Friday, December 2, 2011

My 3-Step Strategy for Communication Projects: Think Brand First

Good economy or bad economy, somehow I always find a way to work on my day off and today was no different. It felt weird not to be writing a blog in the morning as I am accustomed to do, but I had to start getting my teaching materials together for January (I’m returning to University of Maryland University College to teach Marketing Management and Innovation), plus I had to update a few social profile type things online.


It’s a lot of work, and it’s not done, but it led me to reflect on my general philosophy of and strategy for communication, beyond simply saying that I am “brand-centric.” When you’re a sociologist-turned-brand blogger and social commentator, plus an adjunct professor, freelance writer and civil servant, it’s helpful to take some time out to do this, if only to help others understand that your professional life actually does have an underlying consistency.


Anyway, here it is. I feel the need to get to it in a bit of a roundabout way. (You can skip this part if you want and go to Step #1 if you’re in a hurry.)


Background: Growing Up With Vinyl & A Manual Typewriter


I learned to type on a manual typewriter – the kind that didn’t even have auto-correct. I listened to vinyl records as a child too. Looking back it was all so primitive. My first computer was a Tandy that had a one-line screen.


Very rapidly over my lifetime, the old technologies kept morphing until we have the state-of-the-art today: like a Technicolor whirlwind of communication possibilities. I still can’t believe that in the palm of my hand I can hold a machine that lets me broadcast a video, audio, photo, blog or Facebook post or tweet to the entire world.


Anyone can do that. It takes absolutely no money to reach an audience here or on the other side of the globe. And I can understand how you can easily get carried away with that power. Lost in the possibilities of the technology. And forget the art of communicating well, artfully and strategically and authentically.


Step #1: Develop a Unique, Consistent and Credible Brand Voice

So I try to keep a consistent framework to what I’m doing, when I go out there and say stuff. For me it always goes back to brand. What is the long-term, consistent theme or idea you want people to take away?


In the things that I write, for myself and for others, I will always bring it back to a voice that has the ring of truth. Almost like a person talking - I can actually hear it. It has to sound like a credible, believable voice with a narrative that flows and makes sense, or I refuse to be a part of it. And I will write it based on a combination of research, observation, knowledge, imagination and instinct.


Step #2: Choose Your Communication Tools


After you have the brand voice down, there is the issue of medium. And this will take different forms depending on what environment the audience is in. Sometimes the product will be a thought leadership publication. Other times, a brochure outlining best practices. Still other times, a simple word mark is enough to make even an ordinary fact sheet stand out in the customer's mind.

Step #3: Assemble a Team That Complements Your Skills


Finally, there is the matter of facing your limitations. (Let’s put it a more positive way, “focusing on the core skills you bring to the table.”) Didn’t Jack Welch say to be number one, number two or get out? Well that applies to communicating too. Bring what you know, then find talented peers who can do the rest.


For example, at the end of the day I am basically a writer, and I am better with the big-picture concept than the detail. Sure there are subjects that I understand – branding, marketing, social media, etc. – but at the end of the day I live and breathe words. So I benefit from help, especially on the design, web and multimedia fronts. In a visual society you absolutely have to integrate words, content and electronic presentation skills in order to be effective.  


(Even if your project only involves writing, it is hugely helpful to show it to other people for feedback. Is it clear? Are you overusing a certain technique? Does it seem imbalanced? It can be hard to step away and look at your work objectively.)


With these three steps accomplished – the brand voice, a strategy for communication media, and the project team – it becomes possible to do work that I can be proud of.


Of course there are many other considerations, and it would be impossible to touch on all of them here. But having and articulating a simple framework that I can repeat from project to project, together with understanding my unique personality and work style (more on that, maybe, in another post) helps me to turn out work that I can feel good about.


Hope this is helpful, and if anyone has feedback or a different approach, please share.


Have a good weekend everyone, and good luck!