Wednesday, January 26, 2011

People Will Support You But Persuade Them First

Persuasive communications have always been important.  Today they are the new communications black because we live in an era of challenging and challenged messages for which we can lay the blame squarely at the feet of politics.  
Over the past two decades citizens around the world have developed a heightened level of wariness about what they see, hear and read about the events around them. Politicians with their insufficent explanations or plain mistruths have taken the lead in devaluing the public discourse.  
Which makes it that so much harder for the good guys: the not  For profits who need to pass essential information to their communities. Alas these days there are no free passes for any organisation when it comes to communications. Every ear, every eyeball and every heart string has to be earned.
 Every ear, every eyeball and every heart string has to be earned

Not for profits are therefore forced to adopt the strategies and tactics of the big end of town when it comes to building and delivering persuasive messages. And this includes wrapping persuasion packaging around a core set of key messages such as:  
  • Testimony from happy clients who benefit from a not for profit's services.
  • Stories of front-line staff making a difference.
  • Endorsements by relevant celebrities, local leaders, academics and other public figures.
  • Comparisons with the successes or failures of like minded groups.  
  • Contrasting an organisation's services with a situation where they were or are not available.  
  • Presenting data and detail showing how a not for profit makes a difference.
  • Independent research showing why an issue is important and how it is trending. 
  • Using all communications channels to cater for all the different ways people consume information. 
  •  And of course using simple, plain language to inform a community bloated on a massive communications overload.  
Fail to use some form of persuasion packaging and your marketing will always struggle.   

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

9 Tips For Clearer Campaign Messages

We live our lives in an environment of communications clutter.  Each day thousands of messages from other people - governments, businesses, community groups - bombard us. A few are important but most contribute to the ambient noise continually engulfing us.  
The implication is clear: successful campaign messages need to be simple, clear and relevant to the needs and interest of your audiences. So here are my golden rules for developing and using key messages that define your issue and cut through the clutter:
  • Firstly write down your key messages.  This sounds so obvious but sometimes we forget the very act of putting pen to paper instils discipline and allows you to share your thinking with others without distortion.
  • Use simple language, write in the active voice and express yourself in fewer than 20 - 25 words. Again this introduces discipline and focus into your information.
  • Make messages stand out so a busy or time-poor person can recall them. Mix logic with emotion.
  • Select three or five key messages that cover your issue. Sure you can have more but in my experience you will only use a handful. Limiting them focuses your efforts and increases the chances others in your organisation will understand and use them.
  • Use jargon- or technical-free language unless you are confident your audience knows what you mean.
  • Keep a copy of your key messages by your phone or computer to remind you to insert them into every conversation or correspondence that leaves your office.
  • Test your key messages with individuals in the groups you are trying to reach or through market research. Feedback is invaluable in tuning up your information.
  • Finally make sure at least one of your messages contains a clear call to action: a simple statement of what people should do when they choose to act on your information.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Simple Messages Are Good Messages But Even Better Marketing

Communicating your aims clearly is the crux of effective marketing and PR.  If you can’t deliver a message to an audience you can’t market. You might apply scientific models to communications but I believe it will always remain an art.  This is because communications involves people and individually and as a group we are complex, curious creatures who generally but not always act in our own best interests. 
So there is an art to effective communications.  It lies in providing people with relevant information. Information that is easy to understand and that blends logic and emotion. What you say and send must appeal to the heart as well as the brain.  

It is important that your information also offers a clear call to action.  This is a simple statement of what you want people to do whenever they decide to act on your information.  For example, your call to action might consist of asking people to call a hot line, visit a website, consult their family doctor or give to a charity.  

Most likely your business or not for profit has layers of detail ranging from the simple to the complex to pass along.  You are probably keen to get as much out to the greatest number of people in the shortest time possible.  While this is an admirable goal, it is often a futile practice.  You lack the time, energy and effort to simultaneously reach everyone and you most certainly lack the budget.  You also run the risk of overloading the citizen, client or consumer with facts, figures, choices and alternatives and swamping their ability to process your message. 

A good starting point in deciding what people need to receive is to distil the complexity of your information into key messages. Key messages are the essential information people need to know about your issue or organisation.  If they come away from any meeting with you, what are the critical things they should be aware of and act on?

Our daily routines are lived out in constant communications clutter.  Thousands of messages bombard us daily. Some are skilfully crafted while the majority make up the ambient noise we have all learned to live with. So if you want your key messages to cut the clutter they need to be suitable, persuasive and delivered in enough time that people can absorb them and then act. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Queensland Leaders Earn Praise For Flood Communications

This past week has been a torrid time for Australians particularly Queenslanders.  

While Queenslanders lived through devastating floods that covered an area the size of several European nations, the rest of the country sat transfixed by the unfolding tragedy. The floods completely stopped and then dominated the national conversation. And they are likely to be the key topic of conversation into the coming months.

Last week's events were both tragic and historic.  One aspect worth noting has been the quality of local leadership. Here in Canberra I could only witness the unfolding events, but it seemed that local Queensland leaders  did what their communities expected of them - they led.  They were supported by all the communications technology of the modern era, 24 hours news rooms, people reporting through Facebook, Twitter and other digital channels and extensive radio and newspaper coverage.  But we should not forget that their own personal communications in this crisis were good. 

Top marks must go to Queensland Premier Anna Bligh. For  weeks she and her team have had to face the flood crisis first in regional Queensland and then as it affected Brisbane.  She communicated with a mix of authority, technical detail and compassion. In numerous media appearances she impressed as knowing what she was talking about while being warm and down to earth. Her communications ranged from essential information about surviving the floods to the inspirational calls on future rebuilding.  Her tearful line about don't forget we are Queenslanders is likely to merge into State if not national folklore. 

Local mayors in affected towns and cities also communicated effectively.  They spoke with authority, genuine concern for the communities they lead and and every so often with a dash of that Aussie humour that can lift spirits in tough times. 

And really how refreshing all this was.   In  an age of public cynicism about politics, there were local politicians talking plain, in sync with their communities and obviously trying their very best in calamitous circumstances. 

Recent history such as the aftermath of the Victorian and Canberra bushfires shows that today's heroes can easily become tomorrow's villains.  In the coming months critics will pour over every shortcoming and failing before and during the flood crisis and in the reconstruction phase.  Of course there will be many things that could have been done better and indeed should have been done better.  

But let's remember when the pressure was intense and lives were in the balance, many of the people who will be criticised in the future, stood up, communicated well and provided leadership.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Connect With People Who Connect With Others

Key influencers are one audience with the power to help or hinder your communications efforts particularly if you work in a not for profit organisation.   
They are the individuals others turn to for advice, information or help when it comes to making important decisions. They can boost your communications efforts by helping you to reach individuals or groups of interest and by swaying opinion and encouraging action. In previous times key influencers relied mainly on personal contacts to pass along information. However with today’s explosion in social media and on-line platforms the key influencer is often an e-influencer.
Key influencers draw their authority from their organizational status, personal qualities or any combination of both. They might be experts in their chosen field or enjoy professional respect such as doctors, teachers etc. They could lead professional associations, government agencies, businesses or community groups. Or they might get pleasure from  sharing their specialist knowledge or experience through networking. Sometimes celebrities, movie stars or sportspeople are recruited to support causes. While they might create publicity, the community can smell out paid endorsements and their value can be dubious unless they have a genuine commitment to the cause.   
Common types of key influencers for local not for profits are: 
  • Members of Parliament, funding staff in government agencies, civic or city government leaders.
  • Business leaders.
  • People the media routinely quote as authority figures.
  • Leaders of patient groups, school committees, service clubs, sporting bodies and other community groups.
  • State and national advocacy organisations.
  • Academics with expertise in an issue.
  • People recognised through national honours and awards.
 A key influencer can help a not for profit in three ways. If they believe in your cause they can give it credibility by championing it within their networks. They can “translate” information into language others can understand and are well placed to pass on information through their own organization’s online and other communications channels.   
Key influencers can also help by:
  • Referring potential clients to your services or information.
  • Encouraging people to support your cause and to attend your events.
  • Inviting you to speak at their gatherings or by appearing at your events.
  • Backing your issue in the media, on-line and in daily conversations.
 Key influencers vary from environment to environment.  For example you may be influential when it comes to advising on not for profit services.  However others would probably not seek out your advice on buying a car – unless they felt you had proven expertise in automobiles.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Marketing Is Like Climbing Hills

This past few days I have walking in the Snowy Mountains, Australia's alpine region.  The area around Thredbo has plenty of challenging hills.

My wife and I decided to climb a particularly large hill which took several hours and considerable effort to conquer. Which got me to thinking that marketing is similar to climbing hills in many ways.
  • Firstly you need the right gear for both. Ramblers need appropriate boots, wet weather gear, packs etc. Likewise as they start out marketers need the right equipment - a plan, resources plus ample energy.
  • Both demand certainty in direction. You can burn a lot of energy on a climb if you amble aimlessly and even then still not reach the peak. A marketer needs to travel in the same consistent direction throughout a campaign otherwise worthwhile results will remain elusive.
  • Persistence pays in both undertakings . They require a "one foot after the other" approach . Sure you can sprint up a hill or even through a marketing campaign but that type of effort is rarely sustainable in the long run. Particularly when another hill or challenge suddenly presents itself.
  • And finally in hiking and marketing you need a reserve of energy and effort. Something in the tank so to speak. What a pity it would be to reach the top and not be able to follow through to grab the next opportunity.
So the next time I market I will be applying what I recently learned about climbing hills.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Are You An Audience Addict?

 Most organisations want to reach as many people with as much information as possible in the shortest possible time. 
This is a natural ambition because they think this will speed up their chances of success.  After all we humans are an impatient lot and demand instant results. 
The cold, hard truth however is most of us have limited budgets, time and energy levels so reaching everybody quickly becomes expensive and exhausting. We simply do not have the dollars or stamina for this so we need to rank or prioritise our audiences.
Start out by asking which individuals and groups matter most to your business?
The answer will lead you to identify your must reach audiences and help to put a laser-like focus to your marketing. The must reaches are people on whom you depend heavily, who are or will be personally affected by your work or who can markedly influence the success of your services. When it comes to giving attention they must be your number one priority.  Most often they are your staff, volunteers, current and potential clients or customers and of course people with the funding.
Another significant group is those who can help you at some point or might benefit from what you offer.  Their support is less critical so you do not need to spend as much time with them. They could be regulators, kindred organizations or even professionals that refer people to your services. Of course they still need to know about you but not as often as the must reach group. 
A lesser priority still are the people who need occasional information.  For example your local community becomes important at fundraising time but probably don't  need to hear from you continually throughout the year.  
It's wise to set achievable audience priorities  yet recognise they need to be regularly reviewed as your circumstances and operational environment change.