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Thought: Communicate with Clarity (Part I)

Communication begins with language, the distinctive ability which has made possible the evolution of human society.  But it must also find its target – to make a connection, provoke an emotion, generate action – if it is to be persuasive. Persuasive communication is the domain of political, religious and business leaders, romantically-motivated suitors, and of course, salesmen.  And selling has become increasingly sophisticated as the marketplace becomes more crowded, the messaging more persistent, and the audience more nuanced and cynical. Brands are invading our personal space more than ever before, but 50% of consumers feel like most brand communication is irrelevant, and most people would not care if 74% of all brands disappeared for good (2015 Meaningful Brands research by Havas).  With this ‘noise’ it is increasingly hard to be heard, and thus imperative for businesses to have cutting-edge strategies to connect with their audience. The marketing landscape is continuously changing and the explosion of new media channels and digital technology has turned all the ‘old’ communication strategies on their heads.  If you don’t keep up, your marketing could not only be ineffective, it could be actively harming your brand in an environment where consumers are more demanding in terms of customer service, less loyal to favourite brands and more resistant to traditional marketing messages. As the header image from GMPereira Creative shows, the old way of doing things is no longer effective, so, here are the new ‘rules’ for communicating with cut-through.

Know your Value

Before you can develop an effective marketing strategy you need to first understand your unique value proposition (UVP).  What is the pain your product or service will alleviate, or the pleasure that it will provide?  A good value proposition puts the customer at the centre and inhibits risk.  It promises profit without risk.  A killer proposition adds proof to the promise.  So, what is your offer?  Rock bottom pricing? Experience and excellence? Design and beauty? The USP is often referred to as your elevator pitch. How you would sum up your business in the time it takes to ride from ground to the top floor? In Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore offers one way of formulating a positioning statement: “For (target customer) who has (customer need), (product name) is a (market category) that (one key benefit) unlike (competition), the product (differentiator)“.  Using our business as an example… “For small to medium businesses, who need a business workplace, The Office Space is a boutique shared office operator that delivers exceptional working environments. Unlike international co-working chains, The Office Space offers a highly curated workplace with design-centred fitouts, human programing to create cultural networks, and personalised services.” And as the old marketing adage quips “sell the sizzle, not the steak“, remember to promote the benefits, not the features, to your audience.  For example, AirBNB doesn’t lease rooms, they sell an experience.  Coke doesn’t sell soft drink, they offer happiness, Universal Music doesn’t sell songs, they give you emotions and moments.

Know your Audience

To bring a target audience to life, marketers use a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer, known as Personas.  They use market research and real data and consider demographics, behaviour patterns, motivators, challenges and goals.  They personify the audience so the marketer can think of them as a living breathing person.  Hubspot Academy has some great examples to start creating your own personas. Taking this idea further, Customer Empathy maps are an extension of a persona and they flesh out how the persona would act, think and respond. What they value, what they don’t like, their wants and needs. They expand your persona, defining the customers motivations, emotions, and behaviours.  This is not purely academic – it allows you to map out how your customer wants to be spoken to (ie. millennial jargon, or baby boomer authority), what media they interact with (ie. messenger apps, newspapers), and what they value (ie. convenience, value, exclusivity). This process helps to put the customer, rather than your product or service, at the centre.   Know your Competition Some of the best examples of marketing campaigns have come from the big brands dueling it out in the public sphere.  Who can forget the age-old rivalry between Coke and Pepsi, the long-running Apple vs PC campaigns, and the brilliantly escalating BMW vs Audi rivalry? You can tackle your competition head on, or you can use stealth and research to beat them at their own game. SEM Rush has a tool allow you to unearth all the tactics that your competition is using to get ahead. It will reveal what keywords they are bidding on and what is working for them, what backlinks they are pursuing, and even which influencers and articles are sending them traffic. Rather than copying them, be strategic. Just as when answering your UVP, what do you do that differentiates you from the competition?  A category leader can help customers instantly understand what you do, but also enable you to clarify how you differ from them.

Embrace your Culture

In an open market where customers are spoiled for choice, brands can no longer afford to be self-serving.  Brands must serve the people and, if lucky (and clever), they engender people to interact with the brand.  The brands that will get cut through are the ones that are engaging on a deeper level – culture, value, conversation, relationship.  This is where the brand can come alive, and have a life beyond marketing rhetoric. Just as in real life, where the noisy extraverts command the initial attention but it’s the people whose values you admire and align with that you build a relationship with, so too with companies.  They must increasingly be moral, have values, and a personality.  The brands that are consistent, act with integrity, and have a genuine culture are the ones that audiences will want to engage with. These are highly sophisticated ‘pull’ rather than ‘push’ strategies which draw consumers to a brand rather than bombarding them with unwelcome messages. To define, and embrace, your company culture, “Start with why”.  Simon Sinek is renowned around the world for his simple yet transformative “Golden Circle” which maintains that what you do, and how you do it, are irrelevant unless you know why you do it. This is where a company’s magic – its culture – comes from.   Read on for Part 2 on the five considerations for a successful communications campaign.

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