“I don’t want perfect,” said the chap I was speaking to (I’m going to call him Bob). “I just need a fact sheet – and I need it quickly. We have a meeting in three days and I need to get approval on it there.”
Bob’s organisation was undergoing rapid change. It had started life as a manufacturer, but had realised that the data it collected was just as valuable – if not more valuable – than the widgets it produced.
Everyone in the organisation had a different way of explaining what it did. There was a strategy document that outlined the company’s new core activities – but these had not really filtered down to the organisation’s teams.
Suddenly, this organisation was having to speak to different types of customers. And because nobody quite knew how, Bob approached us to “write some brochures and fact sheets”.
In some organisations, communications are seen as a necessary evil
From the outset, we’d advised Bob to take a couple of steps back to create a communications strategy – aligning everything the company said about itself to its new business objectives.
But Bob was a technical expert whose company had no culture of communication. They felt that all they had to do was be the best in their business – and that their work would build their reputation for them.
Dealing in communications was seen as an inconvenience – a way of swallowing up time that could have been spent on “real” business.
On the phone this time around we said: “Listen Bob, of course we’ll look at this document. But we need to take a couple of steps back and work out what exactly it is that you need all of your communications to achieve. Not just this one, but all of them.”
With some people you can gauge their frustration in split-second beats of silence. Bob took maybe a full two seconds to respond. “I know you want perfect, Liz. But we need to be real. I JUST need a document, and I need it by tomorrow.”
What happens when comms are a side-issue
Across the world, vast numbers of organisations think of communications as something peripheral – something that isn’t core to the business or its success.
Communications are only created in response to requests from sales teams. They don’t shape or control the way their teams describe the organisation. And at grassroots level, the teams often don’t like or don’t have time to describe the organisation, so they just copy paste what others have said. These types of organisation know they need a website – but they don’t really know what they should put on it. So you get a hodgepodge: A video, because someone thought it would be a good idea, a blog that was either last updated in 2014 – or that is updated twice daily with stuff that has no relevance to the business or its customers. There’s a PowerPoint sales presenter deck that everyone uses and cobbles their extra bits into.
The only consistent factor in these communications is that they’ve been created to meet short-term needs.
The results of this approach can include everything from customer confusion (I don’t understand what you’ve just told me, let alone what your new widget will do for me), poor recognition (sorry, who did you say you were again?) – all the way through to hiring the wrong kinds of people because a generic job ad doesn’t clearly and appealingly describe the organisation and its culture.
It’s time-consuming and exhausting – because no-one knows where to start when they have to create a new communication.
And of course, when there’s this approach to communicating, any resources dedicated to it are likely to be seen as a waste. “This fluffy comms rubbish is a waste of money and effort!” Of course, the truth of the situation isn’t that “communicating” is pointless – it’s simply that communicating in an ad-hoc, unstrategic way is.
Having a strategic communications plan
A much more effective path to business success is to take a strategic business plan and then think, “So how are we going to mobilise our communications to achieve these goals?”
Quite often, this means starting with a narrative about your organisation.
You begin at the very top level: How do you make life better for your clients and customers? What unique challenges do you allow them to solve? Do you want to make the world a better place? How?
You articulate this and then set out how each strand of your business contributes to this goal. Then you use this narrative as a vehicle to increase sales, awareness, margin, efficiencies – or whatever else your targets are.
Well, here’s an example. A couple of years ago, we worked with a fabulous organisation called ASH Projects. They’re specialist installers of sophisticated software and electronic components in mass multiple retail environments. They offer consultancy and installation on how to configure your chain of stores to do everything from monitor footfall, recognise customer faces and facial expression through to data collection at the till.
When we started to work with them, they were talking in highly technical terms that only made sense to other technical specialists – and that sounded the same as their competitors. We worked with them to drill down to a narrative that was about getting “closer to your customer”. Because that’s exactly what the benefit of working with them is. If you’re a giant retail chain, working with ASH will mean you have the means to get to know your customer at a whole new level.
This proposition was then worked through the various components of their offer – getting closer to customers with consultancy, with the latest technologies, in your sector – etc. It also works in job ads: Can you help our clients get closer to their customers?
This narrative has given ASH a platform to communicate to a wider base of clients – and to give it a strong position in its marketplace. It has also given the company a framework to produce all of its communications. And in tandem, they’ve experienced phenomenal growth.
When comms are core to business growth, you have a recipe for success
The ability to communicate your offer – to your teams, to investors, to your customers – is critical for business growth.
It’s true that you can’t have an organisation that is all comms and no substance. ASH certainly didn’t just have a solid approach to communications – they had a brilliant offer and an entrepreneurial outlook. But equally, the best widgets in the world are not going to sell or get recognition if you don’t describe them to the world in a way that makes sense and that grips the imagination. And the best business plan is likely to sit on a shelf if you don’t communicate it in a way that inspires action.
As ever, if you’d like to chat to us about any of this, please give us a call on +44 (0) 2920 494 307.