Communication Architecture, Pt. 3

Part 3 on the Comm. Arch. model that I’ve been developing and using with clients. The reason I’ve been working on this is to try and develop a strategic dashboard that will help CEO’s and CMO’s manage their end of the communication, content and conversation of their brands, people and organization. There is a big challenges with this:

Organizations are built around an old model.

We have departments built around functional silos that do not recognize today’s communication realities. The marketing department handles brand advertising. The sales department does it’s own promotions. The PR department handles the press. Perhaps there is even an investor relations group. And within any of these you have sub-silos for internet, social media, events, even search has pure SEO/SEM people. It’s maddening to navigate and ends up barraging the consumer with so much confusing noise. But what is the solution?

For example, when people posted videos about Domino’s Pizza on YouTube who should respond — marketing or public relations? It’s a problem for both departments. Because it is showing up in the press, you need crisis response PR working on it. And because it is hurt the brand and potentially sales, you need marketing working on it. But doing what and how?

In this instance, we have an unusual response from an unusual source – the CEO himself on YouTube. It’s brilliant. The right response from the right person on the right medium. And then a campaign went into gear that addressed needs across the board: product, research, marketing, PR. It was not a “new media” or a “social media” campaign (as is so en vogue right now). It was an authentic response to real customer feedback. They listened, did something about it, captured content of them doing something about it, and then told that story. It hits all four quadrants on the matrix.  But this is rare, and it shouldn’t be.

Top leaders need to own macro-message management of their company and brand.

Period. End of story. Show me a great brand and I will show you a fanatical leader behind it who is accused of micro-managing every detail. There are the obvious ones like Steve Jobs who’s brilliant secrecy around new product development whips people into such a frenzy that he needs very little PR staff to handle it. But there are lesser known brand geniuses like Herb Keller at Southwest Airlines who keep a company focused, on-message and relevant to consumers. Unfortunately, these leaders are the exception and not the rule.

This Comm Arch model proposes a structure to manage all communications.

It is a tool for development and a dashboard for reviewing messages. In fact, on the next post, we’ll deconstruct the Domino’s Pizza example into this framework to see how it works.

Communication (?) Architecture, Pt. 2

This model is a tool, but it is not a perfect one. For starters, I don’t like the name of it. And not just because it is too long and sounds a bit self-important (guilty on both accounts). No, what really bothers me is that it seems to be about communication, and so much of the world has shifted to content and conversation. Here’s the distinctions:

1. Communication tends to be static for the speaker-listener roles. Yes, it is a very broad sweeping topic, but in the world of marketing communications it has forever been a one-way communication. And now there are some tools around that allow a two-way street, but that does not mean that everything is going to be two-way. Takes movies for example. For all the hype about interactivity on Blue-ray, and the eternal promises of choose-your-own-endings, the movies that do best are created by people who know the craft and are talented at doing it. Same with television, books and plays. These one-way mediums are not going away. We’ll always have salesmen pitching, advertisers telling brand stories (of various lengths), and customer feedback. It’s that n:n category that has everyone talking (literally I suppose)…

2. Conversation has to be dynamically shifting the speaker-listener roles. Otherwise it is not a conversation, it is a monologue. And while the sales pitch needs some pitch time, it sure better have a Q&A at the end if anyone intends on actually selling something. Likewise on customer feedback. If there is no response, then the problem (and the customer) will just go away and a new problem will replace it – finding new customers and repairing a damaged reputation after they tell everyone online that you don’t listen. The good news is that the listening tools we have today are dynamic and robust. Which means we don’t have an excuse.

3. Content needs to be available on-demand. I think of this category as heavily in the Inform and Entertain modes. Information needs to be structured correctly so it can be navigated by an audience. Their experience of your content will form the brand impression. Not your delivery of it per se. Can I find out what I need to know, in the form I need it, and whenever I need it? You should be answering yes to all three of these questions. This is pull marketing. The kind that allows the user to direct the when and where. You just make sure you’ve anticipated all the questions, all the right media, and all the…oh, just put everything everywhere just to be safe. No, that wasn’t a joke. Don’t make me browse, unless it’s a catalog I love.

So, it will stay communication architecture. With the caveat that it covers the conversation and content paradigms that are pervasive in the halls of marketing departments and agencies today. Halls that are undergoing some tremendous changes right now.

Communication Architecture

This whole communication thing has gotten really complicated. I’m speaking now about the profession of communications, which I’ve worked in for nearly two decades now. We all know about the proliferation of media, and we know that communication shops (i.e. agencies and consultancies of all shapes and sizes) face challenges left and right. Now we have the web, mobile, and tablets (Kindle & iPad). But communication has not really changed.

I’ve been working on a simple model to help a brand, an individual or an organization think at a high level about their communication architecture (overly fancy word, I’m open to alternatives). This will be the first of several posts laying out this idea, and it’s my intention to offer up a thesis that will get some feedback – this should be a dialog not a story.

1. Communication is about talking and listening. Period. It always has been and always will be. You can have one person talking to another one in conversation, or you can have an event full of people all mingling and talking to one another. Yes, this is a bit obvious, but it’s important to realize that the many-to-many (n:n) communications that are all the rage online right now – aka. social media – are as old as the marketplace.

2. We communication to inform, to persuade or to entertain. Yes, this is from freshman communications class. But again, it’s important to remember in these days of adjective marketing: primal branding, entertainment marketing, branded information and energizing the groundswell. All of these are just basic communication objectives. What we often forget is that the people listening have an objective as well.

3. Listening Objectives are important (and they always have been). We can call it the important of context or of engagement; we can say that the brand belongs to the consumer; we can talk about review sites and bloggers; but however you are going to label it, what it gets down to are Listener Objectives. The classic “what’s in it for me” question that public speakers are always taught to ask, but brands never think to consider.

There are four quadrants for any brand to consider:

1:1 — Dialog. This is what it sounds like. Good old fashioned conversation. It can be someone wanting persuade someone to buy a product or a CEO doing and interview with a trade journal, but whether it is PR, sales or word-of-mouth marketing there are principles to good dialog. We’ll look at some of the best thinkers and ideas.

1:n — Story. I’ve gone back-and-forth on this one wanting to call it monologue or some other permutation, but I decided that it really is storytelling. There are some wonderful books and ideas about story. Unfortunately, it has become the whipping boy in the advertising community with the demise of the 30-second spot. Everyone wants to talk about social media, but story isn’t going anywhere – it just migrated to another screen.

n:1 — Feedback. Another word choice that I wrestled with, but I think it’s the right word (again, always open to better ones). People have been giving feedback since we started having leaders (and shoddy products). Today technology allows this feedback to be harvested, analyzed and reconciled in a more efficient and effective manner – not that we get any better service. We’ll see that technology is up-ending decades old practices in all four quadrants, but none more significantly than the next.

n:n — Social. Let me start by saying that this is not social media (i.e. social networking sites) as is en vogue right now. This is any collective group talking amongst themselves without the “1″ present. See people have been talking about our products and services (and us for that matter) without us present since we could talk and had Social Objects to talk about. What is new is that we now have the ability (as the “1″) to listen in on these conversations without speaking. This ability to comprehensively listen is remarkable, powerful and useful to anyone wanting to inform, persuade or entertain someone (other than themself).

Office culture as social media (aka. how-to become part of a culture)

I’m working on site for a new client this week. We are thinking about online and social media strategies (officially), but I am thinking (actually) about working in an office environment versus working in my own office. I’ve worked on-site for clients from time-to-time and it’s very disorienting initially, then it becomes very comfortable – just about the time to leave.

Interesting that this week we are working on social media strategies. Because the culture of an office is definitely a social structure – i.e. a media – and it offers some lessons about how to think about a social (or any other) media strategy. Here are 5 ways that you can become a part of a culture (online or otherwise):

1. Learn the language. Every culture has a language all its own. Duh, I know this is a bit obvious. But it’s not the English vs. Spanish kind of language that makes a difference. It’s the knowing that on a movie set a clothespin is called a C-47 kind of language that matters. This goes way beyond just knowing the text messaging shortcuts that your kids are using, and into the nomenclature of an industry and the secret handshake language of particular departments in large corporations. It’s how we spot newbies. And if you are new, you will say the wrong thing. Humility says to ask first. And humility works in almost all cultures (any culture you’d want to be a part of anyway).

2. Ask questions and really listen to the answers. Going with learning the language is asking people about themselves or about topics you know they love or are knowledgeable about. How will you know? By listening. This is the most powerful technology is the social media ecosystem – listening tools. From Google Alerts to radian6 to Motive Quest, these tools help you listen to the conversations going on. It is de facto understood online that people are listening. It’s a public space. If you are invited to the party, then you are welcome to mingle and listen in. The web gives you tools to listen to all the conversations. And you should. If you care what people are saying about you.

3. Get to know people. But just listening without engaging is a bit creepy if you do it for a long time. We call them stalkers in the real world. People who hover around just watching you, but never introducing themselves. The online space has some Orwellian possibilities to be sure, but smart companies, brands and people (was that redundant?) are now listening and finding the relevant conversations to join. Then they are coming in graciously and finding out what is going on, learning the language, and seeing who is leading the conversation (because it’s not them).

4. Learn the stories of the place. Language and literature (i.e. the stories) are the foundations of all cultures. It’s how identity, values, beliefs, etc. are passed from generation to generation. Every culture has its stories – especially the web. Urban legends are almost exclusively born on the web these days and now pass H1N1 like through social media connections. Origin stories, war stories, failures, successes – these are the classics of any office culture. Bloggers all have posts that are all time favorites of readers. Knowing what stories are being told in a culture – especially if that culture is about your brand/company – is critical.

5. Then introduce yourself (in more detail). Only after you have an understanding of the people, the language, and the stories in a culture will people want to really know who you are. People want to know you get them before they will want to hear anything you have to say. People want to be listened to, to be understood. This is universal and not unique to any medium. It’s the human medium. It’s relationship 101. And it’s important if you are introducing yourself that you are a person vs. a brand. People can like a brand, but no matter what marketing gurus tell us, they cannot have a relationship with a brand or an organization. They may relate to it, but that does not make it a relationship.