Category Archives: Communication matters

A word in your ear about keeping connected

Last week, in the run up to the new GDPR Data Regulations coming into force on 25 May, I was sent 18 invitations to confirm my interest in receiving future mailings from a range of sources – mainly not-for-profit organisations.

It’s an opportunity for me to stem the flow of items dropping into my inbox (you should try it – it’s liberating). I’m sure there will be lots more invitations (not to mention some reminders from those same organisations to whom I haven’t responded).

As someone with a 40-year career in marketing, I thought I’d also take the opportunity to look at the different techniques, primarily the words, that those 18 organisations have chosen to try to keep me on their circulation lists. My assessment is, of course, neither objective nor scientific, but then nor is the basis for my decision about which mailings I opt-in to, and which I let go.

The headline in the subject box…

Right now, I would imagine that most hearts sink when they see those four letters – GDPR. So, should you include them in your subject box? Only four of the 18 organisations thought so, and who knows how many people stopped reading at that point (at best filing it away for ‘reading later’).

Personally, I appreciate the use of humour in communications although, of course, what’s funny is very subjective. A couple of organisations chose to mention ‘privacy policy’ in their headlines – which is almost certainly a turn-off – but one softened the blow with humour – ‘Update to Our Privacy Policy (yawn)’ – it made me want to read more. The communication signed off in a similarly lighthearted way, saying “That is all. You can go back to your own life now.”

Most communications were variations on the ‘don’t miss out on future communications’ theme. ‘Let’s keep in touch… we’d love to keep talking to you’Keep updated’ ‘Don’t let GDPR end our relationship’ ‘Stay part of … action required’ ‘Don’t miss out – we know it’s boring but…’  ‘we’d like to keep in touch.’

The organisation sending the communication…

It helps if I personally know the people behind the invitation – I’ll give people I know and like the benefit of the doubt, keeping reading for longer. Part of my response is even more subjective – what’s my gut reaction when I see their communications drop into my inbox? Eventually I become more rational – have they provided useful, interesting and important information over the last 12 months – would I miss it?

The wording…

Once into the body of the communication, I assess whether I’m drawn in by the message including the style of writing. Whether it’s personalised in any way – Dear first name/ Mr surname / member/ subscriber/ service user – which applied to a third of the 18 organisations – is not so important to me, although on balance I think some sort of salutation – even just ‘hello’ – is better than none at all.

I tend to dislike anything ‘shouty’ – using CAPITAL LETTERS, text highlighted in red or underlined, and too many exclamation marks!!! Ironically the worst offender in this respect was an organisation promoting peace (it certainly didn’t come across as a gentle invitation).

I’ve already mentioned humour, and who says Privacy Policies have to be discussed too seriously? The most humorous communication on this subject said…

We’ll show you ours if you show us yours

To make sure you know what [we’re] doing with your private bits (data, of course) we need to show you our new Privacy Statement.

And to make sure we know exactly what you’d like from us, we’d love you to reveal your innermost…preferences.

This came from a campaign against male suicide – so they clearly think a lighthearted approach to a serious subject is the way to connect. And what they also did cleverly (as did three other organisations) was to use the GDPR opportunity to do a bit of market research for future mailings – encouraging me to update my preferences.

Building trust…

Our personal data and mis-use of it is, of course, high on the international agenda so the introduction of the new regulations is timely. Most effective marketing is about developing long term relationships and, particularly in the current climate, building trust is an important part of doing that successfully.

So I ask myself, do I believe what they say in those e-mails – are they serious about keeping my details secure, or are they just saying that because of the new regulations?

Four communications used reassuring phrases and, strangely perhaps, the more casual the assurance the more I believed them! Try this ‘The new privacy law has given me the opportunity to clean up my mailing list and ensure the E-Newsletter only goes to those who find it useful… The mailing list is managed only by me and the emails stored are never shared with anyone.’ Honest, simply said, sounds sincere – great.

One way that correspondents can show they mean business is to say how my support (and the information I share with them) will be used for my benefit – the trade-off. Surprisingly perhaps, only five of the 18 organisations took time to tell me what I’d get if I said ‘yes’ to their invitation. One organisation probably went into greater detail than necessary about their future plans – but it was great to know what I was going to be signing up to receive.

Surprising few (five organisations) thanked me for my time. One went overboard offering me the possibility of winning a box of doughnuts if I responded by a certain date (many gave 25 May as their cut-off date). Which brings me to my last consideration…

The call to action…

If you expect a response to a communication you not only need to make it clear what you want the respondent to do, but you need to make it as easy as possible for them to do it. A simple, clearly marked button to click for opt-in and a polite ‘thank you’ when I did was the most painless experience. I make an allowance for additional tick boxes to refine my preferences but that’s about it. Anything more than half a dozen clicks and I lose heart.

The twist in the tail of this exercise is that the majority of organisations inviting me to opt-in to their mailings under the new data protection regulations probably didn’t need to renew my permission in the first place!

Some myth-busting about GDPR consent from the Information Commissioner’s Office https://iconewsblog.org.uk/2018/05/09/raising-the-bar-consent-under-the-gdpr

If you need a few resources to get to grips with GDPR, go to  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/free-lunch-business-support

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My love affair with TEDx

I don’t know when my romance with TED Talks first started – I’ve been a fan for decades although I’ve never let it become an obsession. But my love of TEDx  (or little TED as I call it) started in 2013 when I helped to organise a TEDx gathering in Bedford.

TEDx is the independently organised offspring of big TED. If you haven’t already flirted with TED Talks, they’re a vast collection of 18-or-less-minutes talks – presented direct to camera in front of a live audience – on every subject under the sun, and probably some on the sun itself. Discover them online after reading this blog post and your life will be changed forever – just like when you fall in love.

After Bedford, I attended TEDxChelmsford twice, giving a talk – Male, stale and in a shed – in June 2016 and watching others go through the same ordeal a year later. I’ve also been in the audience at TEDxNorwichED (ED indicates the focus for the talks was education in its widest sense) twice – most recently on April 28th 2018 – which is what has prompted this post.

As readers of this blog series may remember (I try to forget it) my appearance on stage in Chelmsford in June 2016 was not without incident and it spawned a new series of blog posts which continue to this day. To cut a long and painful story short, in the middle of my 14-minute talk I dried up on stage for what seemed like an eternity but was probably only around 10 seconds.

It’s an experience you don’t easily forget, so I was with the presenters of their TEDx talks every step of the way as they went out under the spotlight – in front of 450 people at TEDx NorwichED, and literally thousands following the live stream on YouTube (so no pressure then, as they say). Scary stuff indeed, particularly as the idea is that you speak without notes (and most didn’t have slides as a prompt either)

I take no delight in reporting that, of the 30 speakers, at least half a dozen lost it like I did in Chelmsford (and more probably came close to it). This is no criticism of the speakers or their preparation for the day – it’s just something that happens. And each amazing one had their own technique for recovering – from admitting their mind had gone blank (with some skilfully making a joke of it), to pulling a small list of prompts from their pocket, to looking at a friend on the front row for a verbal prompt.

I am delighted to say that these very natural and understandable hiccups mattered not one bit. The audience in the hall was with them 100%. If anything, the vulnerability of the speakers endeared them to us all the more; our admiration grew for their bravery – and the applause and cheers rang out at the end as it did for all the speakers.

Which is why I love TEDx. The strapline for big TED is ‘ideas worth spreading’ and we got loads of inspiring ideas at TEDx NorwichED. But for me what mattered as much was experiencing the sense of community, the togetherness, sharing a thirst for learning about ways we can make the world a better place. And that, in my book, is a brilliantly worthwhile use of a very wet Saturday in Norwich.

A spot of bother https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2016/12/17/a-spot-of-bother-no-mans-land-1)

 Male, stale and in a shed – the edited version https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZ1e8FVcWEo 

PS The wonders of editing – if you think that the big TED talks look slick and professional, apparently even those speakers are known to lose it mid-presentation.

 

My love affair with Twitter

In 2012, when I was new to Twitter, I was advised that the usual pattern of adoption, if that’s the way I wanted to go, would be along the lines of:

Denial – I don’t need it or want it – a waste of time

Curiosity – I wonder what they’re all talking about

Ah-ha! – I can see this could be fun

Obsession – I know it’s probably not the best use of my time, but…

Like breathing –  It’s a natural and welcome part of my daily life

14,000 tweets later, I feel it’s time to take stock and decide whether I’ve been wasting my time on Twitter for the past 6 years. I have no doubt my wife would have a three-letter-word answer to that – so I don’t need to ask her opinion.

As Valentine’s Day approaches I have to admit, I love Twitter. I feel I’m somewhere between the obsessional and like-breathing stages in my… I refuse to say ‘journey’ because I can’t stand the over-use and abuse of that word.  So, what’s behind the love affair?

I have Twitter to thank for introducing me to Men’s Sheds and Repair Cafés – in the same week around five years ago. Both have made a massive and positive difference to my life in the real, rather than the virtual, world. I am the first to admit that most of the ‘best ideas’ I’ve developed in recent years have their origins in the Twittersphere. I am regularly inspired by the creativity and humanity of so many people out there – it gives me hope for the future (just as the nastiness that is undoubtedly out there also gives me cause for despair).

Despite the ongoing romance, I feel in control – both limiting the messages I choose to see and the amount of time I spend viewing and, when I want to, responding to tweets. I ignore the etiquette of following people that follow me – I’m quite selective about the people I follow (I flirted with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt but he was making me ill). I have a personal rule to follow no more than 50% of the number following me, so I get to see a reasonable range of tweets from those I do follow.

Like breathing, being part of Twitter is a daily pastime. Unlike breathing I can live without it – and do so when on holiday – and my mobile phone (much to the annoyance of some members of my family). For me, Twitter is a major source of news, comment and analysis and, for my paid job helping young people start businesses, it’s an essential tool for helping me to accumulate a steady stream of free business start-up resources that I drip-feed to over 150 young people every fortnight.

I personally regret the increase to allow tweets of up to 280 characters. As someone in marketing for 40 years, I liked the greater discipline to write clearly and concisely imposed by the old 140-character limit. But the new limit does potentially facilitate more meaningful exchanges. I’ve recently been party to an interesting conversation with similarly-minded people on the portrayal of older people in the media (and what we ‘should or shouldn’t’ be able to do as we grow older).

Finally, who follows me and how others respond to my own tweets, retweets and comments on others are, in my view, a real and meaningful barometer of what ideas and views (mine and those of others) strike a chord within the part of the Twittersphere I choose to inhabit. The fairly instant feedback is something that, after a 40-year career in communications, I value or, dare I say it, love.

See this wordsmith’s blog on the power of the Tweet  https://prism-clarity.com/2017/12/finding-story-part-3

www.facebook.com/TheRepairShed  www.facebook.com/RoystonRepairCafe

Authenticity, creativity and better business

In my work with young entrepreneurs thinking of setting up their own businesses, I stress the importance of honesty and integrity in business practices. This is not just about keeping on the right side of the law and avoiding business bullshit in promotion and sales, it’s about being honest about strengths and weaknesses. Being self-aware is important as long as it’s balanced – absolute honesty in our relations with others doesn’t always help…

It’s also about business values – red lines that would-be business owners will not cross. This came up in a meeting last week when a young entrepreneur told me “I don’t want to develop my business if that’s the kind of way I’m expected to behave.” She might have been talking about a recent edition of The Apprentice; it was actually something closer to home. I congratulated her on making that stand – her personal integrity being more important than the pursuit of pure (or, in her view, impure) business success and sales.

The red lines are not nearly so easily drawn in other, more creative, ventures. Last Friday I had two demonstrations of this at different ends of the same day.

At a breakfast meeting with a photographer we were talking about the digital manipulation of images which, at its most extreme is the difference being a documentary record and a digital artwork. The photographer’s view was that, in artistic terms, if the final image (whether manipulated or not) pleases the viewer that’s what matters. He backed up his argument by saying that landscape painter Constable would manipulate the view, re-arranging trees and other intrusions, to create the desired effect. Whether enhancement is digital (as in fingers) or digital (as in electronic) he suggested, it’s a widely accepted tradition.

Last Friday night, 14 hours after my discussion with the photographer, I was at our local folk club enjoying a breath-taking performance by a guitar-playing singer-songwriter backed by six very talented string musicians. The room was too small and too hot for comfort, the sound was unbalanced, and the guitar for the first number was out of tune. But the performance was amazing – raw, untamed… in a word, authentic. I bought a CD of the pieces the band had performed – engineered in a studio to iron out all the music imperfections. It was still a delight, but a pale imitation of the authentic original live performance.

For value-based enterprises, a business manifesto is one way to wear your heart on your sleeve http://www.valuablecontent.co.uk/blog/how-to-write-a-business-manifesto

See also https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/08/09/are-experts-overrated

Are experts overrated?

In my work with young people who are thinking about setting up their own business, I constantly stress the importance of honesty. I mean honesty with themselves as much as with anything else. Being self-aware and having the confidence to share personal weaknesses, as well as strengths, can be very powerful in our famous-for-15-minutes-for-doing-nothing society.

Of course, we’re taught to ‘present our best side’ at job interviews and on CVs and a certain amount of ‘embellishment of the facts’ is almost expected. But I tell young entrepreneurs when it comes to business plans, it’s best to be realistic but positive. Business pitches with sky-high sales expectations and false claims about relevant skills (‘extensive experience in market gardening’ was how one young man described his two-week work placement) will be found out and can ruin reputations.

Which is not to say we have to spend all our time telling others why we’re a liability rather than an asset – that’s not the way to make friends and influence people.

In a previous advisory role I worked with charities and social enterprises and, at a first meeting, I’d say “tell me a bit about your organisation”. I still remember the Chief Officer who said “we’re good at this, this and this, we need to get better at this, this and this”. Here was someone I could work with – he knew what he didn’t know (if that doesn’t sound too Donald Rumsfeld). Not surprisingly I’ve forgotten those who, at that first meeting, denied they had any areas for improvement (in which case, why was I being brought in to support them?)

Readers of earlier blogs will know of my love of language and my loathing of carelessly used abbreviations, jargon, and red-rag words such as ‘deliver’ and ‘engage’ which are so vague as to be meaningless. It’s a lexicon for self-styled experts, so insecure in their knowledge and status that they feel the need to dispense wheelbarrow loads of bullshit.

Whenever I doubt my own knowledge (more often than not!) I tell myself that a real expert is prepared to admit their ignorance. Many years ago I was at a public meeting with the then Chairman of the Forestry Commission. He was asked an apparently very straight forward questions by a lad in his early teens. Lord Taylor (the ‘tree expert’) paused for a moment then said, “you won’t believe this, but I don’t know the answer to that… but I’ll find out and let you know.

And even if you are an expert – with certificates, letters after your name, and all the associated bells and whistles to prove it – don’t think you can sit back and bask in the glory. There’s something else to keep you awake at night – the ‘impostor syndrome’. Also known as the fraud syndrome, the term was coined as recently as 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. It afflicts high-achieving individuals who are unable to acknowledge and accept their accomplishments and, as a result, they have a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud’.

So maybe bullshitting has its appeal after all…

The power of networking

Many years ago I went to a talk in Cambridge by Hilton Catt, co-author of The Power of Networking. I don’t know whether the publicity was ambiguous or what but, it being Cambridge, there was a digital divide within the audience – one half thought it would be about virtual networks, the other half thought it would be about ‘real’ human networks.

I’m pleased to say it was about the power of the face-to-face – in Hilton Catt’s case, for job-hunting. I was unemployed at the time and, while the evening didn’t result in my immediate employment, it reinforced what I’d been told by other jobhunters and confirmed my belief in the benefit of seeking and nurturing contacts for both professional and personal progression.

To this day, I still think you can’t beat close encounters of the personal kind – even in our tech-rich, time-poor working lives – and more so in an age of faux online friends, false news, and reality TV shows that suggest that, in business, someone has to lose for you to win.

Call me old-fashioned, but my experience of working with small business start-ups for more than a decade is that they have far more to gain by sharing their ideas (rather than protecting them) and seeking partners for mutually beneficial relationships. I’m not starry-eyed about collaboration and co-operation (as opposed to competition) but I recommend it daily, and will do so until someone convinces me there’s a better way.

In my day-job I support young people in their efforts to turn business ideas into viable and hopefully sustainable enterprises. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely road to take, so I encourage then to seek out like-minded people – even the competition – for advice about mistakes made, lessons learnt, and what works well.

The young entrepreneurs are constantly astonished and delighted by the helpfulness of others (people who remember when they were starting out maybe) with no expectation of a payback. I also pull in my own personal and professional contacts when I can. In the last six months, I’ve fixed a fence erector up with a van, I’ve arranged a would-be photographer’s night at a music awards ceremony in London as professional snapper’s assistant, I’ve unearthed (pun intended) a garden designer to pass judgement on a newbie designer’s work, and I’ve steered others towards potential collaborators, including business networks.

The day that ‘who you know’ becomes less important than ‘what you know’ and online communications make face-to-face connections unnecessary, I think I’ll pack up and head for the hills (preferably somewhere there’s no broadband).

Small card, big message

In my day job I work with young would-be entrepreneurs to support them in setting up in business if they have an idea they want to pursue. As most people know, writing a business plan is a good place to start – to get the ideas out of heads and on to paper where it can be developed, adapted and, if need be, rejected.

When it gets to the publicity section I’m always intrigued that, in an age of social media and worldwide online communication, when asked how they plan to promote their business, nearly every young person writes ‘business cards’. How do they even know about business cards?!

I think the attachment to this humble handout is a combination of it being tangible (unlike things like ‘brand’ ‘values’ ‘and ‘social media’). It’s also cheap – most people know companies that will hook you in with an offer of your first 50 business cards free. Then there’s the comfort of conforming – ‘me too’ – everybody talks about business cards and seems to have then, so why don’t I?

This is not to knock the potential value of professionally produced business cards but, as money is always short, I tend to design and print my own (certainly when I’m paying for them) because I use so few. But then maybe, after 35 years in marketing, I’m missing a trick…?

A business card can, and should, say a lot about you and your business – your quality, character, professionalism, and quirkiness if that’s the business you’re in. Above all, it should be the ‘calling card’ that convinces your target customers that it’s worth making that phone call.

I’m someone with an interest in clear and concise communication in all its forms, so I find the business card an interesting challenge. Like most publicity pieces, it can be both ephemeral – one of many gathered at an event soon to be ‘filed and forgotten’, or essential for safe storage (in my case in a pile on my desk) for easy retrieval when the time is right. Surprisingly often I reach for one I know is in there somewhere, but the beauty of the business card for me is in the use of the limited space (in seconds and centimetres) for grabbing attention.

I’m a sucker for gimmicks so I’m usually more attracted to the design than the content. I’ve been working with a young person who plans to offer soft and hard garden landscaping services. We’re currently trying to produce a business card that grows using paper embedded with seeds. We’ve got the paper from my friends at the Frogmore Paper Mill.  Now it’s a matter of working out how to create the cards so they sprout and grow when watered carefully on an office desk – watch this space…

Last week in Bristol I was attracted to a slightly-larger-than-standard business card from a local company – Florentina & Chalky. What you can’t tell from the photo is that the card has a unique feel – like chalkboard – so they go one better than the company that ‘does what it says on the tin’!

What next – a scratch and sniff business card for a cheese shop?

http://florentinaandchalky.blogspot.co.uk 

http://www.thepapertrail.org.uk

PS – a re-use tip: If you’ve gathered a pile of business cards with blank backs and you don’t want them, you can use then as a deck of cue cards for your next talk – a handy-sized pack of prompts.