Let’s Keep Talking
The value of communicating in uncertain times It’s human nature. It’s how we cope with uncertainty. In the absence of real information we use our judgement to fill in the missing gaps. And we look for...
the value of communicating in uncertain times
it’s human nature. it’s how we cope with uncertainty. in the absence of real information we use our judgement to fill in the missing gaps. and we look for clues that help us feel comfortable to make these judgement calls.
this is exaggerated in heightened uncertainty, like we have now. we’re all struggling to process what is happening and to see a way forward. in the absence of the concrete information, we look for clues that can act as proxies. unfortunately, the loudest sources are most often family, friends and colleagues, social media and the news sources. often these are inaccurate, one-sided or highly influenced by their own circumstances. the news at the moment is mostly negative which means that our ability to come to conclusions, other than negative ones, is limited.
in the absence of any other reliable information, our staff, our customers and our investors are using the news and social media to shape their perceptions, their judgement and their actions.
so why aren’t good leaders stepping up their communications in tough times? they leave the rhetoric to others and in doing so, allow others to influence how their staff, customers and investors see them.
i’ve been a marketer for over 30 years including the ’87 crash, the middle-east wars, the gfc and now this. it still surprises me how little we learn. in all those situations my managers cut back on communication activity. i know the reduce discretionary spend argument well. but good connecting doesn’t need to cost big money. in fact, a simple but authentic personal call or email beats any expensive, yet impersonal, mass campaign any day.
good leaders show their leadership qualities in uncertain times more than ever. most often it’s through their ability to communicate openly and honestly and with real empathy. in the absence of real information, this is often all the reassurance and clarity our audiences need.
i suppose the cutting back on communicating reflects a leader's own uncertainty. yes, our audiences would love you to give them more certainty if you can, but they also understand when you can’t. in current times, everything is uncertain except your ability to listen, to empathise, to reassure and to demonstrate you’re doing all you can. your audiences aren’t necessarily looking to you for answers, just a reliable source of truth and a sense that you are doing all you can.
my adage is, whatever is happening around us, let’s just keep talking.
keep talking to staff.
you're working hard to reduce expenses and to manage revenue and cashflow. stop for a moment and think about it from your staff’s perspective. what are the messages you are sending about the survival of the business? they are not only worried about the business but also their mortgage, their family and their future. they're looking to you for understanding and for reassurance.
all it takes is a meeting, an email or a phone call to openly and honestly outline where things are at and what you are doing about it. acknowledge the situation and how they (and you) are feeling. be honest about the uncertainty, the future options and how you’ll go about making decisions. provide reassure where you can, for example, “if we have to take action, we’ll give you as much notice as we can.”
find ways to connect with your staff regularly and open yourself up for them to contact you. create channels for them to support each other and actively promote the support channels available to them.
communicate regularly, even if it’s small developments or “no change.” over time you will build trust, which helps reduce uncertainty. it also makes it easier if you have to deliver worse news later.
keep talking to customers.
many of us have seen our customers pull back on spending – either by choice or because circumstances don’t allow them to spend. don’t push for sales but communicate gently and often. acknowledge the circumstances, empathise with them and the challenges they are facing. add value to them any way you can through regular information, advice, support and alternatives that meet their needs.
again, communicate regularly and in a supportive way and focus on what they need. if you operate in b2b environments, go further by finding ways to support your customers to connect with their customers.
how you engage with your customers over this period will determine how quickly you bounce back when things return to normal, whatever that new version normal is.
keep talking to investors.
investment decisions have always been driven by sentiment. yes, there are facts and figures but they all look backwards. we invest based on what we think the future looks like.
in the current environment, it’s not unrealistic for investors to feel they’ll never see their money again. or if they do, it will take many years until its back at the value it had before.
without counter-information to what’s in the news and on their social feed, many will panic and pull out of their investment. every day of further bad economic news makes this more likely.
so don’t wait till the next annual report to let them know how you are going. find ways to proactively get in touch with them. be open about the impact of what’s happening on the business. more importantly show them what you're doing to help the business survive, to support your staff and customers and to protect their investment.
good leaders shine in these tough times. they communicate effectively, build trust and help their staff, customers and investors manage their uncertainty.
while i don’t fully agree with all the actions of our government over the current situation, i do think our prime minister has shown her leadership qualities. she, more than any of us, is dealing with uncertainty and a mountain of conflicting information. throughout, she’s communicated openly, with clarity, and always with authenticity and empathy. even as things are changing, jacinda is the communication example we should all be aspiring to.communicating, communicating in uncertain times, uncertain times
Is authenticity real?
I recently attended the Digital Day Out (DDO) and noted that pretty much every speaker spoke about the need to be authentic. Speakers included a Google exec, a panel of social influencers, an AR/VR specialist and an...
i recently attended the digital day out (ddo) and noted that pretty much every speaker spoke about the need to be authentic. speakers included a google exec, a panel of social influencers, an ar/vr specialist and an online e-sports gaming marketer. i couldn’t help but laugh at the irony of a whole bunch of people making money by distorting reality espousing the virtues of authenticity. it made me question my own interpretation of what authenticity is.
i’d forgotten all about it until a couple of days ago when i saw ecostore was awarded nz’s most authentic brand. they are a company i admire – and genuinely think are authentic. and that’s not just because we were part of the team that launched the brand from niche category to mass marketing.
for me, being authentic is about being clear about what you stand for (beyond making money) and consistently speaking and acting in a way that reinforces this position. i find brands like whitaker’s, kathmandu and air new zealand highly authentic because every experience i have with them reinforces what i know they believe in. it’s not just about supporting good causes but delivering consistent brand experiences.
when dove began its campaign for real beauty in 2004 it transformed from a commercial soap-seller to a company with a strong social vision - “beauty should be a source of confidence and not anxiety.” by consistently aligning its marketing efforts with this vision, dove has truly championed women’s empowerment. the sustained effort and resources dove have consistently put into changing the advertising industry’s view of beauty has made them genuine and credible. as a result, people listen, believe and buy from them with confidence.
one of the ddo speakers referenced patagonia, a company i’d heard of but wasn’t fully up to speed with. patagonia is committed to building the best products, causing no unnecessary harm, using business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. this informs everything they do. it comes through in their product design, manufacturing practices, culture, company fleet, energy choices, labour policies and their communications. so when we see it in their ad campaigns we know they really mean it. they’ve become my new favourite company to follow.
i’ve worked with the mercury team for about seven years now and they are another company who said the right things but didn’t always act in a consistent way. the rebrand three years ago created a new mission and a shared vision. we see it in everything they do now. from the focus on renewable generation, to the promotion of electric vehicles, to customer offers, to staff engagement programmes, right through to their new office environment and creating wonderful experiences for their customers. they’re a company who are quickly moving up my list of authentic brands and will, without a doubt, be up with ecostore in the awards in the next year or two.
on the other side, while everyone is pointing to nike’s applauded colin kaepernick ad as an example of authentic, i find it somewhat disingenuous (though i support colin’s stand). firstly, because they are using the cause so blatantly for commercial gain and secondly because it still doesn’t align with my perception of their global practices. i know the underage child sweatshops are gone but i still need to see a string of ‘good behaviour’ stories before i start believing in a genuine social purpose behind their messages.
'authentic' is fundamentally walking the talk. so if this is all about being true to what you stand for, then the ddo influencers, the kardashians and even donald trump can be as authentic as ecostore, dove and patagonia. who cares how manufactured what they stand for is, as long as they do it consistently! i get that but i also suspect that it’s more than just my interpretation of authenticity that is a little bit fake here.
so if this is all about being true to what you stand for, then the ddo influencers, the kardashians and even donald trump can be as authentic as ecostore, dove and patagonia.
is authenticity just about being true to yourself, consistently? or is it about genuinely thinking good thoughts and being true to that in your behaviour and communication?
can you manufacture authenticity and call that authenticity?
is authenticity an admirable quality when you really think about it?authenticity, authentic brands
Get personal or don’t bother
I recently got a ‘Dear Valued Client’ letter from a supplier offering me a discount for the next time I used their services. It’s a supplier we work with lots and have done for a long time. I suspect they’d be...
i recently got a ‘dear valued client’ letter from a supplier offering me a discount for the next time i used their services. it’s a supplier we work with lots and have done for a long time. i suspect they’d be horrified to know that their letter was the catalyst that finally led us to look elsewhere.
i’m sure they had good intentions – after all they were trying to reward my loyalty by giving me a discount – but little did they realise that this communication reinforced my niggling feeling that they really didn’t give a shit about me or what i wanted.
the problem started at the top of the letter when they didn’t even bother to use my name. the dear valued client introduction suggested this was a mass-mailing to all their clients, and i was ‘important’ enough to be a line in their spreadsheet. this did nothing to make me feel known, let alone valued.
the truth is they know who i am - they used my name on the address sticker – so how much effort would it have taken to address the letter dear steven? it’s just an extra field in their mail merge that could have set the communication off in the right way.
secondly, the letter gave me no indication that they understood the nature of our relationship. they talked about how long they’d been offering their services and proceeded to list them all. we use some of these services but most of the stuff on their list had nothing to do with us. i would have liked to see something that acknowledged that we’d been working together for x years and that they partnered us with services x, y and z.
and finally, the simple percentage discount offer failed to acknowledge what was important to me in working with them. they might as well have offered a free set of steak-knives in terms of relevancy for our relationship.
here’s how i think this should have gone. first, i would have chosen a different communication medium. we have a relationship manager and i think something that is designed to make me feel personally valued should have come from them, face-to-face or at the very least by phone. this would also avoid the generic message issue, as the relationship manager can talk about specific things that demonstrates how they value our relationship.
for a while i’ve been talking to this company about a couple of things that were bugging me. they could have easily rewarded me by addressing just one of these things. now that would have told me that they’d listened and understood me (and probably cost them less than the discount).
technology has made communicating much easier but the fundamentals of thinking about your audience and what you want them to think, feel and do hasn’t. relationships are always personal so if you want to tell me i’m valued, show me and make me feel it, otherwise don’t bother.marketing communication, personalisation, reward loyalty
Can you resist?
Over the weekend, I read a great book called Hidden Persuasion (Andrews, van Leeuwen & van Baaren). It’s a book about the persuasive techniques used by clever marketers to get us to buy or do...
over the weekend, i read a great book called hidden persuasion (andrews, van leeuwen & van baaren). it’s a book about the persuasive techniques used by clever marketers to get us to buy or do stuff.
every day we are bombarded by hundreds of messages designed to persuade us how to feel, act, do and be. most of the time we lack the conscious awareness to process them. but some of these really get through, changing our perceptions, attitudes and behaviours. often we don’t even know it’s happened.
so what is that hidden persuasion technique that creates this cut-through?
the book outlines 33 persuasion techniques (many i know and use already) including metaphor, humour, scarcity, attraction, authority, fear, disruption, self-persuasion, social proof, promised land and of course, sex appeal. these techniques have been proven again and again and the authors give us lots of examples of results delivered in advertising.
i particularly like ideas like decoy: where consumers are choosing between two options, and a third option is introduced to create a bias. you often see this in cafés with a small, medium and large coffee offered. the large option costs just 50 cents more that medium, making the medium the decoy designed to make the large look like the best value. end result, we end up upsizing (just as the café wanted us to).
what strikes me about these techniques is that they’re not just gimmicks but rooted in psychology and social influence. as you read through them you can practically hear maslow saying “see, i was right about people’s basic needs and the priority they come in!” these techniques work because they operate at three levels:
- they appeal to our hardwired responses, such as the fight or flight response, which are core to what makes us human;
- our deep social needs like love, respect, popularity and belonging; and
- our self-needs like self-worth, identity, pain avoidance, wealth, safety and survival.
when marketers use imagery and language that taps into these fundamental needs, resistance is futile. and our unconscious bias for attractive faces, symmetrical design or humourous copy means we don’t resist because we don’t even know we’re being persuaded.
the other thing that i like about these techniques is how they still apply today, even though the way we reach and engage audiences has changed. they work on websites, in video, on social media pages, in smm and sem campaigns, e-marketing and they still work just as well across traditional marketing and communications mediums.
Pause all of life's chaos
It’s the end of a very full on year for us and our clients, so we wanted to create something which championed the idea of temporarily pausing our hectic lives in order to truly appreciate life’s beauty. We...
it’s the end of a very full on year for us and our clients, so we wanted to create something which championed the idea of temporarily pausing our hectic lives in order to truly appreciate life’s beauty. we started working with the nz symphony orchestra for the first time this year and were thrilled that they were open to incorporating the wonderful music they make into our video. the result is a solution that moves from chaotic to a delightful piece of story-telling. a reminder to take a break, re-energise and re-connect with the people and things that are important to all of us. that means you too. have a great xmas and summer break. see you when you are ready to press play again in the new year.