Sunday, 16 January 2011

'Music to my ears ...'

'You hum it, I'll play it ...'

During a job interview once, as I was talking about integrated campaigns and joined-up marketing communications, one of the panel interjected with, 'Phil, that's music to my ears ...'

In so many organisations, large and small, those responsible for communications hardly talk to each other. There's no connection between the web team, for instance, and those who put the printed publications together. Customer testimonials may appear in a sales brochure but not on-line. No-one's thought to inform the receptionist or all the front-line people who answer about the latest intiative, discount or event.

It's one thing to have a strong message, a strong proposition, but if everyone involved in communicating that message is a bar or two out, or even singing a different tune, the effect is muted.

I got the job, by the way. We were all tuned in.

Of course, orchestrating the message, making the words fit the tune, as it were, is where the hard work starts.

But it can be done.

'Dad, do you know the piano's on my foot?'
It isn't a case of, 'You hum it, I'll play it ...' - simply muddling along and playing by ear.

It's all about agreeing core messages and making sure they're embedded across the organisation and reflected in all communication channels. It's about finding the right pitch and harmony, of making sure everyone knows what parts they're singing and when and where the solo comes in.

And when it all coheres together, the effect is more than applause or the hair rising on the back of your neck. It means happy customers, informed and motivated colleagues and a real difference to the bottom line.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Beyond the online filing cabinet

Making your web pages work for you

What makes for good web design and communication?

People talk about fonts and colours and key-word searches. About word-counts, hierarchies and effective use of white-space.

All of which is fine.

But it’s always best to start with first principles.

What is your website for? Who do you want to read it?
What are you trying to communicate and why?

And, crucially, what do you want people to do once they’ve visited your site and read or scanned your content?

A web page is not an on-line filing cabinet.

It is a means of communication.

I’d suggest that unless it makes a particular offer or invites a response, then we should question whether it needs publishing in the first place.

We aren’t all Amazon. We don’t all have products or services you can collect and drop into a virtual shopping basket.

But if we’re publishing material at all then there must be some reason for it. We want it to be read. We want to communicate something.

And once we’ve established what it is we want to communicate and why, then off we go on the ‘how’.

And this is where some simple principles come in and where we start to have some fun.

What do we like to see when we visit a website? Then let’s make sure our website includes the same features. Is it ease of navigation? Clear lay-out? Simple, uncluttered text?

What do our readers want to see? Ask them. They’ll tell you.

They may well want to read your fascinating 30-page document. But will they want to scroll painstakingly through each page online? Sure, give them a link to a pdf file, but better still, give them a short outline, a few bullet points, an enticing summary.

How do you want to talk to your readers and customers? Your website should be a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Do you want to talk with them online, by phone, face to face?

Create a dialogue. That’s the whole point of communication. If your website encourages them into some kind of dialogue then it’s doing its job.

If it’s simply an online filing cabinet then do not pass ‘Go’, do not collect your £200.

Go back to first principles. Roll the dice and start again. You’ll get much further around the board.

'Let me get right to the point ...'

Keep it simple, keep it relevant ...

How many times have we clicked on a website or opened a brochure to read something like?:

‘Bloggs and Co are an established family business. Founded in 1872 by Arnold and Ernest Bloggs, hardware suppliers to the gentry, we have been trading on the high street for almost five generations bringing our unique emphasis on quality and customer service to bear through two world wars, times of recession and hardship and the advent of modern technology.

For all that time, Bloggs and Co have ...’


Bloggs and Co are a brilliant company. They offer a superb range of products and their customer service is second to none.

But you wouldn’t know that from their website. Nor their sales brochures.

You’d pick up something of their heritage and credentials, certainly. But you’ll have had to wade through a history book to find it.

Some simple tweaks would help Bloggs and Co position themselves in the readers’ minds as the outstanding company they undoubtedly are.

It’s the simple FABs thing ... Features, Advantages and Benefits.

Sales and marketing people have that drummed into them. But it’s amazing how quickly they forget.

What are Bloggs and Co trying to tell us?

Surely that they are established and reliable, that they know their business inside out and that we can rest assured that they will do a good job?

Then why not tell us that?

Listen, we’ve been around a long time. We’re not likely to disappear overnight. We know our stuff. Here’s how we can prove it, we’ve got customer testimonials you can read. We’ve got recommendations.

And to prove that we aren’t stuffy and old-fashioned despite our age, we stock the latest products and are completely comfortable with modern technology. Here are brand names you’ll recognise and shots of some pretty spectacular kit ...

Obviously Bloggs and Co wouldn’t use those exact words, but that’s what their website should tell us.
And drafting up a game-plan for their copy, a ‘copy-platform’ if you like, is the first step towards achieving that.

Bloggs and Co have a story to tell. People like stories. And they could tell it in an engaging and convincing way.

And they needn’t shy away from engaging the reader directly. ‘You want drill bits? We’ve got drill bits. Here, look at the range ...’

Their heritage and credentials can be established by the tone. Warm, reassuring copy, carefully selected imagery that conveys a sense of tradition combined with the latest technology.

That they are still a family firm and were established in 1872 is certainly important. It is who they are, what enables them to offer such an excellent service. But it is only of value in their communications to the extent that it supports their offer.

What are they offering? A wide range of quality hardware goods at a price that suits the market they operate in.

They know their customers. They know that we are men of distinction, real big spenders ...

I'm not so sure about the good looking, so refined bit. Nor that we're all necessarily blokes.

But they should get right to the point.