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Posts Tagged ‘communication’

Nation…Recently, I finished Stephen Colbert’s book, I am America (And So Can You!) Like Mr. Colbert, I’m no fan of reading books, but this one has a lot of pictures, so I made the exception. It has a lot of opinions, too. And I am a big fan of opinions, because if there is one thing I’m absolutely certain of, it’s my opinions. (My opinions, death and taxes.)

It’s my opinion that we can learn about brand building by watching Mr. Colbert. Here is a man who has been able to match his not-so-hidden agenda—Mission, Vision, Values and Purpose—so purely to his powerfully cohesive Look, Message and Actions. What is his agenda, you ask? (I’ll ask for you.) My opinion tells me that his agenda clearly is to realize a world driven by the free market so that he can use his self-promotion talents to build his power-base and monetize his fame. (Who wouldn’t want this?)

Let’s start with the Look. He is consistent: Dark suit, white shirt, power tie, wire-rim glasses, and well-coiffed mane (nice job of hiding the gray, sir)—the uniform of a free-market zealot. The Look is reinforced on his website, over and over again in his book and at his public appearances. He only varies it to prove a point, which makes that point all the more noticeable and powerful. For example, when he went to Iraq, he wore camouflage and got his head shaved. This proved the point regarding his unequivocal support of the troops. (Also made the point that he looks better with longer hair.) Then every night thereafter, when we saw him with short hair, we were powerfully reminded of the point he made when he had it shaved. (Short hair takes awhile to grow back.)

Next, let’s examine his Message. Again, he’s consistent both in content and in tone (and by content and tone I mean so close to the edge of satire that you might even think he leans to the left). Free market… support of the Republican agenda…doesn’t see race…doesn’t read books…afraid of bears…believes in a Christian nation…a mistrust of science are all familiar themes (and by familiar I mean excrutiatingly monotonous.) We know where Stephan Colbert stands. (In high regard with his banker.)

And his Actions match his Look and Message. He walks the talk (pays illegal immigrant to walk; he just talks). He puts people on notice, points out threats, give a tip of his hat or wag of his finger, challenges all his interview guests with his right-wing perspective (pistols at dawn might be easier) and otherwise offers his opinions unabashedly. (To his guests it may seem to be more bashedly).

How do you measure the success of the Colbert brand? His Facebook page has nearly 2,000,000 fans. His show is immensely popular, he spoke at the White House Correspondent Dinner, His book was on top of the New York Times Bestseller’s List, and by his own admission, Stephan is incredibly wealthy.

I choose to measure it by the impressive (in its odd range) list of other “brands” that wanted to affiliate with Stephan to receive his famous bump. From his website:

Colbert has literally made a name for himself with “The Colbert Report.” The following have all been named in honor of the host: Steagle Cobeagle the Eagle, the mascot for the minor league hockey team Saginaw Spirit; Stephen Jr., a bald eagle at the San Francisco Zoo; Stephanie Colbertle the Turtle, a leatherback turtle in the first Great Turtle Race; Aptostichus Stephencolberti, a trapdoor spider; Air Colbert, a Virgin America jet; American Dream, a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor; Esteban Colbert, a very virile falcon in San Jose; Stelephant Colbert, an elephant seal tagged as part of a study by University of California Santa Cruz; Agaporomorphus Colberti, a diving beetle from Venezuela; and a NASA treadmill called the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistant Treadmill (C.O.L.B.E.R.T.).

Stephan Colbert is an authentic brand. He has translated his agenda into a compelling Look and Message. He remains consistent in his Actions. This has earned him brand zealots—something to which all brands aspire.

Finally, to Mr. Colbert: You’re welcome, sir. You’ve just received the GPS Creative bump.

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One of my favorite Peanuts cartoons shows Charlie Brown and Linus leaning against a fence. Linus asks Charlie Brown a theological question: When you go to heaven are you graded on a percentage or a curve? Charlie, without hesitation replies, “On a curve, naturally.”  When Linus asks, how he can be so sure, Charlie responds, “I’m always sure about things that are a matter of opinion.”

That exchange provokes thought on many levels, not the least of which is the topic I’d like to explore today: Balancing Advocacy (communicating one’s perspective) with Inquiry (asking questions and listening to others).

Of course, Linus was the deep thinker in the neighborhood. As an Inquirer, he got there by asking questions…seeking the truth. Charlie Brown, the Advocate, was often the buffoon; outsmarted by his dog; as manager, never a winning baseball game; and, always falling for Lucy’s fake sincerity when she pulled the football away just when Charlie was about to kick it.

Inquiry seems to have the edge in this comic strip.

Now let’s look in the corporate world. Here, it’s often those who have the greatest conviction in their set of assumptions who win. Advocacy rules over inquiry because at the end of the day, decisions must be made and action taken based on available information. Analysis paralysis does not move a company forward.

So where is the balance to be found? Where’s the line between think and over-think? And where is the time to do either? How can the Advocates be sure they hear from the Inquirers—and not just get their way because others are insecure or afraid of being wrong? Or because they fear uncovering a different, less pleasant truth? Or, perhaps because they’re apathetic?

A Playing Field for Advocacy and Inquiry

Innovation is one arena where Advocacy and Inquiry must play well together. In order to be innovative, one has to question everything. All assumptions are suspect, everything must be seen through fresh eyes. Wild ideas, experimentation and mistakes are catalysts for breakthrough solutions. But in the end, innovation requires change. Someone has to sell the new idea—be its Advocate—to those who might still be in Inquiry mode. And even more importantly, to those in the Off mode.

I love this quote by Fredrich Jacobi, who says, “We must try harder to understand than to explain.” A great endorsement for the clarifiers among us.

On the other hand, Teddy Roosevelt once said, “In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

The Inquirer in me will continue to search for the balance. The Advocate in me tells me to get back to work.

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Have you ever tried to sell yourself or sell an idea with a logic that seems so obvious to you, yet for some unknown reason, it doesn’t sink in with others? Like the time you had that perfect pitch to a prospect who was less than generous in providing feedback? Too often our presentations and marketing materials focus on what we believe are our strengths or the strength of the idea. We cite statistics and stories for support. Yet these presentations miss the mark because they fail to consider what the prospects might need to hear before they can even listen to what we’re selling.

In short, many of us present ourselves and our ideas by talking about what’s important to us rather than what’s motivating to our prospects. We miss the important step of considering the context for our message, before crafting the content of the message.

The following is an approach for 1) exploring context, and 2) focusing content for your message.

Exploring Message Context

What’s happening? Begin by looking at your own assumptions, perspectives or attitudes that influence your presentation, and how they might be similar or different than those of your prospect?

Why is it happening? What market forces, personality traits and other issues might be affecting those assumptions, perspectives or attitudes, and therefore influence the decision to act?

What do we want to happen? What is the goal of the communication? And if different, what is the ultimate long-term goal of the relationship? What are the obstacles that might get in the way of achieving the goal?

Use the insights from this exploration to frame your content. Two examples:

  • If  your prospect has engaged the organization in a customer relationship initiative and you’re trying to sell sustainability, your prospect might not want his employees to lose focus with another initiative. You might frame your proposal as a way to enhance customer relationships. Or you might wait until after the customer relationship initiative is well seeded before attempting to sell in a sustainability initiative.
  • If, after thinking about your prospect’s personality, you decide she is an implementer who is not much interested in hearing about the planning process, you might want to begin by talking about goals, deliverables, metrics and schedules before talking about your process for finding and leveraging the insights that drive your work.

Focusing Message Content

Once we know the context of the message, we can better focus the content of the message. The trick here is to avoid the mistake of focusing only on the What of the message, and failing to connect the So What and Now What. Below is the distinction we make between What, So What and Now What.

a) What you want the prospects to know.

There are a variety of tools to help you arrive at a pinpoint focus on what you want to communicate. For example, if you’re selling the services or products of your organization you might use a concept in Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great and explain, what you do better than any other organization on the planet, If it’s an idea you’re selling, write the newspaper headline that explains it. Then elaborate; but remember, the object is to engage your prospect in the What, not to demonstrate your encyclopedic knowledge of the topic.

b) So What it means to your prospects and why they should care

It’s always good to list the traditional benefits that you believe the prospect might hope for or even expect. Then explore what benefit you might deliver that the prospect doesn’t even know is needed until it’s offered. This is meeting the unknown, unmet need (we call it the gift) and if you meet all known needs plus a compelling unknown, unmet need, then you have successfully differentiated your organization or idea from all others.

c) Now What I want you to do about it

While this seems obvious, many times we forget to “ask for the order.” We are so focused on presenting ourselves that we forget to tell the prospects what we want them to do.

So this is what I’d like you to do. Try exploring context for your next presentation. Connect your What to the So What and Now What. Share this post with others. Then give me feedback. Let me know what helps you…what confuses you…how we might improve this communication model.

Oh, and let me know if you come up with any new ideas for “what’s in it for you.”

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