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Less than a decade ago, we experienced an explosion of new social media channels. This led to the birth of the social media listening industry. In the early days, if we could just capture what people were saying, we were thrilled. We stared at pie charts and looked at graphs and learned the basics of what our customers were really doing online.

Fast forward to 2016 and the world has changed. Social listening doesn’t cut it. Audience intelligence is replacing it.

We all know in real life that listening is valuable only if you are listening to the right people. We don’t treat all opinions as equal or react to every comment unless we want to drive ourselves insane. Instead, we are moving toward an ability to identify the exact audience that matters so that we can listen to what our audience cares about and we can know what content it prefers, which channels are its favorites, what time of day its members go online, what their patterns of behavior are and what they mean to our brand.

In 2016, the trend away from social listening and toward audience intelligence will be driven by five changes in how we view listening and its next-generation cousin, intelligence. They are listed here:

  • The Importance of Non-Verbal Listening: When we are in a sales situation, we know that as much as two-thirds of what we learn is non-verbal. The non-verbal equivalent online includes search queries, downloads, retweets and likes, shares and other non-verbal communications that are critical to understanding reality. We must account for behavior in new ways in our listening approach.
  • The Ability to Build the Right Profiles: There are many false positives in listening, ranging from spam to simply tracking the wrong information. Analysts today must be craftspeople who can build profiles that focus exactly on what you want to learn about. These profiles are highly precise and contain a range of keywords and phrases.
  • Measure the Conversation, Not the Instance: When consumers react online they often share and talk across multiple channels over a period of time. Our ability to identify their patterns helps us build the right trail of measurement. Think of a conversation starting in Twitter, going to Instagram and ending with comments on Facebook. If you measure Twitter only, or look solely at Instagram, you have just a partial picture. Consumers follow patterns, so you can see their trails over time. As we do offline, we tend to walk the same path over and over again.
  • Compare and Contrast Audiences: If you are tracking each audience, you can see how it differs on the same topic from another group. What are cardiologists saying vs. general practitioners? What are enterprise IT leaders in cybersecurity saying vs. your employees vs. CIOs? If you compare and contrast audiences, your ability to see new insights greatly increases.
  • Understand Your Data Sources: We need to ensure that the data we are measuring really represents where your audience is. Know what channels you are receiving data from so you can see if it matches up with the location of your customers. And be careful to determine if you are paying twice or thrice for the same data vs. different providers. It’s time for us to engage in de-duplication of data so we don’t overpay for the same data. After all, we need more resources to improve our audience intelligence.

This article originally appeared in the January 11, 2016 issue of PR News.

In 2015, marketers set the bar for memorable brand experiences, from the hi-tech U.S. Open American Express Fan Experience to Disney’s show-stopping Star Wars premiere.

As we head in to 2016, brands continuing to put more dollars behind event marketing. In fact, a recent study by the Event Marketing Institute predicted a 5 percent increase in experiential marketing budgets last year. It’s easy to see why once you realize that 74 percent of participants who purchase a brand once are likely to become regular customers after engaging with the brand at an event, and 93 percent say events are more effective marketing tools than television commercials.

As we ring in a new year filled with major national and global events including political conventions and the Olympics, there’s no better time to look back and highlight the biggest event marketing trends from the past year, and what’s on the horizon. Check out our key learnings from the past year that will continue to drive event marketing, and what we’re most excited to see in 2016.

  1. If it isn’t on social, your event didn’t happen. Unless you’re planning events for a secret society, one of your event goals is most likely to spark social conversation about your brand. It used to be that events allowed for a high-touch brand experience, but only reached a small audience. Social media has completely opened up the potential for an event’s reach, providing a greater ROI for marketers. However, it’s not necessarily enough to expect that people will post about your event just because they were invited. Brands must create an environment that will inspire guests to share their experience, whether that’s designing a visually evocative display that ties back to your brand’s narrative, or providing an opportunity for guests to create their own share-worthy content. When we partnered with DigiFest – the world’s largest social media festival – to target Gen Z on behalf of a new teen-centric brand, our key priority was to make our activation share-worthy. By incorporating fun, eye-catching designs that referenced the brand and an interactive GIF booth for attendees to create content, SOV about the brand among our target audience skyrocketed.
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  2. Attendees vs. Participants. At this year’s BizBash Live conference, the leading meeting for planners from around the country, a key theme heard from more than a few presenters is that attendees are no longer passive. As with other forms of media, control is shifting from marketers to guests who can shape the event by streaming and creating content. For brands that are up to the challenge, this is a good thing. Seek ways to make your event attendee-centric at every turn.bizbash
  3. The infiltration of influencers. It’s all about the influencer in marketing these days, and the same holds true for events. Brands are bolstering their events’ reach by incorporating influencers – paid or organically. Sponsoring a live event? Consider negotiating influencer content as part of your deal. Oh, and remember those shareworthy moments we discussed? Those are even more important when your guest list is comprised of high profile influencers who are building their own brand. If you’re goal is organic engagement, make sure to emphasize the details. Personalize, surprise and delight in a way that influencers can authentically share your brand’s message with their audiences. As with any successful influencer program, key word = AUTHENTIC. Check out some more insight on influencers from my W2O colleagues here and here.
  1. Want to reach millennials and Gen Z? Plan an event. It may sound counterintuitive when thinking about marketing to the most digital-savvy and tech-innate generations, but despite the ubiquitous nature of digital, these groups crave interaction with brands in real life. For millennials, the economy of chessexperience trumps material things, so brands that seek to create unforgettable, shareable, bespoke experiences first and foremost before selling a product will succeed among millennials. In its second year, Bud Light’s Whatever, USA takeover garnered 1.7 million entries (5 percent of the millennial population) for a chance to participate. The weekend-long festival offered hundreds of unique experiences that had nothing to do with America’s favorite lager, including #UpForWhatever events and classes like hula hoop workouts, life-size chess and an improv comedy performance based on attendees’ own social media accounts.
  1. Focus on health. From corporate meetings to branded activations, companies are finding ways to add health and fitness into live events. For the past few years, hotels and caterers have increasingly offered a wide array of healthy food and beverage options to keep conference attendees feeling energized and meet ever-evolving dietary requirements.  Brands are now getting fit too – in some cases, even building product launches and events entirely around wellness experiences. Take Reebok for example: the brand partners with wellness companies to bring fitness-based experiences to its target consumer is known as the “Fit Generation,” or Fitgen: stylish twentysomethings who view working out as a social activity.
  1. Event data at the forefront in 2016. You may know that everything we do at W2O Group is deeply rooted in analytics, so it’s not surprising that one of the event trends I’m most excited about uses biometrics to take the focus on health and data to a completely different level. In 2016, expect to see more companies using wearable and RFID technology to get feedback in real time to improve attendee experience. Take that a step further… and turn that data into event décor and content through imagery, reactive lighting, music and more. (Confession: I totally geeked out when Lightwave’s Rana June spoke about this topic at the BizBash Event Innovation Forum).biometrics

Tell us: what was your favorite brand event from 2015 and what 2016 event are you most looking forward to?


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I have a lot of respect for the pioneers of advertising who created a discipline that has shaped how we communicate, market and sell.  Bill Bernbach, one of three founding partners of Doyle Dane Bernbach in 1949, was one of those amazing people.  His impact lasts well beyond his own lifetime.

Bill wrote an impassioned letter to the management of Grey Advertising where he was creative director in 1947.  Here we are in 2016, 69 years later, and we’re about to host a roundtable at CES on Wednesday with top thought leaders in this same world to discuss what is relevant to our future.  In preparation for our roundtable, I thought I would “respond” to Bill’s note due to its timeless common sense.

Here are quotes from his letter and my response.

“I’m worried that we’re going to follow history instead of making it, that we’re going to be drowned by superficialities instead of buoyed up by solid fundamentals.” 

Agree.  In today’s world, we can spend too much time analyzing every new social media channel, start-up, unicorn or new technology.  The fundamentals of marketing and communications have not changed.  However, they do evolve.  The key is to stay focused on solid fundamentals, e.g. how we tell a story, how we handle an issue, how we build a brand’s reputation as we concurrently evolve that same model via new technology.  What matters is how we evolve the fundamental models.  If we focus on chasing each new butterfly, e.g. new channels, start-ups and technologies only, we do simply follow history as it is created.  It’s our job to think ahead, yet slow down enough to realize what will actually work in the marketplace.  Don’t let the endless parade of new innovations distract us.

“Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.”

Times have changed.  Great stories now combine science and art to optimize their ability to persuade.  You can create the coolest ad in the world, but if no one sees it, who cares.  In today’s world, we focus on audience architecture, so we know where our customers are, what content they prefer, when they go online, which media outlets matter to them and who influences them.  We can see how persuasion works in a market without advertising.  Now, it is becoming our job to catalyze interest in topics, pull through stories throughout the ecosystem of a customer (e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and mainstream media outlets) and identify those customers who are as persuasive as any ad could ever dream of being.  Science shows us “where”, “who”, “how” and “when”.  Great content provides the “why” and that can come from agencies or customers themselves.

“In the past year I must have interviewed about 80 people……..But look beneath the technique and what do you find? A sameness, a mental weariness, a mediocrity of ideas.  But they could defend every ad on the basis that it obeyed the rules of advertising.  It was like worshiping a ritual instead of the God.”

Agree.  In 1947, agencies could defend their actions with their own persuasive arguments.  In 2016, we don’t care, since we can see what our customers think about our campaigns, stories and general content.  Mediocre ideas are exposed for what they are in hours, not months.  Bill would probably love the fact that all of those arguments he thought were bogus would now be exposed.    Our ability to listen to our customers and create agile content that shapes behavior every day is replacing the long-winded, hard to produce campaigns that are outdated the day they hit the streets.  This raises the game for all of us.  Our only ritual now is to listen, learn and act on what the market needs and wants (or could want) each and every day.

“All of this is not to say that technique is unimportant.  Superior technical skill will make a good man better.  But the danger is a preoccupation with technical skill or the mistaking of technical skill for creative ability”. 

Well said.  The answer is never just a data scientist just as it is never just a creative director or never just a consultant.  We now live in a world where we must have the most relevant and timely insights about our target audience from data scientists to inform agile content that is informed by the industry and client knowledge of the consultant.  Creative, Data and Consulting all live as one team.  The speed of the market due to technology and the ability of customers to act self-sufficiently without any intervention from a brand demand that we all get along to build a new approach to creating, delivering and evolving persuasive content.  This is a journey with no end.

“We must develop our own philosophy and not have the advertising philosophy of others imposed on us.”

Agree 100%.  Bill left two years later to start his own firm in 1949.  Entrepreneurs know that they must respect the fundamentals of marketing and communications, yet never just accept what worked yesterday as being good enough.  In fact, those folks who say “well, we used to do it this way at our firm” are often the ones holding back innovation.  The most creative people in our world are forward-leaning in how they apply data and ideas.  They know that Insights + Industry Knowledge + Ideas = Innovation that matters.

“Let us blaze new trails.  Let us prove to the world that good taste, good art and good writing can be good selling.”

One of his most famous lines of all time and his closing sentence.  Insights differentiate.  Being dissatisfied and always searching for the edge matters.  No matter how big or how small you are, nothing changes in this reqard.  We should always “blaze new trails”.

On Wednesday, we’ll discuss how we stay true to the fundamentals of our business as we absorb the continual innovation of industry and blaze new trails that are relevant to today’s brands.  Our job is to stay focused on pragmatic disruption of the status quo.  Innovate where it improves sales, leads to a better health outcome or it makes a difference that our clients and our customers care about.  The rest is just noise.

Thank you Bill for a timeless piece.

Note: My next book, Storytizing (available March, 2016) will discuss more on the history of advertising and its relevance to today’s digital world. 

One of the keys to evolving the communications function at any company or agency is to step back and think through what we can and will do better or differently each year. For this look-ahead issue of PR News, I asked leaders in the communications and marketing world to share what is important to them as they look toward 2016.

Compass

The Influence of Speed

It is clear that several forces are influencing and shaping our world with speed. Those forces speak loudly. More than 50% of all content is consumed via mobile phone. The other force is the sheer volume and impact of video, whether it is Facebook’s 8 billion views per day or the compression technology improvements that make it easy to view video anywhere, anytime on any device.

Here is what Torod Neptune, vice president of corporate communications and public affairs at Verizon said about this.

“Digital video will play a much more significant role in overall brand content strategy. As mobile continues to expand even further, the convergence with more capable, ubiquitous and lower cost networks will make short-form video (e.g. Twitter, Vine and Periscope) one of the most effective and impactful tools for communicators. A big catalyst here will be the creative use of shareable video by presidential candidates in the 2016 elections.”

Measurement: Influencing Attitudes

A related trend to what Torod shared is how we measure all of this activity, so I asked Chuck Hemann, global digital analytics manager at Intel, what he sees as a key insight related to measurement. Here is what Chuck added to the conversation for 2016.

“There are attitudinal shifts during a campaign, so we need to optimize toward those shifts. It’s not purely a post-campaign perspective that we want to get. Probably one that is applicable to us, but likely applicable to all, is a shift in focus about how we measure…. We entered this year with a mandate to shift the way we measure from a purely behavioral perspective [think clicks, efficiencies, etc.] to how do our campaigns change the attitudes that we want to change. There’s a decreasing interest from senior executives to know how many clicks something received, though, in certain contexts it can be important, but rather how we influenced attitudes and ultimately drove conversion. It’s important to also note that this doesn’t necessarily apply only to digital media. It applies to digital, social, on-domain, native advertising, all of it.”

Mind The Planet: Avoid Content Pollution

Knowing that digital video, particularly short-form, is increasingly important and our measurement of behavior must evolve, we often can make the mistake of rushing to simply churn out more content. That rarely is the answer, however. Being smart about how we tell our story always matters, which is why I asked Andrew Bowins, vice president, corporate reputation at Samsung Electronics America, to share his views. Here are Andrew’s insights.

“In 2016 communicators need to look in the mirror and decide if they have become content polluters. In the frenzy to be brand publishers and leverage digital channels we may have forgotten the basic rules of PR: communicate with purpose; target your audiences and be relevant. Pull back the throttle a little, embrace data to understand your audience and shape content that actually stirs a desired reaction.”

This sounds like a great combination of what Torod and Chuck are teaching us. It’s also a reminder to avoid content pollution, one of my favorite phrases.

Building Your Team, Diversity, Innovation

I then asked Dorothy Jones, chief marketing officer at Interstate Batteries, to reflect on what we need to do to build great teams and the most innovative environment. Here is what Dorothy said:

“There are two important areas that affect our business today. We must embrace diversity in the workplace, which we view as gender, ethnicity and experience. When we do this, we have millennials and boomers learning from each other, we improve our cultural relevance, we have more depth of experience and we’re a truly authentic team. This benefits our customers directly and it is the best environment for all of us to grow professionally and personally.”

Dorothy went on to add that, “We must all be champions of change and reinvention. We need to stay ahead of the curve and build a culture of innovation, which strengthens our companies or agencies.”

I agree with Dorothy and will add what I say to those I mentor. Stay curious and keep learning every year. Learn a new language, read up on topics that are brand new, take on responsibilities that make you nervous at first and keep challenging yourself to grow intellectually and physically, reshape your habits to be the best communicator in the business that you are capable of becoming.

CONTACT: @bobpearson1845

This article originally appeared in the December 14, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.

Column published in the November 23, 2015 issue of PRNews

It’s relatively easy to anticipate macro trends in technology for 2016.  It is much harder to predict how those trends will change the communications profession.  Based on work with large brands and entrepreneurs of all shapes and sizes, here is a list of top trends that will matter most for the Chief Communications Officer and his/her team.

  1. Audience Architecture Starts to Replace the Coverage Model: We now can see exactly who our audience is online (all social media channels and mainstream media), so we can listen to its needs, align our story with its desires and measure our success in reaching the target market for our brand or topic. Getting coverage is only one piece of this puzzle. Why? Blogs and Twitter drive 2/3s of content flow. Mainstream media has become a catalyst that blogs and Twitter drive. Think of the audience as becoming more important than the outlet. When you get coverage, the PR pro’s job is just beginning.  He/she needs to ensure that this coverage reaches the audience; the job calls for sharing it via social channels so it gets to the right people.  The end game used to be coverage itself. No more.
  2. Responsive Experience Replaces Responsive Design: Since more than 50% of content is consumed via phone and that figure will rise to more than 75% in three years or fewer, we have to provide the right experience the first time our customer looks for it online. If we direct people to a website and make them hunt for the desired information, we will lose most people and they won’t come back. We have to deliver the exact content right away.  Since people tell us what they want via search, e.g. “company x, product y pricing”, we can deliver this exact content on the first visit.  The search words serve as a trigger for the right content, which you have pre-packaged, to show up.  Imagine preparing for ten types of customers to visit your site.  Once you know who they are via their search terms coming into the site, the content changes to meet their needs.  This is simple technology we can all use today.
  3. We are Entering the era of the 9%: In the 1,9,90 model, fewer than one percent of people create content, approximately nine percent share the content and 90 percent lurk and learn, benefitting from the 1 and the 9. The first ten years of social media have been about the 1 percent. Now, technology advance has made it super easy for the 9 percent to share content, add comments and continue the conversation in any channel and on any device.  This is the second sales force for a brand.  We must know who they are and start building far better relationships with the 9 percent.  They are the best friends of the one percent and should be of us as well.
  4. We Have Fewer Than Three Seconds to Make an Impression via Video: Facebook boasts 8 billion video views per day, so it knows a thing or two about how users react to video. Its data show that we have fewer than three seconds to grab the viewer’s interest. The result is how we produce video must change. We need to create a strong first impression and should be investing in a wider range of lower cost video, not longer, expensive video.  Disagree? OK. But I usually avoid arguing with what we learn from 8 billion views per day.  That’s a big enough focus group for me.
  5. Internal Communications will Start Learning from External Audiences: We have long made the mistake of examining only internal metrics to measure internal satisfaction of our employees. Now, we realize via new models that we can identify what matters to specific employee groups by analyzing their external activities: where they hang out (social channels, forums, blogs), talk, share and learn from each other.  The answers to how better align with employees can be found outside of our walls and inside their tribes.
  6. The Full Story of a Brand Must be Delivered to the Customer: We can now use technology platforms to deliver the full story of a brand (think 4-6 articles and 2-4 links) directly to our customers in any social channel. We can then watch what they like, what they share and dynamically change the content in all channels in seconds. Interactive storytelling is emerging as a new discipline, since we can deliver content anywhere, any channel, anytime.  It’s time for us to go to the customer, not ask him/her to visit us.
  7. The Agile Campaign Starts to Replace the Traditional Campaign: Since we now can see what our audience is doing and thinking in close to real-time, we can introduce the right content into the market based on their current needs. This means that we need to proactively build out libraries of content, so we have pre-approved material ready to share. The days of spending 6-9 months to create a campaign, get approval for it and then enter into the market are ending.  In the future, we’ll only do that when we have a specific end date, e.g. when we have a product launch or a drug approved.  When we have a choice, we’ll move to agile campaigns 365.

Overall, communications is moving into an era that I call Storytizing, which represents what is possible beyond advertising.  We can align directly with our customers via earned, shared and owned media and supplement these interactions with the strategic use of paid media.  Our job now is to meet customers on their home turf and pull our stories through the customer’s entire ecosystem in full alignment with their needs.

A new era calls for new techniques and the full embrace of what technology has to offer.

Contact: @bobpearson1845

Note: Bob Pearson’s next book, Storytizing, will be available in March, 2016. 

Kelly Jeffers
“I think the most valuable motivator is simply providing individuals with new opportunities and showing them what might be possible.”

Greetings fellow technophiles! Today, we are launching a new series of client interviews designed to showcase marketing/communications thought leaders who are making big waves in tech. For our first “Thought Leaders in Tech Marketing & Comms”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly Jeffers, vice president of corporate communications for Surescripts. Kelly gave us some fantastic insight into the world of health information technology, and how she and her team work together to ensure every communications opportunity is maximized to its fullest potential.

Q: What does your company do?

A: Surescripts is a health information network that connects doctors, pharmacists, health plans and others, so they can communicate and share information with each other to deliver better quality and more efficient care to patients.  We’re an enabling technology – similar to the network that connects ATMs and banks. Because we move information around at such high speed, I’ve heard users of our network refer to us as the “Intel inside” the US healthcare system.”

Q: Describe the role that you and your team play in advancing the company mission.

A: At Surescripts, Marketing is solely responsible for the company’s brand. Our primary focus is on raising awareness and visibility for our brand among a broad set of constituents – doctors, pharmacists, technology partners, hospitals, health plans, etc.  Our business has evolved pretty drastically over the past few years, so we’ve been really focused on broadening people’s understanding of the role we play in connecting healthcare and the value we add to the healthcare system as a whole.

Q: What is your biggest success in the last year and why does this make you proud?

A: There isn’t a single campaign or initiative that I’m most proud of, but looking back, I’m pretty overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content we created. We have a small team with limited resources, but we really maximized every dollar and every opportunity to its fullest.  What I’m most proud of this year is the transition we’ve made as an organization, from an old-school, analog approach to marketing, to a “digital first” mindset that has come to life not just in the tools we use or the processes we follow, but ultimately in the work we delivered. The age of the paper brochure is officially over. And we now have some really impressive digital capabilities and content that I think is really forward-thinking.

Q: Where do the great ideas come from in your organization?

A: One of the things I love about my job is that I’m so plugged into the entire company and am always getting input and feedback from my colleagues, whether they’re in Customer Support, Legal, Product Innovation, or IT.  We get great ideas from everyone, and we make a point to take them all into consideration.  You just never know when a brief conversation by the water cooler is going to turn into your next great campaign.

Q: Outside of work, what are your favorite things to do?

A: For the past 15 years, I’ve traveled to Honduras to work with girls who have been abandoned, abused or otherwise neglected as a result of being born into abject poverty.  For one week, I’m disconnected from technology and focused on helping them become stronger, smarter, and more successful young women.  We do this by taking the time to play games, do crafts, go to the movies, and cook meals together.  It’s a good reminder of the value of being present in other people’s lives and finding your own small way to make a big difference.

Q: How do you empower and motivate your employees to do their best possible work?

A: Most of my career highlights have been the result of seeing other people succeed – especially the individuals and teams I’ve lead over the years. I think the most valuable motivator is simply providing individuals with new opportunities and showing them what might be possible. I’ve found that most team members will rise to the occasion if you just point them in the right direction. In doing so, they learn to look for new opportunities themselves, which is so refreshing and ultimately motivating to me as well.

The case for a new professional competence based on well-known functional expertise

Business strategy is designed based on multiple variables. Core competencies, competitive advantages, marketplace dynamics, threats, consumer traits, talent, etc., all form the internal decision apparatus necessary to plot strategy. In the end, the true mark of an effective business strategy is, of course, performance.

That’s why in today’s volatile environment most businesses operating in a strategy that they led with may find it’s not the most potent or even viable.

Much like a football coach who architects a detailed game plan against an opponent only to discover that after the first quarter it’s not working, business leaders now must be more agile and adept at recalibrating strategy to reflect the realities of the marketplace.

In football there is always halftime to pivot to a new strategy but in business no such time out exists. In business, organizations must be clear on intent and capable of harnessing employee behavior quickly to a different set of priorities once it’s evident change is necessary.Tyson Knock Out

“Everyone has a strategy until they get punched in the face.” – Mike Tyson

Companies in all sectors are discovering the validity of this premise shifting initial strategy as soon as it’s known the original game plan is proving to be ineffective. Look no further than JC Penney, Ford, Xerox, Dell, and McDonald’s to reflect the point.

Juxtapose that with companies who maintain a business strategy regardless of its effectiveness wasting resources and de-valuing its purpose until it’s too late. Think Kodak, Burger King, AB, Sears.

But how do leaders orchestrate such a shift while the business is moving at such a fast pace? Again, unlike football, there is no half-time to recalibrate and come back on the field with a new game plan after the original one was battle tested and you were able to witness how the competition reacted. It is here that strategic communications based on today’s progressive model is critically important to achieving the level of organizational agility to migrate to a different place on the board.

Pivoting to a new strategy…a new profession emerges

Following is a partial overview of the latest thinking and practices on how progressive organizations (and marketers, communicators) are “game planning” for success by rethinking the traditional definitions of PR, Communications, and Marketing.

It’s worth asking yourself which of these your company is – and isn’t – doing.

Create Context Through A Narrative: When things are uncertain, it’s important to at least provide a framework for how people should follow the situation. In this case, the need for a corporate narrative, or story, detailing the current state and evolving as conditions change allows people to latch onto something tangible. The narrative is the foundational story for not only all communications but management actions as well. It provides managers a baseline on which to build their priorities, budgets, resource plans, and communications.

Initiate New Conversations – The Power of Influence: Starting with a complete understanding of how your brand, company, product, etc., is being perceived and then determining who is generating the commentary, adopting an Influence model is now table stakes for business of any size. Communications must drive discussion, dialogue and debate to be effective and relevant. At its most basic, communications is about conversation. Communicators can facilitate new conversations inside and outside the company as a means of conditioning new attitudes and behaviors.

Get Closer with Managers: Other than their immediate peers, mid-level managers enjoy the most credibility with employees – even more than C-suite leaders. Invest time making sure your managers are engaged in the current business reality and the management thinking that’s driving decision-making. Equip them with information and tools while holding them accountable for their use in employee interactions.

They have to be convinced first or else all bets are off!

CEO: An increased role for managers aside, it’s been proven through our experience that the more senior-most leadership calibrates communications as they lead and manage the business the greater the chance that people will connect in the right ways.

One executive recently described his senior leadership’s efforts in this regard as “drive-by” communications. His point: Leaders are scheduled for town halls, diagonal slice meetings with select employees, and plant visits with managers and employees that have the appearance of communicating but are sometimes nothing more than choreographed “events” that neither reflect how the business is being managed nor provide answers to how employees need to be working. CEOs were often removed from customers except for well-choreographed events and media interviews. Social media operating in a digital context allows senior leaders to be more actively engaged with all stakeholders on a daily basis bridging gaps in understanding and interest.

Always tricky, but the closer communications are aligned with CEO actions and business decisions versus designed around them, the clearer things become and the greater the chance for trust to be sustained.

Empathy is Appreciated: So often, the rational aspects of communicating during a turbulent time overwhelm the internal discourse that employees don’t pay attention and ultimately, lose faith. Talk with people and share the emotional side of what they are feeling through your management behavior, communications and messaging.

Challenge the Status Quo; Challenge Your Instincts: Are you actually getting through? How do you know? Is your strategy just a bunch of tactics without a central premise and is your communications part of a broader management plan to engage people, influence behavior, and impact performance? Your instincts tell you to just communicate to everyone the direction and benefit of the enterprise…your instincts could be wrong as credibility may be frayed preventing your narrative from getting through. Thus, a completely different strategy and communications approach is needed.

Insight that Influences Decision-Making: In this environment, communications functions are focusing more than ever on aggregating information from multiple sources both within and outside of their control – turning this information into nuggets of insights, trends or red flags and sharing that information with senior management and other functions, thus impacting decision-making at a level and pace not seen before. What is the blog chatter concerning your situation? What’s the predominant characterization being perpetuated? This is essential in developing a new business strategy quickly and effectively.

Organize Before You Strategize: Take an opportunity to rethink what skills are critical for the organization today, and where those skills are best deployed. Also, ask yourself if the company physically brings together all areas of communications, along with select management, on a weekly or even daily basis to continually reassess the situation at hand and how to gain more control over the story the company is telling. The tendency in difficult times is to just do something without comprehending the purpose, effect, or result.

Rather, first organize the various elements surrounding the situation in a manner that can be visualized and internalized by all parties in order to then strategize about what needs to be learned and accomplished.

Employees As Your Next Product: Employee advocacy is a major differentiation to achieving relevance and gaining advantage from a strategic standpoint. Your workforce is the best set of knowledgeable and credible spokespeople you possess. Train them, outfit them, listen to them, and engage them in the business and with their own networks to amplify your narrative and stories and gain interest in a distracted world.

An active form of business strategy formulation and execution driven by a new skill set

The pace and seemingly always-transforming nature of business today is making it increasingly challenging for leaders to gain success by employing a new business strategy and not determining its effectiveness in a timely fashion.

Rather, business strategy is a means to engage and test the marketplace in order to shift course, assimilate competitive and consumer moves, and come back quickly and confidently with a new approach and fresh thinking better suited for sustained performance.

As a result, a new form of public relations, communications, and marketing is emerging – based on data, analysis, and insight – that embraces a more open, transparent, seamless, interactive, and engaging approach to stakeholder relationships and strategy formulation.

The impact is nothing short of a revolution in business strategy thinking and practice.

In a professional sense it means discarding your title and even your role based traditional descriptions.

What matters most now isn’t what you do but how you Solve!

Ever wonder why a new initiative, such as a product launch, a cost-cutting measure, a business strategy, an M&A integration, or even a turnaround effort didn’t succeed or even take hold as expected? Believe it or not, it probably has nothing to do with the initiative itself, but rather the way your organization chose to communicate it.

Our latest issue of Common Sense for the C-Suite explores common challenges and best practices in the development and implementation of effective corporate initiatives.

Common Sense Volume 4 Issue 3 Cover 8.28

Lifecycle of a Technological Revolution_today

With the revolution of media and technology disrupting the marketing industry, and business models altogether, marketers are trying to navigate through the storm. On the communications side, TV dollars are shifting to digital. But, digital ads aren’t nearly as effective nor transparent as we want them to be. The traditionally distinct and siloed roles of marketing communications (once upon at time, just known as ‘advertising’) and PR are converging.

Because of the advent of social media, and the frustration with traditional and digital advertising, marcomm is moving into earned media with influencer marketing, native advertising and more responsive campaigns and editorial content teams. Because of the rise of the new influencer – everyday people and celebrities using blogs, YouTube, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, SnapChat, Periscope and other platforms to create personal media companies – PR is expanding beyond traditional media relations and ‘the pitch’, and into influencer marketing, sponsored content and responsive editorial content teams as well. It’s a race to the middle where the lines are blurred. That’s why agencies and publishers are partnering to create wholly new content companies that service brands.

If we take a step back from the race, though, things haven’t changed much since 2009. The big three: Facebook, YouTube and Twitter had launched and matured as three distinct and valuable social communications platforms for users. Since then, other social platforms have launched – Foursquare (and Swarm), Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, SnapChat, Meerkat and Periscope being the most touted. But, each of these just feels like an iterative evolution of the discontinuous leaps that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube made. Platforms, and the content they enable, shifted to become more visual, shorter and ephemeral. When Meerkat and Periscope launched, didn’t it feel like they already existed? And, the fundamental rules for how to engage audiences on those platforms is the same; we must adhere to the Reciprocity Theory.

So, I actually take a contrarian point of view: innovation has slowed in media technology. We’re at the tail end of our current technological revolution’s lifecycle, moving past the discontinuous revolution and into the iterative evolution. While folks in the industry are making claims that: “Advertising is dead.” Or that, “Data will tell us what content to make, so we don’t need creatives anymore.” I’m claiming that we need creative more than ever. The discipline just needs to evolve too. As the roles of advertising and PR converge, storytelling becomes an even more critical discipline for marketing.

Just pushing the message through TV and radio and print and display ads is lazy creative and lazy advertising. Great creative has always been about great storytelling. Now we just tell that story across new media platforms/channels in partnership with the new social influencers and in partnership with our customers. Sometimes those influencers and customers are the same. Great creative (‘the story’) is the glue that holds the story together, wherever we’re telling it. It’s what inspires people to participate.

In the late 2000s in the entertainment industry, we began exploring transmedia storytelling. This is where we would develop a core story – characters and the world in which they lived. And, then we’d plan out those stories across media (books, graphic novels, movies, TV, web series). It was a shift away from the linear model of: writer publishes book –> studio buys book and makes movie –> network turns movie into TV series. Instead, we developed it all at the same time. They lived together as extensions, or chapters, of the same story instead of separately as different and distinct adaptations of the story. This style of storytelling became particularly popular in the fantasy/gaming/comics genres, as we could delve deep into the story of a world we were creating.

Now, in marketing, we have the opportunity to take the same approach. How do we create a core story – the story of our brand, which reflects the story of our customers and employees – and tell that story through new (and traditional) media platforms and people? Like a vision, the story we tell requires an intuitive leap of faith. It must inspire. It must create new possibilities. Is that so different from great advertising fifty years ago? Maybe. Maybe not. But, in an increasingly ephemeral world, wouldn’t it be nice to have some moments that impact and last?

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This post originally appeared on The ReciprocityTheory blog.