Timing, substance and cookie crumbs

In considering opposites in competitive positioning regarding the current field of political candidates, the arguably blighted crop is certainly polarized. Finding direct comparisons in product or service marketing poses a challenge. Perhaps chiropractors and back surgeons fit the bill.

Regardless of parity, my musing turned to the how, what and when of launching a retort.

Current “best practice” in political realms appears to dictate immediacy. Personally, I like a good deep breath and bit of thought first – the difference between reacting and responding.

Some years ago I worked for a brilliant marketing person. In spite of that brilliance, we regularly found ourselves spending entire days preparing responses to breakfast table rumors, only to have those fables proved false by dinner. In pursuit of urgency, in a given month we often postponed a week’s worth of “important, not urgent” work.

So, what to do during that pause? As often seems to occur with these posts, my thoughts turn to audiences. Who will be impacted by any effort to sway perceptions? This tends to be the point where things devolve.

Too often, given polarizing content and equally disparate audiences, message makers either go too broad or become too pointed. In going too broad, there isn’t enough substance to persuade anyone from one opinion to another. When too pointed, those with deeply held beliefs (regardless of accuracy) brace themselves against what seems a personal attack rather than a persuasive argument.

Think of it like an Oreo® cookie. Broad messages hit the cookie like someone blowing on the outside. Pointed arguments, even those with needle-like precision, crumble and destroy the cookie shell.

Good messaging acknowledges that in order to get to the crème center where persuasion is possible, you might need an immersive (think milk) approach to soften resistance, or a less direct approach (think twisting the outsides) that uses leverage from a completely different angle to get inside.

Marketers often concern themselves primarily with timing and content, relegating the who and why to an afterthought. But timing and content should evolve from understanding your audience and knowing just the right amount of persuasive strategy needed to get to their soft spots.



Silly walks and the fractal brand

Having had the good fortune to be at a recent Schulze School of Entrepreneurship event featuring John Cleese, I was surprised to see people getting up and leaving about 20 minutes into the talk. .

Key word here is “talk.” This was not stand-up comedy or otherwise showcasing of Mr. Cleese as a comedian. . The Opus College of Business has sponsored a wide variety of speakers in the past decade, from Bill Gates to other important, but decidedly un-funny, pundits. . It’s not that the college is that stuffy, but more that it knows its audience. .

However, in Cleese, the organizers found someone with substantive credentials in both creativity and entrepreneurship. . He just happens to have become more widely known for silly walks and disparate frivolity. . In the context of academia, Cleese has earned deserved recognition and been a classroom fixture at multiple prestigious universities. . Note that these facts are nowhere to be found on his promotional web site. [link to http://thejohncleese.com/ .]

So, back to the sour-faced folks who walked out on Cleese. For them, there could be only one version of this impressively-sized man: Funny. . Not to say that his presentation to that point was inherently dry – it wasn’t. . It was, however, more like the sage on the stage, though the wisdom and occasionally offered amusing insight arrived via Basil Fawlty’s voice. .

Cleese knew clearly which hat he was wearing on that podium, but some of his audience members were not prepared for the idea that their perspective on the brand that preceded him was not the only one Cleese fosters. .

St.Thomas just launched its new branding, not to eliminate the fractalization of its many schools and colleges, but to provide structure to the common threads among those entities. . A strategic branding effort should pull together the threads of commonality into a well woven cord. . From this substantive structure, individual divisions can tie promotional efforts to a solid core.

This is easier to accomplish if you are a one-person brand, like Cleese, but still daunting. For St. Thomas, unifying the entire community around “All for the Common Good” will be challenging, if for no other reason than there is more than one brand champion to interpret the new guiding principles. .

In this case, St. Thomas will need to develop and encourage multiple champions, even within each facet of the organization. Fortunately, the team deploying the new branding for the university created not only a detailed set of corporate identity guidelines, but also a plan for releasing and embracing the new identity materials. . Even as thorough as the team attempted to be, any effort of this magnitude will have a gremlin or two in a forgotten corner. .

Regardless of formally identified champions, the heavy lifting in a re-branding will require everyone that touches our widely varied stakeholders to grasp how the overarching branding impacts the nuances or our equally varied corners of the institution. . Hopefully we will be able to see that translation within the materials provided, and help our individual audiences to understand which face we are representing. Some of us may even find the new persona fits more tightly than the old, if we let go of the stained glass window for a while.

We will certainly soon see. Meanwhile, I’ll be practicing my silly walks.


It’s all about that space… no trouble.

I have been troubled by a dilemma for some time: When it comes to deciding whether to put a space between health & care when writing, there seem to be varied opinions. St. Thomas follows the two word standard, as do other organizations, such as 3M. Most seem to leave the question to a “follow the leader” approach.


According to the website “Grammarist”( http://grammarist.com/spelling/healthcare/ ):

“Healthcare is on its way to becoming a one-word noun throughout the English-speaking world. The change is well underway in British publications, where healthcare already appears about three times as often as health care and is used as both a noun and an adjective. Many American and Canadian publications resist the change, meanwhile, and health care remains the more common form in North American newswriting, as well as in government and scholarly texts. In many cases—such as on health-related U.S. government websites—health care is the noun (e.g., “your health care is important”) and healthcare is the adjective (e.g., “find a healthcare professional”), but this is not consistently borne out, and both forms are widely used both ways. Many publications and websites seem to have no policy on this at all.

Short answer: Outside North America (Australia goes along with the U.K. on this one), use healthcare. In the U.S. and Canada, make it two words (unless you want to help speed the compounding process).”


So, within this loose context, it may come down to setting an organizational guide and sticking with it. At least that way, if the grammar police addendum is ever tacked on to an omnibus health care bill your firm will at least be completely right or completely wrong.


The unbearable rightness of being

I may be wrong, but “rightness” is a problem.

Not the rightness of being politically conservative (right) in relation to the liberal (left), although both groups suffer rightness issues.

Rightness difficulties begin with the ego, ideology or other constructs. Trouble arises when these foundations of a personality, organization or culture so completely embrace a world view in terms of non-facts (opinion, belief and “action”) that the humans involved can no longer become aware of any alternate perspective. These folks no longer resemble the horse with blinders which narrow focus to only what it can see ahead. In their case, the slats have been folded over the eyes completely, leaving the wearer to imagine only what was ahead in the mind already.

Whether this absolutism is driven by upbringing, faith, coercion, the media or other factors becomes immaterial. Persuasion of the righteous from one right to another represents a difficult, if not impossible thing.

So, how does any of this relate to communication?

We all deal with people insulated by rightness (only other people; never you or me). Whether rooted in insecurity or genuine narcissism, at some point it may cross our minds to take up the challenge of helping these zealots see a sliver of fault in their logic. That takes persuasion, which is a process.

The persuasion process ALWAYS begins with making the audience aware of the new or alternate information or perspective. This gets weighed by the audience member (no “S:” this is personal), who decides whether this information changes his or her opinion. Beliefs are much harder to dislodge (once you believe the world is round, making it flat again takes a really big hammer). Ultimately we want our new believer to do something: take action. These may be tiny, actual actions, like taking home a trial size tube of tooth paste, or more substantial or even esoteric, like stop blowing things up or out of proportion.

Sometimes, helping the audience become aware and ultimately believe that their rightness may be less than absolute will benefit them as well. For instance, when the intention of the actions of their rightness was to preserve the civil rights of one group, but their choice of action infringed on the civil rights of others, diminishing the persuasive value of the action and hurting an otherwise worthy cause.

My personal observation of the world, at least as depicted in traditional and social media, suggests that rightness is a growth industry. This may be tempered slightly by the overwhelming presence of cute cat videos, but both cause concern.

I may be wrong.


The pain of Inflamation

The increasing use of inflammatory speech and action to generate public attention in the current mass media, social and otherwise, is troubling.  Maybe I’m just too old school, but generating solid positive visibility through substantive news always seemed to work well at delivering consistent positive visibility.

Part of me aches when public voices literally threaten to do something, like block an unrelated event with a protest march, simply to generate public attention. Equally painful are the constant and escalating taunts, epithets and mocking of public figures in order to get airtime.  Not sure this works?  Note that Donald Trump has spent no money to date on campaign ads, but generates unmeasurable numbers of media impressions through constant news coverage.

In fairness, some measure of guilt goes to traditional media, since less of this would be highlighted and reverberated through social media channels if the professionals never covered it in the first place.  But here we are.

If media relations is the match that sparks the flame, the choice of how to use it is the practitioner’s – that’s strategy.

For some the “strategy” involves wandering around lighting and throwing matches. Most blow out before hitting the ground. A few stay lit and occasionally foster a small, confined blaze that burns out quickly before drawing much attention.

Others have watched the process long enough to play out the same game, but choose to wander in areas that catch fire more easily.  For these folks, an occasional grass fire scorches its way for a while, billowing some smoke and briefly calling attention to the flames, but often these fields are outside the view of the real audience.  So, those who are practiced in this method eventually stick to fields that are both conducive to flame and visible to their target.

Our friends who use inflammatory tactics know very well the best places to create highly visible blazes.  Because of this, the strategy evolves to creating the opportunity to toss out matches in those places, followed immediately with whatever potent fuel is available. No care or thought seems to be taken in what value or damage may be left in the aftermath; the focus is completely on kindling the largest fire while the attention has been turned that direction.  The problem with this approach, figuratively and in reality?  Sooner or later the damage goes beyond the terrain and blows back on the kindler.  Plus, the more you use this approach, the greater the need for extra fuel, and the more likely you (or the client, or both) get burned.

By far the most manageable strategic choice involves careful selection of where and how one strikes and applies a limited supply of matches. If there doesn’t seem to be a safe hearth in view of your target, consider building one (think Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade). Meanwhile, because building something like that takes time, bring your own kindling to an empty pit and build a framework that catches firmly, evenly and safely with one well-placed match. Monitor and manage the progress, fueling occasionally with slow burning elements, because the goal here is not a flash in the pan but a warm glow in a dark cold space. It will attract attention, not so much at a distance but from those who want to pay attention where you have chosen to be – the target audience, or the media that serve them.

I feel like having s’mores, how about you?


LinkedIn, if only you could facilitate that reconnection

LinkedIn graciously provides reminders of those people with whom you may want to reconnect.

I was caught off guard recently when the face that popped up as a suggestion was my friend Bruce Kramer. He would have gotten a chuckle out of the idea that LinkedIn wanted me to reach out to him, since we lost him to a very public battle with ALS last spring. You can read the book, We know how this ends.” by Bruce and Cathy Wurzer, to learn just how public it was. (Note that in doing a Google search for the book, all it took was “We Know” to make it the top suggestion.)

I recounted the story to my wife, who got a little misty when she recalled similar reminders from LinkedIn about her former boss, Paul Schmidt, who died a couple of years ago. Again, someone who would have seen the lighter side of irony in this automated suggestion.

I have been thinking about this corner of our digital footprint since then. Certainly there are profiles for many others that are no longer living. For some of those with whom they were linked, the appearance of a suggested connection may not be received with a wry smile, but could create unnecessary angst.

What’s the right thing to do in these situations? LinkedIn allows people to remove folks by gathering:

  1. The member’s name
  2. The URL to their LinkedIn profile
  3. Your relationship to them
  4. Member’s email address
  5. Date they passed away
  6. Link to obituary
  7. Company where they most recently workedPeople can barely get a handle on stewardship of their own presence in the ether, much less managing the reputation and visibility of those who are gone. This will become further complicated if someone manages to find a way to protect individual rights over their web presence, as I saw suggested recently.Meanwhile, for me, having Bruce pop up every so often brightens my day a little. So let him stay LinkedIn.
  8. Now that firms have generated corporate Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, who will assure the removal of those pages after a firm fails? Not sure how LinkedIn’s checklist translates to a defunct corporation.
  9. But who decides whether the person submitting the information has the right or authority to decide? What if one of my children wants the profile to stay and one doesn’t. (Or in my case, there would be two more that don’t care.)

Get Out! Ask good questions! Follow up!

Art of StartIn anticipation of the Opus Distinguished Speaker event on September 4 featuring Guy Kawasaki, it seems fitting to tap one of his books for a post. As you can see by the attached picture, I have marked many things in Art of the Start (2004). I refer to the book in a number of classes and particularly when facilitating seminars on networking. While Kawasaki has neat thoughts that relate to the concept scattered throughout the book, the “Minichapter” on page 161 concentrates specifically on the issue.

Titled “The Art of Schmoozing,” he points out that networking is the goyim word for this craft. The three most important recommendations in this section fall on the first page.

Get out.

Kawasaki calls networking a “contact sport,” noting “you can’t do it at home or in the office alone.” He acknowledges that it takes some effort to attend gatherings. I will add an extension of his thought that is equally important – strategically choose where to network and arrive with a plan and better yet a target list of people to see or meet. Often, people attempt to network in places that are too comfortable, which leads to chatting with other people “like you” rather than people who “need people like you.”

Ask good questions, then shut up.

“Good Schmoozers don’t dominate conversation,” according to Kawasaki. “No one is more fascinating than a good listener.” To extend this, you need to listen with genuine interest. You can prove that interest by asking probing question on the subject. Great networkers learn many things in the process of creating valuable relationships.

Follow up.

Kawasaki recommends getting back to people within 24 hours. He ultimately sums up the importance of the value of this concept in a single sentence: “So few people ever follow up that the ones who do are clearly special and worth knowing.” My experience affirms this, and the more “important” the new contact, the more positive impact reaching back seems to have.

Kawasaki offers other thoughts, but for those you will have to pick up his book. I’d let you borrow mine, but it’s kind of beaten up.


For want of a .jpg the war was lost?

In working up a blog post earlier this month, an experience with my family at a prominent arts organization in the Twin Cities sparked a subject. In writing it up, my description of the experience fell short according to my editors (Hi y’all!). They suggested a photo would help.

Not having taken any selfies that day, and wanting to respect the potentially copyright-protected art, I looked up the names of the nonprofit’s PR people on a press release and sent a request for a photo. After a couple of days, and pointing out that the viewership of the OCB Newsroom is over 20,000 people a month, I was sent a link to random photos from the organization’s archives – which include no visuals of the location requested.

This is a blog and doesn’t require anything fancy, so I wondered why one of the nonprofit’s staff didn’t just ask if an iPhone photo would do. It would.

Then I thought about why a professional communication person at a prominent organization might forgo this opportunity to highlight a short-term offering to potentially thousands of new eyes. Certainly these people could see the cost would be effectively nothing. Not that their time is not worth something, but it would be less time than writing me with the explanation of why there are no photos. While the benefit would be hard to measure, even one additional visitor would make a significant cost/benefit ratio against nearly zero expense.

I realized that what likely blocked the staff was not the doing, but getting the permission. Whether for-profit or not, if the barriers to approval represent arduous effort to overcome, or the “risk” of reprisal or failure are too high, tactical level communicators will choose to do nothing. It’s only natural. Not unique to communication roles, but this is one way it is manifested.

Pretty unfortunate, no?

Whether you are in communication or some other area, and at a tactical or strategic level, think about what you did this week. Did you miss any opportunities for the organization because getting approval might have been difficult?

Ask for forgiveness once in a while.


Out of office messaging

It’s summer, and the livin’ is… better than frostbite.  But for the marketing communicator, these are troubling months, particularly for the B2B marketer.

I walk around the university and things are pretty quiet.  Not just the students leave this time of year.  Everyone is burning vacation.  It’s a magnified version of what happens during summer at every firm in the country.

First, the marketing communicator needs to consider what channel might capture Bobby and Cindy’s eyeballs, even if they are on the beach somewhere (Because we all check email while on “vacation”). But the potentially bigger problem, and one left ignored – is there any point in reaching them during the week before and after Independence Day? Or even late August? Not only because their synapses are not firing in the work mindset, but even if the message hits home – will it still be in the neighborhood when they actually pull in the driveway.

Add to this the best case – Bobby and Cindy return to the office with your product or service USP etched in their souvenir shot glass, ready to pitch the team.  But the team is fractured because of all the other people on vacation.  By the time Labor Day passes and the last sunburn stops peeling, that shot glass has long since fallen off the desktop of their minds.

So what is a marketer to do?

Assuming you are in a relationship selling space, one thought might be to leverage summer as a time to connect with individuals with an incentive – but with the sights firmly on arranging meetings in the Fall.  This represents an admission on the part of sales and marketing management that the decisions to buy are made by a cadre of influencers.

In that same vein, a good marketer will acknowledge that the “hook” for the IT lead will be different than that of the middle manager who will actually be using the product. Sending them the same communication with the same attention getting incentive pushes success to the borders on the impossible.

Along these lines from a consumer view, my youngest son just got a nice water bottle from the orthodontist.  Nice enough to keep with the collection of a dozen or so on the top shelf in the kitchen.  But to get that logo out there, and engage the whole decision-making family, the office devised a sinister plan.  Every time my son has his picture taken in a new place with the dreaded canister he can send it in for an additional chance at winning a pair of uber-cool headphones.  I can already hear the sobs after the bottle gets lost at the fireworks, but Orthodontrics (Name changed to protect the guilty) will be seen and engaged.  And truth be told, they are helping us keep him from losing 4 bottles this summer – They can count that as a win when we get around to stage two of teeth straightening.

That’s great summer marketing.


Holisticity and Health Care Communication

Yes, I made up the word “holisticity,” but it felt like the right way to describe what I am seeing in the health care communication space.

A log of my time in recent months, and likely into the foreseeable future, displays a significant engagement with leaders and managers in health care communication.  In making them aware of the new MS in Health Care Communication, an equal amount of energy gets applied to listening:  learning what resonates with them about the program, and why.

Since beginning to have conversations about a communication degree with a health care focus, it has proven interesting that these practitioners seem to view the industry as interdependent at all levels.  These leaders are aligned with the idea that, to appropriately fulfill their work in one segment, a robust understanding of the entire health care ecosystem is important; that much like any living organism, things that impact the extremities may ultimately impact the core.

This perspective marks a start contrast to the technology field, where I have spent a good chunk of my career. Certainly the tech space is less regulated, but arguably no less interdependent on many levels.  However, the tendrils of influence and concern seem to stay in the much more direct lines of impact, ignoring eddies and undercurrents that might eventually swirl profitably or dangerously nearby.

Perhaps it is the fact that, ultimately, the deliverables for every health care organization are outcomes that impact more than a “user experience,” but potentially extend “user existence.”  For the communicator, it brings home the concept of viewing our work as being directed to stakeholder implications, rather than simply shareholder equity.  This holistic understanding of the, capital “H” and C,” Health Care space is at the core of the MS in Health Care Communication – because that’s what leaders expect.