Marketing Communication Twice Removed, By Jill Schuller
The name of my marketing firm has the word “communications” in it. Why? Because while considering our role and mission, it boiled down to the fact that marketing is just an exercise in communicating with an audience. All businesses communicate their strengths, benefits, and their compelling reasons to choose their company or product over a similar one. Communication is external and internal, and it affects every facet of every organization.
For marketing, we focus on communicating a message that resonates with the end customer. But the key to unlocking that effective message is more complex than filling out a few answers on an intake form: it relies on understanding what problems a company has to overcome, interpreting those problems, having clarity about their target audience’s needs, matching the problem up to a solution, and then finding the best vehicle to drive the message to the buyer and the buyer to the client’s door.
In years past, face-to-face meetings to do ‘discovery’ to develop an understanding, as well as to review creative strategies and solutions, were the only way we did business. Now because so many companies have clients well outside of a quick driving distance, we use teleconferencing and emails and text messages and ftp sites. We have a whole slew of communication tools to make things more convenient and timely, but sometimes go too far and remove us from the face-to-face contact between client and provider.
Which raises a conundrum: Are all the latest communication tools improving communication or complicating it? Is there any business person out there who has not, at least once, expended triple their time trying to re-explain an email to someone that may have misinterpreted the intended message?
Absolutely, the techno-age tools are great and all have their place in our increasingly competitive world, and even as innovative marketing tools. But how we use them can create a breakdown in the message and response function, and can contradict the goal of speed by adding to our time management challenges.
Recently, a time-management expert mentioned that we all complain about the 100’s of emails we get each day, but we only need to respond to about 15% of them. The kicker was that WE are the culprits behind our own overflowing email inboxes! We send out emails and do not state “no response needed, just an ‘FYI’ for you.” So, the receiver sends back a response – “Thanks for the info.” And we send the obligatory “Thanks” email in response to the thanks message. A modern day Abbot & Costello could make a good satire out of this!
But here is the deeper conundrum, far beyond a simple dilemma of time management. If we are spending time spinning wheels and creating unnecessary work, less time is spent on spinning a good strategy to a problem. For any business or organization to be effective we have to be ‘thought leaders’; in other words, the currency of success is time spent thinking through a problem to come to an innovative solution.
Electronic communication has a vital role in the scheme of business, but there needs to be clearly defined guidelines about when to email and when to text message and when to meet in person. So much of the core of what a marketing firm does for its clients is based on having extraordinary communication. The creative process and the strategic process both share this need for clear dialog. It’s much easier to engage in ‘active listening’ techniques when you are in the same room with a client, rather than when you are trading emails.
Communication is messy under the best of circumstances – I don’t always interpret or perceive the information the way my client meant it, and they don’t always express themselves the way they intended. If I lose the opportunity to re-state what I heard, they lose the opportunity to clarify for me what they meant, and sometimes to even clarify for themselves so we can work out an alternative strategy together. And to make things messier, everyone likes different methods of communication. Some truly do communicate best in email where they can solidify their thoughts and then hit ‘send’, rather than feel rushed to formulate their thoughts in person.
Here are five questions to help evaluate and avoid your own communication conundrum:
- Have I asked my own clients/suppliers/staff in which method they prefer for me to communicate to them?
- Is this a complex question or explanation? And, if yes, what is the most EFFECTIVE way to communicate it?
- Am I really just avoiding having direct contact because it seems easier to email? And if it is ‘easier’, am I being clear in my response or question to avoid the mega-email-reply-to-your-reply syndrome?
- Do I need to keep a paper trail of my communications, and if so, would a brief summary confirmation email to a live conversation serve that purpose?
- What ways can I improve the effectiveness and the efficiency of my own communication – active listening, follow up reports to meetings, more concise and clear emails with clear subject lines, etc.?