What We Have Here Is a Failure to Converse

February 24, 2010

Perhaps I was wrong. In this new 2.0 era, I thought communications was all about having conversations.

Conversations require interaction where people talk and listen. Maybe I’m missing something, but I observe a lot more talking than listening. It seems everyone has something to say and everyone is clamoring to be heard. To me, it looks like the talkers far outnumber the listeners.

Was I mistaken to assume that things would be different with the arrival of the social media revolution? Am I naive in thinking that people would connect with each other because 1) they were genuinely interested in what others had to say and 2) they actually had something of value to share?

As we interact, as we share information, we connect with each other. Social media give us the tools to connect and converse. Sometimes during our conversations we’ll encounter negative or inaccurate information. Does that mean we should immediately end the conversation? Should we refuse to talk because the conversation may be a little awkward or uncomfortable? Absolutely not! Read the rest of this entry »


What Is 2.0? A New Era Defined

February 17, 2010

We hear a lot of people talking about the 2.0 world we live in. Marketers refer to social media tools as Web 2.0. The titles of business books increasingly contain that magical number—2.0.

But what does “2.0” mean? How are things different now than they were before? What has changed?

For starters, let’s agree that the social media revolution has created an entirely new landscape—a 2.0 world. The changes are so profound that those who do not understand it will soon find themselves on the sidelines, confused and perhaps even angry that the world has passed them by.

The social media revolution is really not that confusing. The more we understand and embrace the changes, the more powerful social media will become. Here is my brief comparison of the differences I see between a 1.0 and a 2.0 world:

Let’s look at the nuances between the two. Read the rest of this entry »


How to Think Strategically in a 2.0 World

February 10, 2010

I believe the social media revolution may be the greatest advance in communications since Gutenberg invented movable type.

A critical mass of people has joined the revolution. Their enthusiasm has prompted them to talk about their “social media strategy.”

There is nothing strategic, though, about either movable type or social media. Both are tools—means to an end. They are inventions that help people communicate quicker and better.

At first, I loved the phrase “social media strategy” because my mantra has always been strategy before tactics.

I’ve often criticized people who act before they think. I have little patience for people who try to communicate without first asking themselves some very basic questions.

Non-strategic communicators don’t really communicate. They just make noise. They write news releases without knowing why. They produce brochures without having a target audience in mind. They bore us with PowerPoint presentations because they have not given thought to what they want us to do with the heap of meaningless, irrelevant information they’ve just dumped on us.

Just because we’ve moved into a 2.0 world doesn’t mean things have changed much. The proliferation of noise continues. People tweet without having a clue who they’re talking to. Too many bloggers ramble on without thinking things through.  Nonprofits create Facebook fan pages with no real understanding of why. We live in a world where too many tactics are not tied to a strategy, so the clutter and confusion accumulates. Read the rest of this entry »


What Do You Do (In Seven Words)?

February 3, 2010

A friend of mine, Mark Whitaker, is an experienced market research professional. His official title is Strategic Research Consultant at The Kansas City Star.

That’s an impressive title, but what does it mean? What does he really do? What impact does he actually make?

In seven words on LinkedIn, Mark summarizes his job as “helping you find the information you need.”

I really like that “job description” for three reasons:

  1. It’s simple. I can understand it without having to translate industry jargon.
  2. It’s differentiating. It really describes what he does, not what his company or co-workers do.
  3. It’s outwardly focused. He describes what he does for others. He focuses on the benefits he provides, not the process involved. Read the rest of this entry »

Understanding the Four Phases of Disaster Recovery

January 27, 2010

Here at the American Red Cross, our role changes through different phases of disaster relief. All relief efforts—regardless of the disaster size—transition through four distinct phases. Anticipating how a relief effort will unfold helps us better serve those affected by the disaster.

Each stage of recovery demands a specific type of public affairs response. (In case you’re unfamiliar with that term, “public affairs” is used by the military, government agencies and the American Red Cross to describe public relations, communications and media relations.)

The American Red Cross recognizes that our disaster relief unfolds in the following stages:

  1. Heroic Phase.
  2. Honeymoon Phase.
  3. Disillusionment Phase.
  4. Reconstruction Phase.

What happens in each phase? What should we anticipate as each unfolds? How do public expectations change? How should our communications strategy shift in each phase? Read the rest of this entry »


The Essence of the Red Cross – In Three Words

January 18, 2010

Soon after I began working at the American Red Cross, I realized how deceptively complex the organization actually is. In the context of that complexity, I struggled to succinctly describe the important work we do.

In a previous post, I outlined the creative process we undertook to develop key messages that would be 1) conversational, 2) memorable and 3) differentiating. At the American Red Cross of Greater Kansas City, we came up with key messages that focused on our role during times of disaster. We finalized on these three words:

W e   a r e   t h e r e.

That’s it—three deceptively simple words. They sit at the apex of our communications pyramid. In one sentence, the American Red Cross can say that during a disaster, “We are there.”

To add dimension and depth to that phrase, we added three bullet points that expanded the “we are there” theme. They are:

  1. We prepare. Before you need us, we are there, anticipating the unexpected. We set the standard for life-saving CPR, first aid and water training skills. We prepare the community with disaster education and preparedness programs. We support blood banks to ensure a safe and adequate supply for all of us.
  2. We respond. During emergencies, we are there, providing immediate relief and reassurance. Ever day, we serve people affected by disasters, at home and around the world. We can immediately activate a trained team of committed volunteers who are always ready to help. During tragedies, we give people ways to come together and assist those in need.
  3. We restore. After disasters, we are there, rebuilding lives and communities. We find answers, information and contacts so people can re-establish their lives. Our global network and extensive partnerships empower us to provide tangible solutions. All disaster assistance is provided free of charge, thanks to donations of time and money from the generous American people. Read the rest of this entry »

What’s the DNA of Your Communications?

January 13, 2010

Can you briefly describe the role of your organization? In a consistent way? In a believable manner? In a way that differentiates you from your competitors?

When I first joined the American Red Cross, my answer to those questions was NO! To my surprise, I struggled to find simple, differentiating ways to describe the important work of the Red Cross. Being responsible for marketing and communications, I knew I had to find a solution quickly.

So, in my simplistic mind, I set out to find or create key messages that met these three criteria:

  1. Conversational. I needed messages that would roll of the tongue and sound genuine. They shouldn’t sound canned or pre-packaged. Personally, I didn’t care much for the stuffy phrase in our mission statement that says we “provide relief to victims of disaster and help people prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies.”
  2. Memorable. I wanted something that would stick in my mind even when I didn’t have a cheat sheet in front of me. I wanted to have anchor messages that would still be there if my mind went blank in front of a live TV camera.
  3. Differentiating. I needed to say something that no other organization could authentically say about itself. After all, it seems that every nonprofit tries to boast, “We care more!” or “We have the best volunteers.” If someone else can say the same thing, it’s neither unique nor differentiating. Read the rest of this entry »

How Does Marketing Do It?

November 12, 2009

The mission of my marketing department, as described in a previous post, is to 1) build interactive relationships, 2) increase community support and 3) generate revenue. How do we actually do that?

My marketing team here at the American Red Cross accomplishes its work in these three steps: Read the rest of this entry »


10 Things Marketing Is NOT

October 13, 2009

Business success requires effective marketing. People have spent considerable energy trying to define marketing, but just for fun I’ve listed 10 things marketing is not.

  1. A silver bullet. Some people unrealistically expect a single marketing tactic to be extremely effective or to easily cure a major prevailing problem.
  2. Pixie dust. Although marketing can produce magical results, there’s no magic potion or formula that can produce instant results.
  3. Icing on the cake. Marketing must always be an essential ingredient, not something that’s added later to make the product or service look prettier or taste sweeter.
  4. Communications. Too often, especially in nonprofit organizations, communications is used synonymously with marketing. They are not the same thing. One is a subset of the other.
  5. A black hole. Rarely does an investment in marketing disappear into the cosmic void. Marketing does, however, require a minimum investment of resources for it to yield the desired return.
  6. Rocket science. There’s an art to marketing, but it is not an esoteric science. Brain surgery—yes. Rocket science—no.
  7. Snake oil. Rightly done, marketing has no gimmicks, fakery or fraud. Neither is it a panacea that cures all.
  8. Hocus pocus. Marketing is not “putting a spell” on people to manipulate them into doing something against their will.
  9. Quick fix. The law of the harvest tells us that you’ve got to plant the seed and nurture the crop before you can expect to reap a bountiful harvest.
  10. Cotton candy. Although cotton candy is colorful, sweet and attractive, it lacks substance and nutritive value. Effective marketing is both attractive and substantive.

Marketing is sometimes hampered by unrealistic expectations so occasionally it’s helpful to look at what marketing is not.


How Are You Different?

September 17, 2009

—Standing out during a job search

Not long ago I was hiring for an open position on my marketing team. I was bombarded with 200 applications—and that was before the economy went sour.

I personally looked at every single application. Very quickly, though, my eyes glazed over. Everyone looked alike. They all seemed to be saying the same thing. They even used the same words to describe themselves. Every cover letter, it seemed, had at least one of these sentences embedded in it:

I am an excellent communicator.

I’m very organized.

I’m a problem solver.

I am very results oriented.

I want to make a difference.

I am an experienced project manager.

I’m a great team player.

(Insert your own cliche here)

Sorry. I don’t mean to be jaded. I assume each applicant was sincerely speaking from the heart, but here’s my point:  When everyone said the same thing, I felt like I’d walked into a Baskin-Robbins store where the only flavor was vanilla. Everyone, it seemed, had bought the same book on writing cover letters and they even selected the same buzz phrases to use.

From the pool of applicants, some names drifted towards the top. I finally selected eight qualified candidates who looked different and intriguing. These were individuals who sounded as though they could engage with me in a worthwhile conversation. They also shared the following traits:

  1. They were unique. They did something to stand out from the rest of the pack. FYI, their ability to stand out was not by submitting a resume printed on neon orange paper. They differentiated themselves by a) what they said and b) how they said it.
  2. They were interesting. Several told me a story in their cover letter. (And yes, they were able to tell a story in a paragraph or less.) Their ability to tell interesting stories continued into the interview. That turned the interview into an interesting, interactive conversation rather than a one-way interrogation.
  3. They were themselves. That trait alone—being oneself—is often differentiating. As I looked for the right person, I was not looking for someone trying to fit a particular cookie-cutter mold. I wanted someone who was authentic, genuine and “comfortable in his/her own skin.”

My advice to any job seeker is:  Be different. Be unique. Or, as Simon Cowell used to tell American Idol contestants—”Be memorable!”


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