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Change the language, change the culture

There’s an English expression about letting the tail wag the dog. The inference is something lesser being allowed to influence something more substantial to a too great degree. Small things should not overly influence big things.

Within organisations there is sensible context for this. Sometimes silos can have a profound and unhealthy influence on organisational direction, ambition and culture. In such cases the tail may be controlled by strong personalities who wield power and influence. Or the dog is is in the hands of a hierarchy content to let things carry on much the way they have always done.

I have found such tail and dog dynamics at board and senior management team level, all the way down to (but not always including) the shop floor. IT was one area where, traditionally, such a dynamic might be found.

Take a scenario where the IT head honcho has been in post some time, running a small and similarly long-serviced team. Collectively they hold the IT infrastructure together and little has changed over the years. Everybody else is petrified that one or all of the IT inner sanctum will leave and the system will come crashing down. Tails traditionally wagged dogs using fear and mystery. If I don’t understand what’s going on how can I fix or change things?

Not all tail wagging is bad

Tails should sometimes wag dogs. Sometimes dogs have had their day for far too long. Dogs who refuse to be taught new tricks.

Enter the semantic tail…

Language is often indicative of organisational culture. It can have a practical role to play. I first began to study this in earnest when I was working within the National Health Service.

Language silos could be highly efficient – a surgeon and consultant discussing a patient in precise technicality, unhindered by soothing rhetoric or ‘layman’s terms’. This procedure would achieve this outcome with this likelihood of success or complications. No need to gussy it up for the patient.

But it could also be used to make something major seem less so. There was an over fondness for using words like ‘challenge’ to describe a ‘problem’, for example.

I became very interested in how risks (and risks are always part of organisational activity) are described. On the one hand, like the surgeon and consultant, the semantics of risk could be precise and used to discuss what could go wrong, its likelihood and consequence, in no nonsense terms. It could also, sometimes, make something very major seem very everyday and less consequential. The description of risk became formulaic.

I began to discern the same patterns in the financial sector and in those organisations who operations could have profound impact on the environment – such as in the chemical and petroleum industries. Here it was less about formula and more about trivialising, in much the same way as frequent transatlantic flyers might call the Atlantic Ocean ‘the pond’.

Language and in particular preferred vocabularies within any organisation could exert subtle but profound influences on how an organisation regarded itself and those that interacted with it – employees, customers, wider communities…

Habla customer?

A more obvious but nonetheless disturbing manifestation is within those organisations that like to bandy their internal terminology around wider audiences. You know the sort of thing; website navigation that uses the same business unit descriptors as appear in the annual report and accounts, even though these descriptions bare little if any resemblance to the terms a customer might use.

Why call a spade a spade when you can call it an an earth moving implementation device? Internal business unit/activity names can reflect budget lines, organisational history, even business hubris but not always the basics – customer need and understanding, or usefulness.

But what I’ve also noticed and been lucky to play some part in, more than once, is the shifting of organisational attitude and attainment by shifting the language.

On it’s own it’s a tough call but it can help kick start change.

It can be as simple using the word spade… or ‘problem’ more often, or asking more specific questions in meetings, such as “Who is going to do this?” rather than “How are we going to approach this?”

Sometimes there’s a need to bring several languages together. Sales terminology needs to be mapped back to product development and then rationalised with support/after sales services. Sometimes shareholderese has to be demoted from first language status. Sometimes language needs to be braver, less… apologetic.

Often there is a need to go out and listen to customers and port some of that language back into the organisation. I recently spent several days dealing with a call centre over a mobile phone issue and whomever developed their scripts deserved to hear some very specific Anglo Saxon and Norse terms from my own vocabulary.

I stress was some higher authority I wanted to get at. It was very obvious that the call centre staff had been rehearsed in responses that they also found difficult and artificial. Which is why I made the point earlier about: ‘all the way down to (but not always including) the shop floor’. Often, when you get to the shop floor, you hear things the way they are. Shovel makers do not mince their words. And a spade is exactly what it should be.

 

So… what are we waiting for?

I’ve just had breakfast with a very interesting businessman. Great proposition, which he’s refined over the last couple of years and which offers material business help specifically to third sector, charities and educational organisations. Help that can be felt in the bottom line. What’s not to like?

He freely admits his brochure is a couple of year’s behind the intellectual curve of his thinking and that his website has not progressed beyond a holding page.

I took him to task – obviously.

But on the way back to  my office I started to think… what gives me the right?

Yes, I’m a wash with experience about how to use digital to change your business but my blog is looking distinctly out of date. I’ve been so busy, you see and my thinking has been evolving at a rate of knots as I work with different clients in different ways.

So… what am I waiting for?

My website is not only my business card and a source of reassurance for those people who have already come across me but it’s also my playground. My blog, in particular, should be where I think out loud.

I recently heard Nancy Kline speak at a conference about thinking for ourselves and resolved to reflect more on how I think and how the way I articulate those thoughts is so often framed by external influences and codes. (Influences and codes which also inhibit organisational thinking.) While ‘speaking my mind’ might be tricky sometimes, ‘thinking my mind’ should be something I allow myself to do more often.

So sorry G, I had no right to take you to task when I should be using iterative, adaptable, powerful and accessible digital media more often. What are any of us waiting for?

 

Online marketing comms – rules tighten. Let the seller beware

From March 1, any communication on your website that sets out to tell users about goods, services, opportunities, freebies… but where the primary or ultimate  aim is to sell something, will be regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The ASA is the UK’s independent advertising watchdog, responsible for controlling marketing communications in all media in the UK. (They work with statutory partners such as Trading Standards, the Office of Fair Trading and the communications regulator Ofcom.)

The March 1 changes cover the marketing communications of all organisations operating from the UK on their own websites and in other non-paid for space online under their control eg Facebook.

The ASA talks about copy a great deal in its guidance but their remit could easily extend to any type of content, for example a home page video or a viral campaign on YouTube.

Ready?

The ASA’s extended remit may come as a surprise to a lot of organisations (the ASA’s own cross-media advertising campaign was only launched at the weekend). As always the big question is who’ll get their knuckles slapped first, for what and how hard?

The ASA’s punitive powers already include obliging broadcasters to comply with ASA rulings but  it’s also brought in some new sanctions from March 1 including “an enhanced” name and shame policy. And paid-for search advertising that links to non-compliant marketing communications may be removed with the agreement of the search engines.

It’s also important to keep in mind that marketing content that falls under the scope of the ASA’s remit may not necessarily include a price or seek an immediate financial transaction. Let the seller beware.

The change falls under the scope of UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (the Committee of Advertising Practice / CAP) Code.

CAP decided to extend the digital remit of the ASA in response to formal recommendations from a cross-section of UK industry, including the Internet Advertising Bureau. Nick Stringer, director of regulatory affairs for the IAB stresses that self-regulation must maintain pace with today’s fast-moving digital environment and changing consumer behaviour. “The ASA’s extended digital media remit aims to protect internet users and enhance their trust, as well as industry and political confidence, in the medium.”

What’s covered:

  • advertisers’ own marketing messages on their own websites, regardless of sector, type of businesses or size of organisation
  • marketing communications in other non-paid-for space under the advertiser’s control, such as social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

What’s not covered:

  • classified private advertisements
  • press releases and other public relations material
  • editorial content
  • political advertisements
  • corporate reports and investor relations.

User generated content?

ASA points out that generated content (UGC) that has been adopted and incorporated within an organisation’s own marketing communications could be covered. This will be considered on a case by case basis.

For example: “ASA is likely to take a very different view of a consumer’s positive comment that has been posted, by the website owner, in a prominent way on the front page of its website, than if that same comment appeared within the context of a consumer message board moderated for harmful and offensive language or images only”.

How to make sure you comply

CAP is offering guidance and courses. The IAB has also including some useful FAQs on its website. From a content strategy (CS) perspective the key thing is to make sure that all your content is fit for purpose and doesn’t fall shy of any regulation.

While the March 1 changes are the latest, many websites fall short of what’s required elsewhere – for example Part 3 of the Disability Discrimination Act which covers access and came into force back in 2004. Ringing any bells? It means your website must be accessible to blind and disabled users and this should be influencing everything from colour choices to meta data.

Content audits and the use of copydecks are just two of the CS tools where regulatory or legislative requirements could be captured and verified. Even without the weight of law, large organisations need to be running tight ships – eg who wrote it, when, who signed it off? Clearly defined and maintained internal content creation processes are a must. And let’s not forget content training that not only improves content creation skills but raises general organisational awareness of why all content, on’ and offline is so important.

Apart from anything else, if you can demonstrate you did your best to comply with this law or that regulation, the punitive response maybe be less harsh than in organisations where content is chaos rather than king.

Useful links

» More about the CAP guidance
» IAB Extending the digital media remit of the Advertising Standards Authority FAQs PDF

Is it time to go viral?

Viral campaigns have been front of mind for me recently. I’ve suddenly been struck by how a great idea isn’t always the right idea. There may be a profound difference between what works as a viral campaign and what works for you as a brand / business / organisation – ie the audience that is most likely to engage with a viral and, most importantly, pass it on, aren’t necessarily the ones who are going buy what you sell. And… under those circumstances, is a viral still worth doing and why?

Take the 2001 ‘Proof’ campaign starring Kylie Minogue and which was considered too raunchy for the cinema audiences for whom it was conceived. It’s had more that 350 million hits on YouTube since then.

While conceived as a cinema ad it has proved itself extraordinarily viral. The question is – how many people who’ve watched this on YouTube (and it has now been named the best celebrity viral ad of the decade by online content distributor GoViral) are now wearing Agent Provocateur undies?

I understand that a lot of chaps may have rushed out and bought undies for the women in their lives (one or two may have bought velvet upholstered bucking broncos as well) but is that good enough, given how much a viral campaign of this type costs to create?

Remember, I’m just asking questions at this stage. I’m hoping you’ll have at least some of the answers. The most I’m going to offer up later in this article is opinions.

Okay, now let’s take a look at one of my personal favourites…

These sheep crack me up. There is no day of chaos in the office that cannot be improved by spending a few moments rewatching this one. But the truth is that no matter how many times I look at it I do not feel moved to go out and buy a Samsung LED TV.

According to its creators, the:viral:factory, it has featured on Sky, ITV, ABC, The Sun newspaper and The New York Times… But while demand for LED TVs is set to grow to around 90 million units by 2013 (39% of the total market), Sharp seem to be taking the high ground – in the UK at least. They’re on track to sell around 2 million LED TVs in 2009 and predict a massive 10 million sales in 2010. » Source

With no electric sheep in sight, Sharp are selling successfully. But that doesn’t mean they’re sitting back with their feet up.

As early as July 2008 Sharp  was encouraging younger Hong Kong office workers to send viral messages to their friends through a mini site, ‘Where’s my pixie’, promoting its Aquos TV range. They’d targeted this segment (25-35) because they were predisposed to go online and research prior to making a purchase. The characters in the viral were designed to demonstrate picture quality. And as far back as September 2007 Bob Scaglione, Sharp Consumer Electronics Marketing Group senior VP, announced the launch of its “most aggressive advertising and brand campaign in our history”. Earlier this year Sharp launched (and aggressively advertised) an new generation of Aquos TVs, replacing more expensive models.

Here comes the opinion…

Virals are like diets. Every now and again one comes along that catches the public’s attention and seems to get results. But the fact is that the only true way to lose weight is to burn more calories and consume less calories. A stonking good diet, when it forms part of an overall health and fitness regime (squeezing off that extra 5lbs before Christmas, say), may well make a difference. Used on its own… chances are any benefits will be transitory.

So, what should you ask yourself before getting stuck into a viral campaign?

1. Is it enough to create on simply ‘get the word out’?

2. What succes criteria should you / can you attach to it?

3. Where is the budget coming from (are you paying Peter with Paul’s stash and are other marketing initiatives likely to suffer)?

4. And where does you viral sit both practically and strategically when you look across your entire marketing landscape? (This can include blogging about the viral – so make sure everybody’s out of their silos.)

If the strategic and brand accord is that there’s room in the mix for a good viral – you don’t need Kylie writhing on plum plush to be successful.

A viral can be a picture (including a discount voucher), a simple game, an email, or even a phone message.

Irish internet and phone company Perlico created a ‘quack’ viral. If you rang the company you were given this amongst your options: “Press three to hear a duck quack.” Through word-of-mouth and email, the company received 70,000 extra calls in the campaign’s first three days and added what the company described as “a significant number of new customers”.

Don’t park your brain

It’s all very exciting, but the most important thing at this stage is sanity checking your creative juices using people who are outside the campaign team. I suspect this didn’t happen with the » Burger King Angry-gram

You also need to decide if the target for the viral is the direct target for your business or if the aim some form of ripple influence where the viral recipient influences your ultimate customer group? An example of that approach is »L’Oreal’s ‘Every mum is worth it campaign’ from March this year

You need to be prepared for a number of things, including the viral element becoming dissociated from you and your brand and taking on a life of its own. If you (or your CEO) find loss of control unacceptable – maybe viral isn’t for you.

The other thing you really have to understand is why people share things and accept things from people they don’t necessarily know that well – and not just as this applies to the internet (quaint word, but I still love it).

People do things because they make sense at the time. Online is also disinhibiting, so people will share (and accept) things, including links to raunchy Kylie videos, which they might baulk at sharing face-to-face. So the reason to share a viral must be clear. Its humour must be instant and universal and any essential usefulness immediately obvious.

And Christmas is a great time of year for a viral. Which reminds of the music channel that created a viral of a boy unwrapping a Christmas present. It was a light sabre which he wielded with gay abandon – until he cut grandma’s head off. Ho, ho, ho – or no. no, no? You decide.

Make your website take the personality test

Your website is just like any other member of your team… Okay, they don’t draw salary (in quite the same way) and they don’t turn up at the Christmas party clutching half a bottle of tequila. But they represent your organisation, its products, services, values…

The question is – what type of personality have you got fronting the most important doorway and window onto your organisation’s world and what kind of job are they doing?

Here in the lab we’ve created a personality test for your website. It’s fun and easy to do but it may also reveal some interesting facts about your site and the way it represents your brand.

There are 6 possible types. Is your website an ‘aging’ rock star, ‘Pretty Woman’, the technical genius, the selling dervish, the librarian or the gardener? And what do these personality types reveal about your site?

personality-montageweb

In our PDF you can read more about each type and how these personality traits may represent themselves (and you) online. Oh and it’s totally free as well as fun.

>> The CDA Content Lab website personality test