While discretion may dictate speaking “on the QT,” the most effective business communications tend to include more of an open dialog and, ideally, a feedback loop for clarification.
I would propose that part of the reason why social media has made such a rapid impact on the marketing world is because it has helped to facilitate more effective communications, both from a content perspective as well as from a “trust” point of view.
Take, for instance, the list of top 100 PRs on Twitter that Liliana Dumitru-Steffens put together on her blog. If this list were published on traditional media, it would have been printed and distributed to her readers, as a static list soon forgotten. This online social media list, however, has taken on a life of its own, being modified and updated based on feedback she has received from her many readers. In the end, this feedback loop has increased the accuracy of her communications – a luxury afforded this type of communications medium. If only some of our verbal conversations could be updated after the fact, to better communicate what our actual intent was at the time!
Marketing communications is a challenging task. It isn’t that speaking or writing is hard – but getting the right message of what you meant to say is where the challenge lies. There may be times when you are speaking to an audience that does not understand what you are saying. Often, however, they simply won’t tell you their confusion, contributing to a poor communications feedback loop. While it may be easy to blame your audience for just “not getting it,” in reality, it is your responsibility to communicate your message.
In fact, these challenges exist in personal communications as well.
As a marketer, I would propose that there are only two media communications “vehicles” to convey your message – the spoken or written word. Each medium has unique challenges. Address these challenges, and your messaging accuracy will improve, helping you to be a better marketer.
The Spoken Word
Here the issue is consistency … how can you be sure everyone at your organization will say the same thing and speak in the same language or tone? An engineer, for example, may talk about your product’s benefits differently than an executive. Both must be able to speak comfortably, on their own, when telling your corporate message.
We can’t control what others will say. But, we can provide guidance. As new products are launched or new customer values are identified, it is critical to invest time with each of your stakeholders to coach and train them to get it right. Practice makes perfect.
One approach is to provide visual clues or “cheat sheets” to your teams, as a handy reference that can be viewed to help remember the key points of your company’s messaging strategy. For example, a placard hung in a customer service support center explaining the benefits of a recent product launch might help function as a reminder to the team.
The Written Word
The written word offers greater consistency of message. Collateral and other content can be prepared and distributed to your employees, customers and prospects. However, without a feedback loop, it can be difficult to gauge understanding. As mentioned previously, the growing use of social networking websites now offers this capability to help address this challenge, by offering readers the opportunity to post comments and replies. Of course, if no one finds your message, then you won’t get any responses!
One way to address this potential communications challenge is to seek feedback on your marketing collateral, business plan or other written marketing communications prior to distributing to the general public. While it may be obvious to you what you were intending to say or speak, you would be surprised how often ambiguity exists, especially when your message is heard by someone from another “walk of life,” such as a different department, country or culture, or even someone that reads or speaks English as a second language (assuming your communications are primarily in English).
In the end, it really doesn’t matter what you meant to say … prospects, customers, investors and others will come to their own conclusion, based on what they thought you said – what they heard you say – and make their decision accordingly. Take ownership for this action and recognize that the responsibility for accurate communications lies on your shoulders, mouth and arms!
Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.