle. Be bold, be true to who your organization is, and use language that brings you beliefs alive.
Also, make sure your Web site includes your belief ( or purpose, or mission, or point of view; they’re really the same) And that everyone in the firm knows it and understands how it guides your work every day.
Stuck? Get your people together and have a thoughtful conversation around this question: why does the world need our organization now more than ever?
I help companies uncover what they love about their businesses and show them how to use that to create pretty fascinating sales and marketing strategies.
The first step in our discovery process is asking a few questions, like “if you were having dinner with an old friend, how would you brag about your business?” The answers to this question are usually dull, dull, dull. But it helps me get to know the people.
The second question always uncorks the creative juices. Please take it and use it. It is simply this:
If you could pick one song as a theme song for your organization, what would it be?
The ideas are usually hilarious, hold a thread of truth and possibility, and loosen people up in new ways. A couple of weeks ago I heard some some great responses from a consulting firm with deep analytics expertise:
Let the marketing brainstorming begin….
Here’s the presentation from last night’s workshop at the Publicity Club of New England in Boston. Great group and lots of fun doing conversational writing and community building workshops. Creativity is everywhere; we just have to ask new questions and collaborate in new ways to get at it.
The secret to selling a screenplay in Hollywood is writing a great one-line, says screenwriter Blake Snyder, author of Save the Cat: the Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need.
Creating a great one-line is invaluable for marketing anything, whether it’s a company, product, service, book proposal, online community, a vacation spot or professional services.
You see, the one-line tells people what the product/service/screenplay is so they can quickly decide if they’re interested or not. Make it too hard for them to understand the “what it is” and they’ll simply ignore you, no matter how brilliant the product and supporting marketing programs.
Snyder says that a great one-line:
“Concentrate on writing one sentence. One line. Because it you learn how to tell me “What is it” better, faster and with more creativity, you’ll keep me interested. And incidentally, by doing so before you start writing your script, you’ll make the story better too,” advises Snyder.
The second most important screenwriting lesson that also applies to marketing: tell people what your product/service/book is most like and how it’s different.
In screenwriting, the more you understand the genre of your concept, the more likely you are to sell the script and write a great movie. Ditto for marketing. Help customers understand where you fit into categories that they understand — and then tell them how you’re different.
While creating new business models or wildly innovative products is admirable and noble, most don’t take off because the buyer can’t understand “what it is.” And those that do, have brilliant one-lines, like Salesforce in the early days — software you can rent instead of having to implement.
Another example is Communispace, one of the most successful private online community companies. In the early days of the company, long before terms like social media or Web 2.0 were around, Communispace CEO Diane Hessan explained that their communities were “like focus groups on steroids, only different.” Marketing decision makers got it, and bought. While many other early community pioneers no longer exist. People couldn’t understand the “what it is.”
I’m working on some new concepts and starting with my one-lines. Who knows maybe someday I’ll even be able to pitch a screenplay.
It’ no surprise that the diverse plays that were awarded Tony awards last night all share one thing: a context that people today can relate to. In accepting the award for best musical revival for “Hair,” Oskar Eustis, the N.Y. Public Theater’s creative director, summed it up:
“If the theater is going to matter, it has to talk about things that matter to the people.”
Whether marketing art or widgets, the need for context and relevancy is huge, but often overlooked. On Friday a firm called me to discuss their marketing needs. As they explained their business, I realized that what they do is in the collaborative innovation and enterprise 2.0 space, concepts they were aware of but hadn’t really given much thought to.
Because the firm isn’t marketing within the context of today’s corporate decision makers, their sales and marketing messages just aren’t resonating. Nor are they in the right marketing conversations that can result in leads, nor are they getting invited into big deals for which they’re qualified.
For people to find your company and consider your services, you need to market within their context. Of course, this isn’t essential, but you’ll spend far more on marketing and sales if you try to create a new category or context of understanding.
Creating marketing and public relations campaigns within a social media context requires some new steps– and greater attention to steps that hopefully have always been considered.
Here are eight ideas to “social mediafy” your campaigns.
1. Know what’s relevant and current: First, know what your audience cares about. What issues, topics, ideas are front of mind. Not what your company wants to talk about, which is usually your own products and service features/functions (boring), but what people are already concerned about and interested in. Do this by analyzing the digital ecosystem for your category — blogs, tweets, news articles, YouTube videos, Digg posts/rankings, Google searches, etc. What’s most popular, triggers the most responses? If you have a corporate blog or a customer forum — what are the most popular topics?
2. What’s the business goal: Before doing anything, clearly understand the intention of the campaign. Is it to develop preference for your brand vs. another? Change a perception about your company? Make people more aware of the company’s expertise in a particular area? Help people understand an issue that is an obstacle to sales? Generate leads? Make your brand more likable? The more specific you can be, the more effective your program will be — and the easier it will be to measure it. I see far too little time spent on this important step. “General Awareness” is too superficial — nor does it guide how to execute.
3. Formulate a provocative point of view: What’s your take on a topic of current interest to your audience — and how does your point of view connect with your goal? Make the point of view is fresh, thought-provoking and even provocative. As word of mouth author Emmanuel Rosen points out in an interview with Sean Moffit of BuzzCanuck, one of the worst practices in marketing is having nothing interesting to say. My research has found that there are nine themes that people like to talk about; here’s more on “The Nine Best Story Lines for Marketing” from Guy Kawasaki’s blog. My favorite is taking a contrarian or counterintuitive view. Done right, this approach creates interest, debate and longevity — and can help address a number of goals.
4. Put that point of view together in a shareable form: Take your point of view and develop it in a form (or multiple forms) that people can easily share with other people — eBooks, videos, ChangeThis manifestos, blog posts, presentations, white papers. And put those not just on your own site but where people are browsing — YouTube, SlideShare, Delicious, etc. Some recent examples of content easy to share: Disney Park’s “make your own personalized video,” which you can then share with friends. IBM’s “Art of the Sale” mainframe videos by Tim Washer. And a great white paper, “EMC/One: A Journey in Social Media” by Chuck Hollis. Having some thing makes it easier to share. Of course, it needs to be interesting enough that you want to share it with your colleagues and friends.
5. Get your views out into the ecosystem: Now stir things up and let people know about your point of view– and where they can go to learn more. Use Twitter, Facebook, blogger outreach, Slideshare.net, YouTube, Digg, Sumbleupon and all the many, many other places out there.
6. Stay in the conversation: As people start talking about the topic, stay in the conversation, adding new perspectives, answering questions, providing other people/places about the issue. Set up Google alerts at a minimum to keep up with the conversation and post responses to what;s being said. The days of dropping a press release, talking to some media, and calling it a campaign are over.
7. Repackage: Take the highlights of what ensued and repackage them to further achieve your goals — use for customer newsletters, sales presentations, management reports, in employee communities/Intranets.
8. Measure what sticks: Lastly, learn from all the issues you initiate. Which garnered the most interest — and why? What fell flat? Was it the topic — or was it the execution. This execute-and-measure-and-learn is the only way to find what works for your audience — and is an ongoing education for you.
Why do some ideas catch in social media and others go no where? Why do some videos get passed around and reach that coveted “viral” status? Why do some crisis issues have a blip and disappear and while others keep getting talked about?
One of the simplest and best indicators is this: the more widely and/or deeply felt the issue or topic, the greater its life and “social effect.”
One big reason the Ketchum @keyinfluencer Twitter gaffe this month was a big deal was because of the extraordinary growth of Twitter, and the equally extraordinary skepticism about the role of Twitter in business. There’s no denying the widespread interest in seeing a Twitter “business case study” played out before our eyes. It’s a widely felt issue.
Tim Washer’s hilarious IBM Mainframe videos were such a hit because so many of us have either worked for an incompetent boss or we’ve sat through painful sales meetings, like the ones depicted in the video.
Jeff Jarvis was able to light up Dell Hell a few years back because so many people shared similar frustrations about Dell.
Think about other popular issues — some positive and helping a company’s reputation, others hurting — and you’ll see the pattern. Deeply and widely felt. The Motrin Moms. Obama’s change platform.
As you look at how to “social mediafy” your marketing and communications, a helpful first step is asking: “what do our customers deeply and widely care about?”
Next Wed., Jan 28 at noon EST, I’ll be interviewed by David Kinard on Marketing News Radio, AMA’s online talk radio program. I’m kind of tired of all the hype and buzz around social media so you won’t hear much of that.
But I do want to share observations about the big challenges people in companies are wrestling with in creating new types of marketing strategies, and offer pragmatic ideas on where to focus and what to forget about (for now.) A big part of the radio show is call in questions, so fire away.
I’ve been collecting examples of companies’ beliefs, values, guiding principles and the like. All are meant to serve as a sherpa-like guide to the organization’s culture, decisions and behavior. The ones I like best go beyond the usual blah blah — quality, integrity, customer-first — and connect with people in their guts and in their heads. Here are The Container Store’s six principles:
*Container Store employees are told the story of a man crawling through the desert gasping for a drink of water. He finds an oasis, where an ordinary retailer gives him water. If it had been a Container Store retailer, employees are told, he would have been told “Here’s some water. Do you also want something to eat? And I see from your wedding ring that you are married. How about we call your family and let them know you’re here.” The principle is that you’re cheating the customer if you are not offering them the opportunity to buy more.
On Friday, June 27 at 1 p.m. EST, I’m going to be sharing what I’ve learned so far about marketing, social media and word of mouth marketing over at Learn From My Life. (And answering calls and email questions.)
There are some great interviews over at Learn From My Life from people like free-agent author Daniel Pink, former CNN reporter Daryn Kagan, legendary basketball coach Dale Brown, and Dan Ariely, author of the must-read new book, Predictably Irrational.
Hope you can make it!
Naming your organizations’ beliefs can guide decisions and inspire talent much more effectively than the traditional mission statement, which is usually pretty flat, descriptive and, well, boring.
Here are some examples of organizations’ beliefs.
1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.
2. It’s best to do one thing really, really well.
3. Fast is better than slow.
4. Democracy on the web works.
5. You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.
6. You can make money without doing evil.
7. There’s always more information out there.
8. The need for information crosses all borders.
9. You can be serious without a suit.
10. Great just isn’t good enough.
What are your organization’s beliefs? Please share!
[photopress:Schwartz_1_2.jpg,full,pp_image] The novelty of blogging is about to wear off, said Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz at this week’s Web 2.o Expo in San Francisco. It’s becoming just another way to communicate.
The bigger point, said Schwartz, is having something provocative to say.
“If you say undifferentiated things that are expected, then you shouldn’t expect anyone to care.”
Amen. So many businesses are obsessed about how to use blogs or social networks that they overlook the fact that you have to have something interesting to say. The point of my book Beyond Buzz is just this:
in today’s “talk” world — online and in person — having an interesting or provocative point of view is as essential, maybe more so, than traditional marketing and communications “messages,” elevator statements, value props, etc.
A provocative point of view gets attention, gets people involved, and speeds understanding. As Schwartz knows, if you want to get interest, be more interesting.
Last week I had the pleasure of participating in the annual Parnu Marketing Conference where 550 of Estonia’s marketing professionals get together to learn and talk about new marketing ideas. The theme of the conference: “Marketing Without Advertising.”
During a word of mouth marketing workshop 50 people came up with more than 300 ideas in 45 minutes about how to talk about Estonia to attract tourists and businesses to this Baltic country. A great testament to what can happen when you bring smart people together and remove all the traditional “branding” rules. Some of the ideas:
Estonia is like a fantasy land – beautiful old medieval architecture, Hansel & Gretel-like countryside, pristine beaches and forests with bears, wolves, wild mushrooms; and it’s safe, inexpensive, and almost everyone speaks English.
Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is the largest and best preserved medieval capital in Europe. More beautiful than Prague.
The White Night winters in Estonia are magical, where you can really chill: pure silence amid the snow and ice; walking from island to island on the ice; barrel saunas.
And for the high testosterone crowd, Estonia is a great hunting spot – wolves, bears, wild boar; or you can tour former top-secret Soviet Union military bases.
Now here’s a sport you don’t find everywhere: While the Estonians did win Olympic medals for cross country skiing this year, they also took the gold medal in the world wife-carrying championship last summer.
Estonia is the Silicon Valley of the Baltic – totally E, and far less expensive than other European cities.
Estonia is the safe, friendly gateway for companies that want to do business with Russia, – but be based in Europe and not Russia.
Estonia offers all the benefits of Scandinavia for businesses – educated population, high quality of life, great technology infrastructure – with a MUCH lower flat tax rate.
Having spent two days as a tourist in Estonia, I can tell you that it is a gem of a country. Despite Soviet occupation until 1991, the country has preserved its national identity and the beauty of its environment and rich architectural history.