November - December 2007
Published by Geoff Kelly, Kelly Strategic Influence
Wisdom to lead minds:
"Nurture your mind with great thoughts, for you will never go any higher than you think.”
Benjamin Disraeli, 19th Century British Statesman and Prime Minister
The nonsense of obsessing about new media.
Academics, salespeople and media commentators are extolling the explosion of digital media channels such as SMS, blogs, and social network domains as a revolution that changes everything for communicators. And many communication directors, marketing managers and CEOs are taking them literally, reshaping the way their organisations approach the task of sharing meaning with those most important to their success.
They are missing the point, but to be fair there is plenty of evidence of a shape shift in communication media, and so-called new media is a big part of it. Take some recent US figures on the increasing number of teenagers creating and sharing material on the Internet. Now almost two thirds of teenagers who go online engage in at least some content creation; this is up from just over a half just three years ago. These creative efforts include sharing artwork, photos, stories and videos; creating blogs; and building websites.
Another recent study showed that teenagers’ main form of communication with peers was the cell phone, followed closely in order of preference by SMS text messaging, the Internet instant messaging, Internet social networking sites and landline phones. Only 35 percent of teenagers reported daily face-to-face communication with friends, only ahead of email, which was the least preferred means of communication.
These figures refer to teenagers’ communication behaviour with friends, not other aspects of their communication behaviour. However, it would be fair to assume that this generation will be a significant user of new media. And their parents will increase their own use as well.
But is this any different to the advent of radio, television, or the Internet itself? Each generation has adopted new media channels, while others have dropped back or disappeared entirely. Beyond historical re-enactments, there isn’t much demand for a Town Crier today. Yet from the Spartan runners of ancient Greece to 17th Century Europe these were a mainstream source of news and information.
So channels are always changing and individuals and organisations do need to learn to use them. However, as with any system, you will get from it some measure of what you put into it. So if too many organisations and their leaders continue with the mediocrity of tired core messages to broad audiences, no amount of new media use will improve their results.
Too many new media proponents are forgetting that such media are just empty chatter without deep focus and understanding of specific audiences and refined messages and stories that will resonate with them.
For example, take the following statements three global organisations have on their web sites to open sections on sustainability or corporate citizenship. Would any appeal to your average teenager? Perhaps this is unfair, as none were probably aimed at them. So would any make a compelling impact on anyone not the CEO’s wife or husband?
A global mining group: “We believe that our contribution to sustainable development is not just the right thing to do. We also understand that it gives us business reputational benefits that result in greater access to land, human and financial resources.”
A global bank: “We impact the environment both through our use of resources and through the decisions we make about who to lend to, what to invest in, and how we purchase products and services.”
A global professional services firm: “Being a good corporate citizen is part of our identity. We support our people's passion to bring lasting, positive change to their communities, and we bring to our corporate citizenship efforts the same principles of high performance that we apply to our work with clients.”
The above statements are normal corporate fare. They are written in acceptable English, have a bias for cliché and self-references (like our, we, us), and tend to be generalised and bland. There is nothing specifically wrong with them except that they are boring and so low impact that readers are unlikely to read further, let alone accept or act on any idea or proposition.
When the Town Crier arrived at a village, everyone came to listen because information was scarce and people were hungry for it. When a company puts up a page on their web site, they are competing with millions of other new posts daily across the web, and countless more commercial and non-commercial messages beamed at their target audiences every day. In the world’s most over-communicated society in history, great ideas are dying daily due to lack of communication impact in the world’s most competitive market – the market for gaining and holding individual attention.
The key is not to focus on media channels alone, whether they are sexy new media or unsexy media like an envelope with a stamp on it. In fact, for some information like utility bills and airline loyalty statements research shows that most people still prefer paper by personalised mail. And some highly successful marketers prove every day that a letter with a stamp on it is still the world’s most effective marketing tool for some products and services.
Cutting through with impact also requires serious dissection of specific target groups, and focused messages that closely matched their targets’ needs, circumstances and expectations. Great leaders and communicators don’t assume what is important to their most important audiences. They go and find out, then test and find out again. Continuously. Then they refine stories and messages to reinforce or challenge these specific audiences, try them and test them, then go and find out some more about them.
Cutting through with impact so that others follow your ideas has always been the master skill of leadership. Today that is both more difficult because of such a cluttered information environment, and easier because so much of your competition is mediocre in this regard.
Read and reflect on the speeches of Martin Luther King, almost anything that Winston Churchill wrote or spoke with passion, or the words and actions of any modern leader who is cutting through with important ideas. Bill Gates’ address to Harvard last June is a good modern example.
Then reflect on who it is who you most need to reach. What do you know about them and the world they live in? What do they most want? What are their greatest challenges? Then ask yourself how you can reshape your most important ideas to truly connect with these people.
The answers will surprise you; and make you more of a leader of impact.
More next month...
Geoff Kelly works with leaders who are frustrated that others don't fully support their ideas and strategies. He mainly works with corporate leaders around the world, but also leaders in Government and Not for Profit. He is also a popular speaker on this and related subjects. See www.kellystrategicinfluence.com.au, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +613 9678 9218 for more information
© 2006 Geoff Kelly All rights reserved.
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