As someone that started podcasting over 10 years ago, it’s amazing to look at how this medium has evolved over the years. Left for dead back just a few years back, podcasts have made a major resurgence thanks to the popularity of shows like Serial, Crimetown and Presidential.

Back in February, we at W2O launched our own new audio series called the What2Know Podcast. The show focuses on learning about best practices, insights and innovation from a variety of industry experts. And while the show caters to leaders in the marketing and communications space, we work hard to make these entertaining (and valuable) for anyone that chooses to listen.

Now that we are 32 episodes in, it felt like the right time to take a look back at some highlights from our guests who have included some incredibly talented people ranging from celebrity chef, Tyler Florence, to Founder of the LAGRANT Foundation, Kim Hunter. Our topics have ranged from using social media to creating amazing fan experiences to escaping from Vietnam with a broken back and dysentery.

Here are a few of my self-created awards from yours truly:

  • “Dumbest moment” Award — Normally, I try and do a fair amount of research before each of my interviews but this process sometimes gets short-circuited when serendipity strikes. Just such a moment happened at the NewCo Shift Summit back in February when I bumped into Grammy-nominated singer/SuperPhone CEO, Ryan Leslie, in the hallway. I hadn’t had Mr. Leslie on my list of interview targets but after hearing his keynote presentation, I realized he was a “must get.” Luckily, I was able to do some crash research on him and had enough material to go on. So we sit down and before I hit the “record” button, I address him as Leslie Ryan. Duh. This turned into a laughable moment soon thereafter when we started the interview and Mr. Leslie waves his conference badge at me as I introduce him so I won’t mix up his name again.
  • “Most enjoyable” Award — While I’ve really enjoyed doing many of these interviews, I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable my interview with Stephanie Cathcart, global head of external affairs for GE Oil and Gas, went. Following Stephanie’s talk at the National StratComms Summit, I knew we were like-minded but five minutes into our conversation, there was just this incredible chemistry. She is a total digital nerd and understands the importance of great content.
  • “Best music connection” Award — I had met Comcast’s Chief Product Officer, Chris Satchell, several months before at a VIP party hosted by Comcast in support of the Olympics. Our mutual friend, Brian Solis, introduced us and we chatted for a good 30-40 minutes on at a rooftop bar in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco. The interview itself was a lot of fun because Chris is an absolutely brilliant technologist but at the end when I asked Chris about the “one album” he would chose to listen to on a deserted island, he shared his top three. And of the three: 1) Achtung Baby, U2, 2) Dirt, Alice in Chains and 3) American Idiot, Green Day, I could have easily chosen any of them for my “deserted island” album. I knew at that point that Chris and I would become good friends.
  • “Sweating bullets” Award — Similar to my “Dumbest moment” Award, I had the luck of sitting down with Mark McKinnon, the Executive Producer/co-host of Showtime’s, The Circus (also the campaign strategist for President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain and former Texas Governor, Anne Richards). I hadn’t expected that I would be able to interview Mark so when he agreed, I was on cloud nine. Unfortunately, the podcast unit I normally used was back in San Francisco so I had our second unit shipped from Austin. Three minutes into the interview, the batteries died and the bag the unit came in didn’t have backup batteries. Needless to say, I spent the next 10 minutes apologizing profusely to Mark while my colleague, Ally Masi, ran around like crazy looking for four AA batteries. Fortunately, the batteries were found and the show continued. And Mark was the consummate guest.
  • “Holy crap I can’t believe I’m talking to this person” Award — I’ve been a huge fan of the musician, ZZ Ward, for five years now. I’ve easily listened to her album, Til the Casket Drops a few hundred times and was quite impressed by how engaging yet approachable she was on social media. As luck would have it my friend (and President of Techonomy), Josh Kampel, knew her manager. Several weeks after I first connected with ZZ’s people, I was able to land an interview with Ms. Ward. It was one of the few I’ve had to do over the phone but it was still one of my all time favorites.

It’s been an awesome 32 weeks ride with some amazing guests. I look forward to the next 32. A big shoutout to all you listeners. And a special thank you to Blaire Clause for producing the show and Maya Ollie for creating the accompanying blogs and social posts.

You can listen to an abbreviated audio recap of the show below. Subscribe for our weekly updates!

How one question can lead to the wrong answer regarding workforce effectiveness

 For anyone involved in employee or internal communication hearing a senior leader ask this question often leads to frustration or even anger:

“How can we improve Internal Communication?”  This is typically followed with the request – “We need an Internal Communication plan!”

The fallacy in this thinking is that Internal Communication is perceived as an end vs. a means.  It’s not.  Employee Communication is a by-product of an organization’s management model.

As such, it begins with a thorough understanding of the current state and future aspiration of the business coupled with the CEO’s thinking and agenda.  Both of those ingredients are then processed with the culture and employee behaviors of the business to form the right approach, content, tonality, frequency, and cadence of information and interactivity to inform, educate, provoke, and connect people with the enterprise.  Building an internal communication plan without access to or a relationship with the decision-making body of the company is akin to driving to a never visited destination without a map.

Improving Internal Communication cannot be done in a vacuum.  Neither can a plan be developed without the proper inputs.  Unfortunately, there are still communicators who jump to this request and prepare a “plan” based on nothing more than tactics and channels, which ultimately mean nothing to accomplishing internal alignment, organizational confidence, and employee satisfaction.

Employee Communication is the difference between success and failure of any corporate change initiative, restructuring, M&A, new leader transition, major product innovation, organizational crisis, or business strategy execution.  The reason is that at its core employee communication is about how an institution interacts with itself.  How it respects itself.  How it remains relevant. The core tenets of employee communication are neither based on tactics nor channels.  They are based on how the company thinks, operates, decides, innovates, educates, rewards, shares, listens, and projects itself.

Employee Communication at the strategic level is a behavioral and consultative function.  For CEOs and businesses to thrive, providing a bold vision coupled with a realistic view of the current reality is critical to success as the balancing act organizations must maintain is challenged by people changing jobs faster than ever, people distracted vis-à-vis technology and the choice it provides, and shifting expectations of customers and shareholders.

When given the question “How can we improve Internal Communication?” the response should be with a question of our own – “How smart do you want our employees to be?” This is the answer needed to determine the best approach, content, context, and system to achieve the business health necessary for growth.

And for communicators responsible for this precious area, let me offer the following framework to up our game and eliminate wasted effort:

  • It’s Not About Engagement…It’s About Belief – All the talk today about employee engagement is a false promise.  The place we need to focus on is Belief.  Once people believe in a company’s efficacy, purpose, mission then they believe its story.  Engagement is an outcome of Belief.
  • Who is my Workforce? – Do we really know who makes up our workforce?
  • What is the Employee Worldview? – What is our employees’ perspective?  How do they view the world?   
  • What content and context is important to their success? –  Are there subjects that resonate more?  How deep do they need to go?  What doesn’t matter?  Which information is consistent with what people experience in day-to-day work?
  • What is the story being told? – Is it consistent with the company’s strategy?  External image?
  • How are we moving people forward? – Is there a point to our communications?  Does it move people ahead in lock-step with the business?

Now more than ever, increasing employee knowledge and confidence about the business and people’s future is essential to long term success.  The challenge is breaking through in a distracted, noisy and contradictory environment.

But how?  Based on our extensive work in this area over 20 years, there are five actions you can take to improve the employee experience:

  • Be Provocative – People want to be challenged intellectually. Content should reflect what employees are experiencing.  The more provocative the better chance you have in getting attention.
  • Be Real – No corporate speak.  No trite phrases.  Speaking from the heart produces belief.
  • Be Clear – What is it you are saying?  What do you want people to know, feel, do?
  • Be Connected – How plugged in are you to employee networks?
  • Be Smart – Do you know your workforce?  Are you using analytics to better grasp perspectives, relevance, interests, concerns?

Employee Communication is a litmus test for how organizations manage and lead.  Done well, people have a profound sense of purpose and mission and an ability to get things done. A confidence to question decisions and seek new information while sharing ideas and reaching out to colleagues.

And it all starts with asking the right question!

Gary

There is a myriad of factors that come into play when companies are faced with an acquisition. Attention must be paid to every part of the business to ensure that the merging of each entity will successfully transition into the new business identity. I had the opportunity to talk to discuss this process with Marta Newhart, Global VP of Johnson Controls.

I first connected with Marta at the 8th National Summit on Strategic Communications earlier this year, where we discussed brand reputation on the What2Know podcast. After that conversation I knew I wanted to chat with her again to continue to learn from her expertise. During our most recent discussion, we unpacked the advantages of a successful merger including an increase in shareholder value, better productivity and gaining competitive advantage. Additionally, we explored possible pitfalls if a merger is unsuccessful including irreversible damage to company culture and morale.

Take a listen below.

One of the more ironic shifts in terms of organizational behavior is the increasing use of new tools, techniques, and channels by CEOs looking to breakthrough inside their organizations and connect with employees. However, these “solutions” are often more complicated than they need to be. CEOs are more inclined to gain much needed employee buy-in, attention, and trust not via technology, but through tried-and-true efforts such as authenticity, openness, being provocative, and being consistent in discussing the business and the workforce in relevant ways.

This was reinforced at a McKinsey Forum earlier this year featuring more than 75 CEOs and Board chairs discussing the impact of technology on the CEO position.

While technology aids in frequency and connectivity by providing various platforms and channels to convey information, gather facts, and engage in discussion, CEOs must possess a clear agenda, a set of priorities, a narrative, and a purpose behind their actions in order to be heard and believed by their workforce.

I guess the moral of the story is that, in the end, content and context remain king.

Gary

Did you know 87% of employees globally are not engaged according to a recent Gallup poll? Additionally only 14% of employees understand their employer’s business strategy. Clearly there is a disconnect between organizations and their employees that needs to be addressed.

Connecting with today’s workforce – one that is distracted, skeptical, curious, motivated, informed – is a key challenge for any organization and its leadership. It all begins with comprehending the pervasive impact of digital on organizational behavior as customers and employees take control of the relationship with brands and companies.

On November 15, W2O Group and a select group of industry leaders from automotive, healthcare, energy, financial services, consumer, consulting, manufacturing, and technology will spend a day learning, sharing, and exploring the latest trends, insights, and approaches in organizational communications/change.

The environment is designed to be open-ended with a series of discussions, learning moments, innovation “bytes”, and fresh analysis facilitated by attendees themselves, allowing participants to shape the outcome they want.

In addition, W2O will unveil fresh research on employee behaviors in a digital world focusing on preferences for channels, content, timing, and origin.

Among the questions to be addressed by this group of seasoned communicators include:

  • How would you describe your workforce?
  • What are their concerns? Dreams? Ideas? 
  • What is their worldview in today’s digital era?
  • What is your company’s strategic intent?
  • How would you characterize your value in driving your company’s future by creating an engaged, confident workforce capable to deliver on the company’s goals?
  • How are you measuring progress?

Great organizations are able to inform and inspire their people encouraging discussion, dialogue, and debate to enhance understanding and drive individual and enterprise purpose.

Bringing people together who live and breathe organizational communications and effectiveness to explore these topics in detail can illuminate insights on behavior and attitude in today’s complex business environment.

Gary

For more information on the Summit please contact Ally Masi at amasi@w2ogroup.com

Creating Value and Relevance in a Time of New Relationships and Possibilities

As a function, Corporate Communications has always played a vital role in influencing and maintaining organizational health – reputation, culture, employee engagement, strategy deployment, business narrative, market entry, leadership alignment, product and mission efficacy and of course, trust.  Under a decades-old construct designed to deliver stakeholder insights, media relations (i.e., company mentions), product promotion, crisis mitigation, product campaigns, practitioners were, for the most part, measured by the quantity of their work.

Communications was aimed at the masses.  This all made sense in an analog world that kept activities and audiences in silos allowing communicators to manage and measure their efforts in linear, anecdotal, and myopic ways.

Of course, the digital and social reality that has enveloped us poses a new set of opportunities and challenges as well as a new operating and structural model for Corporate Communications. With it, are a mix of different skills and capabilities, new systems and processes, a higher order of expectations, and a suite of progressive tools designed to accomplish one goal:

RELEVANCE.

Relevance is Corporate Communications’ center of gravity.

Being relevant is the new reputation in a digital age.  Customers have no time to figure out who and what you are.  There are too many choices.  Too much noise.  You must grab their interest quickly and keep it consistently.  Brands must be “on trend” based on their respective mission and engage stakeholders in an on-going relationship and dialogue that respects each other as partners.

In a digital world, data is key and insight is essential.

Data breaks down the traditional walls between Communications and Marketing, recognizing that the customer is truly in charge.  No one cares which group reports to which group or what you call it.

Arguments for a past age.  Answers to questions no one cares about.  Certainly not CEOs or customers.

Further, there are myriad reports and white papers urging corporate communicators and corporate communications functions to focus on integration, collaboration, adopting new skills, incorporating analysis and measurement, and forging new partnerships inside and outside the organization.  Well-intentioned and solid advice for sure.  But they overlook the key essentials in designing a new model that ensures corporate communications in both a functional and systemic sense creates lasting value for the enterprise.

As organizations jockey for relevance today, Corporate Communications leaders would do well to follow these five rules in creating value:

1. Digital Means the Customer and Employee Possess the Power. Period.

Adopting a digital mindset requires you accept that digital is neither a channel nor a component of marketing.  Digital is a way of life.  It means a new relationship and respect with customers, employees, and key stakeholders who now hold the power and control over your brand and organization.  Companies do not own their brands anymore.  They are stewards and advocates of their brands and products/services being both responsive and proactive in their interactions with stakeholders.

In a similar fashion, influence has transformed coverage – knowing how opinion is formed in a digital environment vs. traditional media coverage and reporting has upended how, when and where brands convey their narrative and messages – causing disruption in one of the core activities for Corporate Communications.

Inside companies, employees have the means and ability to participate and challenge leadership in everything from strategy to investments, personnel decisions to product development and everything in between.   This balances and/or possibly shifts the origination of policy and purpose to the workforce re-orienting the discussion from broadcast to conversation and changing the management dynamic in new and profound ways.

2. PR/Communications vs. Marketing: “Tomato vs. Tomatoe”

 Can we stop arguing over which is more important?  (Or where each should report?)

It’s the wrong question.

The question is actually this:

How does the company view customer/employee/stakeholder communications?  As a Marketing activity or a PR/Comms activity?

In the Digital Age, the customer and other key stakeholders control the relationship.  The company or brand is an advocate that establishes and reinforces the efficacy of the product service or brand.

Given that, Marketing is actually becoming a PR/Comms activity vs. a selling proposition.

But here’s the catch.  Due to the transformative nature of Digital both Marketing and PR/Comms are morphing together – skills, analysis, programming, advocacy, influence, channels, content, etc.

The challenge is semantics.  When we say “Marketing” or “PR/Comms” people default to legacy definitions.

Remember, there are no silos in a digital world.

3. Data Sets You Free… Insight Keeps You Honest!

 For all the talk about data and analytics, the challenge for corporate communications is two-fold:  First, recognizing what to analyze; and Second, translating the findings to actionable insights.

Data without insight is just data.

Incorporating analytics into communications is game changer on many levels.  It raises our work to a more scientific level introducing data into our work and allowing us to see clearly what’s happening.  But, it still not an intuitive or natural activity.  And, data is not a plug and play operation.  Rather, data, analysis, and insight must be the catalyst for a new organization design for Corporate Communications.

One that is defined by an organizing principle where activity is based on the customer or stakeholder experience and programming is more intuitive than planned. The goal is to engender new customer relationships based on mutual understanding and benefit and sustainable principles to foster trust and engagement.

A function with equal parts analytics, insight formation, and creative thinking.

4. Relevance is Defined by the Marketplace

Data and analysis provides a direct line of sight of sight to the marketplace.  Digital leverages the capabilities of technology and media to ensure customer relevance.  In that regard, relevance is defined or expressed by customers, employees, and other key stakeholders

Corporate Communications as a function in this environment does not create relevance and convey its characteristics as it once did.  Rather, Corporate Communications listens and extracts relevance from customers, employees, etc., and captures its meaning and nuance in every touchpoint to improve overall customer experience and journey.

5. Storytelling is About the Plot 

Communicators and marketers have been trained to communicate the brand and organization in a clinical, structured manner.  For PR/Communications specifically, this model was based on journalistic training and mores.  This approach is no longer effective.

To capture attention, generate interest, and ignite passion, communicators and marketers must convey their purpose and efficacy through stories.  Stories that are genuine, passionate, real, and personal.

Stories that place customers in the starring role.  Stories that people relate to. Stories that capture values.

And, to top it off, customers want to create and share their own content about their experience with products and brands.  Their stories are often the ones that break-through, so creating content in Corporate Communications is actually secondary today.  Finding and curating customer content is a shift from being message-centric to being customer-sensitive.

But without a plot there is no story.  This is what communicators and marketers miss.  The plot is all about the “Why?” When your stories capture the “Why?” your customers and employees connect on their terms.

In the end, the new Corporate Communications function is really about a new:

MINDSET

New skills and expectations emanate from this shift in thinking.  Ensuring the organization is relevant starts with accepting the true meaning of the digital age.  The customer and key stakeholders control the dynamic moving power from the company and the brand to the marketplace and the workplace.

The real benefit though is that technology in the form of data intelligence and analytics provides communicators with the analysis and insight necessary to navigate this new world. With this information communicators can truly comprehend customer and employee behaviors and intent recalibrating efforts to be more in sync and precise.

Bottom line:  Corporate Communications Must Exhibit a New Value Proposition

Read more about W2O Group’s approach to Function Optimization for Corporate Communications in our report: Are You Built for the Future… Or Solving Yesterday’s Reality?

How Organizations Can Successfully Evolve Through Intentional Ambiguity

As more and more industries and organizations find themselves being disrupted by technology, the need to change business models, strategies, skill sets, processes and mindset becomes more and more critical to success, if not survival.

For the past two decades, change management approaches and techniques have involved a flurry of cookie-cutter check-lists designed to offer comfort and an idealistic view to leaders and managers challenged with disrupting the status quo.

But what have we truly learned through this tumultuous time?

Well, fully two-thirds of change efforts don’t attain the goals and results sought. While, for the most part, human beings often resist change, the fact is, what they really fight off is the lack of commitment and consistency necessary to believe in the effort.

Further, the need for clarity around change cited by consultants to gain buy-in is actually a deterrent to achievement.

But, how can that be?  As communicators, we preach that clarity is essential to trust and alignment of organizational objectives and imperatives.  Having close to 25 years in guiding organizations through change via strategic communications, I’ve found that confusion not clarity has more impact on changing behaviors.  Confusion, in the form of new operating structures, new reporting lines, new responsibilities, and new decision-making models, forces people to readjust their perspective. Clarity, on the other hand, reinforces current behavior and allows people to find ways to work around the system.

The most recent example: Ford.  As the poster child of an industry under siege, Ford is attempting to design a more fluid, progressive business as it gears up for a complete transformation of its century old industry, one that is technologically driven vs. engineering based. When the board ousted CEO Mark Fields, citing a lack of strategy and a depressed stock price, new CEO Jim Hackett went to work implementing a new operating and decision-making structure. The new model increases responsibilities among key executives, reduces the amount of direct reports at the senior level, and reshuffles key parts of the business.

The initial take-away: A lot of confusion about who does what and where things fall.

The intended result:  Executives must now figure out this new world order and forge relationships to achieve their goals or risk demotion, or even dismissal.

Rather than a neat, tidy picture of the future, complete with PowerPoints, visuals, and motivational phrases (e.g. “One Team, One Mission”, “Creating the Future Together”), Ford is upending its leadership system to force the change necessary to sustain the enterprise.

This is not just a new organizational chart.  It’s a purposeful way to force people to leave their comfort zones and wade through the confusion so they can find purpose and create value.

Will it work? Only time will tell, but spending valuable resources on a vision statement, new logo, business strategy, narrative, etc. – without first putting people in a position where they must shift their thinking and learn to operate collaboratively— would most definitely have had a negative and possibly fatal result!

Change is about understanding human behavior.  Strategic Communications is about connecting ideas and people in a mutually beneficial manner.  Recognizing how the two intersect to create a strong proximate objective – Confusion – pushes people to venture into unexplored areas resulting in the very change in thinking and actions being sought.

With all the talk today around analytics and data, internal communicators are rightly focused on bringing a sense of discipline and accuracy to their work.  However, along with the rigor data intelligence provides, dealing with human behavior involves an artist’s touch.

To that end, our corporate strategy team recently sat down with Internal Communication leaders from several global manufacturing companies to discuss how they approach internal communications in their organizations balancing the growing ability to incorporate analytics with the vagaries of human dynamics.

Our conversations resulted in key findings across five areas: the communications function, insights about employees, content, channels, and measurement.

Their insights reinforce Internal Communications is at an inflection point. There is a new opportunity (and business imperative) for Internal Communications teams to reinvent themselves and redefine their contribution to executive leaders, managers and employees, thanks to improved access to information.

The Communications Function: How it’s Changing for Global Manufacturing Companies

  • Internal and External Communications teams must collaborate more given the increasing overlap between internal and external sources of information.
  • Communications personnel are being shifted from corporate positions into business divisions and regions to ensure sufficient operational communications support, and balanced pull through of the enterprise’s context.
  • The trending lean-centralized structure is enhancing business acumen across teams, but also creating new challenges such as: collaboration, content management and local distractions.

Insights About Employees: Companies Are Still Figuring It Out

  • Communications teams have limited data about employees that go beyond the organizational structure – office/non-office, division, manager, region – resulting in high-level employee targeting and information overload.
  • Companies are interested, and beginning to invest in, better employee research via external research experts.
  • Reaching non-office workers is still a challenge; companies are at different levels of effectiveness.

Content: A United Approach

More functions, outside of Communications, are involved in content development. This is leading to cross-functional editorial teams.

Channels: What’s Trending Today

  • Email and intranet sites are still key. Employees see both resources as credible. Intranets are being optimized to address universally weak search capabilities and to add smartphone capability while consolidating design.
  • Video is an emerging tool – a beneficial add to the channel mix but not a substitution for other channels as employee opinion on the usefulness of video is mixed.
  • Employees expect mobile access to internal and external information in and out of work. Intranets are being enhanced to address this and some companies are investing in apps.
  • While a diverse channel mix is needed, tool and channel overload is a concern, and for some companies, already a problem.

Measurement: Getting the Basics and Beyond

  • Measurement practices pull basic engagement data about channels and viewership but isn’t as actionable for communications improvement, yet.
  • Companies are eager to identify and master behavioral engagement metrics, but there isn’t a clear path to get there.

What We Learned

The most beneficial Internal Communications teams today – regardless of size and industry – find the right balance of discussing enterprise and operational information at the business unit and regional levels.

  • Teams are business experts first and communicators second.
  • They curate, contextualize and enable information and knowledge sharing in and outside the company.
  • They advocate for employee needs in their conversations with executives to inform content development and to decrease the overall volume of information shared.
  • Teams strengthen relationships throughout the enterprise by learning more about employee career imperatives – why they come to work, their motivation – and tailoring and targeting content according to these interests.
  • They also make sure executives receive and apply insights from employees.

Increasingly, internal communicators are finding themselves in a similar position as corporate brand – multiple people shape them, which makes management both difficult and important. One thing is certain through all this upheaval – there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to communicating and engaging today’s workforce, especially with so many change factors at play. It is a balance of the rational and the emotional.  A melding of science and art.

It’s 2017, so it’s fair to ask: What’s your Internal Communications’ art?

I recently had the pleasure of spending the entire day serving as a WATCH D.O.G.S. dad at my kid’s elementary school. With my oldest about to head into middle school, it’s now or never. WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads Of Great Students)  allow dads like me to work right along-side the educators as they read and work on assignments with students, play at recess, eat lunch with students, watch the school entrances and hallways, assist with traffic flow and any other assigned activities where they actively engage with not only their own students, but other students as well.

So how is this relevant in the world of marketing and communications? We talk a lot about ensuring our target audiences have a positive user experience through the ways they interact with our companies and/or brands. In the early phases of developing new product or service most marketers conduct extensive market research – focus groups, concept testing, card sorting to online panels, and any other number of traditional research methods. Ethnographic market research (“EMR”) is a powerful way to understand  their consumer in terms of cultural trends, lifestyle factors, attitudes and how social context influences product selection and usage. While EMR can take a few forms, the idea is to change the research setting from ‘behind the glass’ to a real-world setting, generally in-home or onsite where you immerse yourself into the customer’s life and the context of their day-to-day lives. That’s the opportunity I had to get into in the daily lives of my kids, their classmates, and sitting at the tiny desks and chairs of their elementary school.

Below are the 3 primary lessons I learned and how they reminded me to dig deeper as a strategist working with our teams and clients.

1. Spend Time in Their World – and Sitting in Their Chairs

I cannot count the number of soapbox lectures I’ve given my two boys on the importance of focus in the classroom. Yes, it’s been a LONG time since I sat in the elementary classroom and boy times have changed. I was so impressed at how teachers leverage technology – from videos, interactive games, mix of individual and group work, and organizing the day to switch from mental energy zapping subjects. My perspective is much more refreshed now that I’ve spent considerable time sitting in their (tiny) chairs.

Now think back to your target audience. What does their typical day look like? How are they switching between channels throughout the day – and what are the triggers for the switch? What are they looking for and are there ways to draw them in when they’re trying to be entertained or media snacking? Are they switching roles or “hats” throughout the day – from mom to manager to spouse to ‘me time’? When is the last time you spent time with your target audience? The simplest way is to look for online evidence of what’s top of mind – readbloggers who are in the target audience (and the comments on their popular posts), get help surfacing key themes from social, or find other media such as non-fiction books, podcasts, or vlogs where your audience is sharing stories from their lives. Do everything you can to spend time living aspects of their lives and “sitting in their chairs,” regardless of the size.

2. Learn From Their Influencers – the Good and the Bad

After killing it as all-time pitcher in kickball during 3rd grade PE class, I had the chance to spend time with several teachers while WatchDOG’ing recess. I genuinely wanted to hear from them what their biggest challenges are, how times have changed as educators, and what they feel is working with this generation of students. They shared their thoughts and experiences in trying to meet kids where they are and give them the best chance to advance, using methods designed to tap into a generation of students who live in an on-demand, digital, and device-heavy world. These wonderful teachers have a great influence on my kids and their peers.

In sitting through a few of classes with each of my two kids, I was reminded that you cannot replace the experience of observing in-person and in their environment. It was telling to see a few kids that my kids mention as their buddies who appeared to be good examples and influences while others are kids who we discuss how my boys may have the opportunity to positively influence or steer clear.

At W2O Group, we preach the importance of understanding influencers and their influence on a given audience or segment. Our analytics teams are amazing at what they can find and surface through a number of proprietary methods and tools. It starts by identifying, listening and learning from these individuals, outlets, and organizations so you know how to best approach them to establish authentic, transparent partnerships. You’ll clearly see a pattern of language and information flow than is very useful in engaging your customers. Ask yourself, do you know where your audience gets their information? Who do they look to for credible advice or information? If you don’t know or answer “Google?” then we need to talk.

3. Can You Explain it to a 3rd Grader?

As a part of my day, I was asked to explain what I do for a living to a room full of 3rd and 5th graders. Explaining the components of a brand strategy and how I go about researching and finding the key insight in the 3C’s was not going to cut it. Instead, I simplified my approach and explained it through a product they would all know and understand; quickly highlighting the steps involved, potential marketing channels, and examples from my career. As a result, they asked a ton of great (and hilarious) questions that demonstrated they understood and grasped the general idea. AND, as an added bonus, both of my sons finally understand what I do for a living!

It is amazing how verbose and complex we marketers can make our brands, products, or services over the process of brand messaging development. Of course, we rarely set out to intentionally do so, but it’s a common side effect of brand differentiation and doing everything possible to get a competitive advantage.

Start by evaluating the simplified version of your [brand, new product, idea] with your team. Share that with your a handful of people around you beyond your direct reports or marketing counterparts. Heck, explain it to your partner, parents, and/or kids. What are their reactions or feedback? Was there something missing? Do the simplified RTBs or key message points sound too similar or distinct enough? There is a good chance you’ll find holes you need to address and you saved time and money in realizing this now.

In the end, I enjoyed the chance to serve at my kids school and spend the day seeing them in their daily environment. Look for ways to do the same in the work you’re doing. Immerse yourself in THEIR world – listen and learn – and simplify the message. This is what we all want from the brands we engage with personally so why not do our best as marketers and communicators to offer the same to those audiences we serve?

Say “hi.”

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