Monday, September 29, 2008

Random thoughts for today - total branding and communication

A few things I don't have time to write in depth about, but want to mention and hopefully will expand on in later posts:

1. An easy way to tell if your brand is aligned is to look at the quality of your meetings. If people are disengaged, unfocused, or focused on the wrong things (like side conversation/humor), 9 times out of 10 your brand is out of sync.

2. Teamwork is an overused word but it has a critical impact on brand alignment. If your organization is experiencing turf wars of any kind, particularly when it comes to policy people not communicating with brand people or brand people not collaborating with each other, your brand is not going to work. Remember, it's all about the OUTSIDE image...the purpose of internal communication is to feed into that.

3. Communicators need to train their clients NOT to ask for immediate communication plans. Any doofus can go onto Google or get a book and create a generic comm. plan (or consult the old comm. plan and rework it into a new one.) The job of a communicator is to CUSTOMIZE each plan individually for each situation. That means research, knowledge of the subject matter, coordination, meetings, etc. Doesn't have to take more than a week, but one day is just not reasonable.

4. Similarly to #3, communicators need to be at the table when their plan is presented to senior leadership. They created it, they understand the reasons behind it, and they need to be in a position to negotiate any changes with decision-makers directly.

5. Communicators are often tempted to "cave in" to difficult clients. This is understandable. We want the business and we won't get it if our working relationships are poor. At the same time, there is a need to hold the line and insist on some sort of integrity to a disciplined strategic communications approach. One way to handle this is to develop governance processes (e.g. guidelines, templates, councils, etc.) to stand in between the communicator and the client to keep them from getting out of control. Then the communicator has an overall structure to fall back on when the client's demands start getting unreasonable or when other communicators on the team start getting creative only for creative's sake.

6. The above is particularly important in the case of internal branding, where clients seem often to feel like since nobody outside will see their communications, they can be as "homemade" and sometimes outlandish as they want.

7. Going back to the last part of #5, creativity for creativity's sake is TERRIBLE IN EVERY WAY. It's bad for the brand (because it fragments the image), it's bad for the communications team (because it undermines their credibility), and it's bad for the organization (because it wastes time and money). Do everything you can to fight this cancerous form of communication.

8. Some people confuse an official seal with a brand. Never do that. A seal is not going to get you recognition outside the organization. A brand (encompassing a logo) will. You can have a seal, but your focus should be on the brand and accompanying logo.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Bring the brand specialist in upfront

I hear it all the time and have been there too. The designer and the corporate marketing communications team (let's assume the typical setup - not integrated) are brought in at the last minute to "finish the job" on a project by "getting the word out". Nobody has consulted the marcom team to see if the project makes sense from a marketing perspective, is appealing to the customer, may have pitfalls, etc. And they think the designer is just there to slap a pretty picture on top, no need to coordinate with the strategic message or the overall brand. Lots of time and money wasted this way.

How to get over this if you are drawn into it?

1. Be honest - ask questions, raise specific concerns.
2. Stick to your core competency. Don't question the business model unless you have the technical knowledge to do so.
3. Partner with the designer if you're organizationally stovepiped. Get on the same page.
4. Do the best you can. Focus on simple, clear, credible messages about the project, even if it is not perfect.
5. Use and build a network of brand supporters to promote better brand alignment in the future.

Friday, September 26, 2008

25 Ways To Use Technology for Brand-Aligned Communication

This week I spoke at the ALI Strategic Internal Communication in Government conference about using technology to facilitate internal communication.

The starting point was that everything a communicator does, including the use of technology, should ultimately be in support of total brand alignment.

Then I progressed into a discussion of technology itself, and how to implement it effectively given a specific mission, culture, communication style, and desired brand.

Here is some actionable advice on this subject:
  1. Put your logo on every communication—external website, intranet, blog, etc.
  2. Work within the culture, not against it, to facilitate technology adoption.
  3. Keep your message consistent across channels/platforms.
  4. Purposely customize your external website to an internal audience.
  5. Use technology to facilitate human interaction, not replace it.
  6. Reassess user rights frequently to protect against information leaks.
  7. Accept criticism (e.g. via blog) but insist that employees put their name on it.
  8. Treat technology as a necessity not an option.
  9. Use technology strategically—filter information to the right people at the right time.
  10. Don’t over-write—short and simple is best online, where people scan and don’t read.
  11. Longer documents should be in deeper links that people can print if they need to.
  12. Use technology to inform your employees of an issue before the media does.
  13. Customize delivery of information according to employee usage habits—email, online, handheld device, etc.
  14. Start small and build on incremental success and word of mouth—start a revolution and it may backfire.
  15. Build in extensive support and training for new technologies.
  16. Keep print materials available—just use them sparingly.
  17. Use multiple and overlapping channels to communicate—not just one.
  18. Make the business case for incorporating new technologies—start with functional needs and move to cultural.
  19. Collaborate extensively to achieve buy-in around new technology initiatives.
  20. Keep technology simple—especially for the communicators who will use it.
  21. Evolve strategy and execution continuously—never rest on your laurels.
  22. Ask for feedback and act based on it.
  23. Obtain metrics where you can.
  24. Don’t use technology only for technology’s sake—make sure it has a communication purpose.
  25. Test your message before you send it—and check everything, to the smallest detail (including links!)