Archive for March, 2010

Brand communications (your secret weapon)

Posted in brand, marketing strategy, wisdom with tags , , , , , , , on March 31, 2010 by wisdomlondon


This post was first published in March but to round off the final week of our Branding Series, I’ve dusted it off and present it to you once again, in case you missed it first time.  I feel so strongly about brand communications – such a critical part of the brand’s personality, style and promise. A brand’s messages and the way they are presented, from the language used to the choice of channels, is critical and a genuine opportunity to differentiate.

But to get it right, a brand needs to know who it is, and who its audience it – and to pitch their communications perfectly.

When you think of brands you love, trust, admire, aspire to and welcome into your daily life, what do you think of?

Most likely it’s a series of logos or visual ideas, but stay with the thought a little longer and you’ll probably find that it’s also a series of emotions (could be as mundane as feeling reassured, might be exhilarated, intelligent, cool), maybe along with tastes, smells and sights – and possibly memories too.

A logo or visual identity alone doesn’t engender these reactions – it’s about the brand promise, product and communication style that’s wrapped around it. It’s what makes that brand speak directly to me and you.

Brand communications = really important!

You probably see where I’m getting to by now: I think brand communications are really important. They’re so important that they massively influence what we do at WL. But they are often overlooked in favour of the (traditionally more sexy) design elements, brand strategy and so on.

But by spending time on your brand communications, you’re embracing an opportunity to connect with your target market on an even more meaningful level. An authentic tone of voice that suits your brand and really speaks to your audience adds an additional layer of brand personality and value. Consistent messages that reflect your brand promise add strength to the visual proposition. Adopting a lexicon in common with your audience draws them in, creates intimacy and allows you to develop a way of communicating that’s distinct, direct and genuine – especially if you adopt complimentary platforms and channels from which to communicate.

More than a logo

Consider the success of Innocent Smoothies, for example. Their cute behalo-ed icon is not the reason for their brand strength. Neither is their undeniably accessible and popular product. A large part of the appeal is in how they interact with their audience, bringing a human voice to a mass-produced product, appealing to our sense of humour, desire to belong and to generally feed good.

Take their ‘Join our family’ proposition – the concept is inclusive, the invitation is offered in a familiar and er, innocent. And that’s how they communicate.  Of course we know that above all they are doing this to make money, but it appeals because it’s consistent, stylized and distinctive.  Take away the visual imagery and you’d probably know who’s talking. They have also embraced web, social media and face-to-face (like their Village Fete) as channels to enhance that style of communication. The point is, you know what you’re buying into. And that has surely made diversification into snack foods (à la veg pots) an easily viable proposition.  Ditto Virgin, who’ve been able to achieve a similar feat with really consistent communication styles, no matter what the product is – from music to planes to trains to cola.

B2B’s need to get in on the act

And this principle doesn’t only fly with consumer brands. I could argue that it’s equally, if not more important, in a b2b scenario. I’m not saying it’s easy, or even the same process as for consumer brands.  But if you believe as I do that people do the buying and companies simply pay, the logic follows that a consistent and reliable brand message makes the buying decision a heck of a lot easier. The brand premise is reinforced by the way brand speaks to you, and reinforces the idea of a self-assured and positive brand that knows where it’s going.  It’s worth some thought – ideally a lot of thought.

Here’s the free bit!

Ask yourself:

  • What makes your brand different / better? If you had to distill it down to a few key words what would they be?
  • Now think about your brand’s way of doing business – is it in a formal, advisory capacity, collaborative and egalitarian, strictly supply / demand?
  • What particular value does your product or portfolio offer? What emotions does this value engender?
  • Who is your market? How do they communicate and what is their communication style ?
  • Consider what your core lexicon would be: What language can you use to convey those values, propositions and the emotions that you hope to engender?
  • Now take a look at all the ways in which you communicate – from your web to social media platforms to printed matter, presentations, packaging…are they aligned?

I could talk about this for ages.  But I won’t.  Got you thinking, though? Call me or mail me if you want to talk about it some more!

Kate Spiers is CEO and Founder of Wisdom London, a communications consultancy specialising in communication strategy, brand communications and digital communications.

In pictures: Wisdom London Launch Party, 16 March

Posted in wisdom with tags , , , , on March 29, 2010 by wisdomlondon

As promised, some pictures from the WL launch party a few weeks back at Fernandez and Wells, St Anne’s Court, Soho.

Massive thanks to photographer James Fisher, Rick Wells for sharing the photos and all friends of Wisdom London who came along for being so darn good-looking!

From top: Salud! To Wisdom; Alex, back from way out west; Wine, friends and pinchos; Talking turkey and tango with Bruno

Alex. Back in the Soho hood after too long out west :-)

What I’ve learned this week

Posted in wisdom with tags , , , , , on March 26, 2010 by wisdomlondon

It’s been a busy one and the learning curve doesn’t stop… so here’s what I learned this week:

  1. All about pitching for public sector work – endlessly fascinating and a hugely enjoyable intellectual exercise
  2. Flexibility is all
  3. More about brand engagement – through various conversations with colleagues and contacts, we’ve summised that the time is right for brands to revert to a more human, personalised and genuine way to connect with their audiences. Less of the corporate, more of the unexpected, spontaneous and direct reaction to customer demands and behaviours
  4. Enterprise microblogging is an even hotter topic than I realised – this week’s post If I had a Yammer still going strong with record numbers of hits
  5. The power of action over words – can be far more meaningful sometimes, as beautifully described by WOM specialists 1000heads:

Happy weekend, all.

Kate Spiers is Founder and Director of Wisdom London

If I had a Yammer…*

Posted in social media, thought leadership, wisdom with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2010 by wisdomlondon

By Kate Spiers, Director at Wisdom London

Is enterprise microblogging the future for internal communications and employee engagement? Or is it a diversion too far?

As technology informs our communications behaviour, so corporates must embrace these changes and take to heart the new ways in which communication transactions are carried out, as they communicate with their workforces. Add globality into the mix, with its challenges of communicating across borders and cultures, and internal comms team have their work cut out.

Internal communications has seen the shift over the years from weekly meetings to weekly conference calls, from annual away-days to more frequent webcasts, print-based newsletters to online information sources and so on. The way in which we communicate moves at the speed of technology, and mainstream behaviours emerge from that in a very short space of time. So how do corporates harness these developments to enable them to inform and engage with their employees?

When it comes to microblogging, herein lies the challenge.

The age of information in which we live has been steadily blurring the boundaries of what ‘personal information’ means. It used to mean private, not to be shared. But now, as people share online their innermost musings and experiences from the life-changing to the mundane, with multiple platforms from which to express and opine, our expectations have shifted. We live in a world where information is now freely shared, received, intercepted, retweeted, repackaged and deconstructed. Nothing is sacred – we put information out there with the understanding that it can be batted around cyberspace by whoever wants to diffuse it. It’s as though pressing ‘send’ or ‘post’ or ‘update’ is equal to relinquishing control of the information we’re sharing. And we all seem to accept that at some level.

But the corporate world is different and it’s accepted that more clearly defined parameters govern the flow of information and opinion. Enterprise microblogging tools such as Yammer, Obayoo and Socialtext seem, on the surface to be a godsend – bringing a familiar, Twitter-like functionality within a more controlled set of parameters (Yammer works on email domains, so Yammer chat stays within that domain).

So, since Yammer’s public launch in September 2008, has enterprise microblogging had a notable impact on internal communications in large corporates? Well, it’s mixed. What does seem clear is that corporates are still figuring out what enterprise microblogging can do for them, and the results are sometimes surprising.

I spoke to Capgemini’s Comms team, who told me that the organization has been steadily and organically adopting Yammer since its launch at grassroots level (now nearly 6 000 users): “If anything, Yammer is helping to encourage greater use of [our knowledge management platform]. We are not using the fully secure version of Yammer, and so our guidelines discourage the sharing of documents and sensitive information as attachments – using links to information held on [the KM platform] we can maintain our security perimeter, but communicate in a more user-friendly (and intuitive, and accessible) environment. Essentially, Yammer is the communication tool, [the KM platform] our library. And it’s easy to link between the two.”

In this case, Yammer supports internal communities rather than internal communications per se. A base of 6 000 users is good news for Capgemini’s communities but this still represents a minority in terms of their 90 000+ global workforce. But what is most interesting to me is how technological cultures have shifted such an extent that almost 6 000 Capgemini employees have adopted Yammer independently, without any official mandate to do so – it is not, at this moment, an ‘official’ application at Capgemini – most likely because it mirrors their online information-sharing behaviour and due to the fact that it sits comfortably alongside a lot of employees’ Twitter use, via the #yam hashtag. In a tech-savvy environment like Capgemini, this suggests that other technologies could be quickly and intuitively adopted to engage and connect communities – especially in a very global and transient environment. Foursquare could prove effective for enabling face-to-face conversations with subject matter experts, or bringing together those with common interests in any one location, for example.

For Yammer and Yammer-like services to positively impact internal communications, it seems that striking the tricky balance between structure and organic growth is necessary for it to work – it can’t be forced. Nationwide have successfully implemented Yammer in much the same, organic way as Capgemini, although early adoption at C-suite level certainly helped drive its success. Through a very engaged leadership layer, Yammer allows the Nationwide community to stay abreast of company news, share views and exchange tips. The lack of rules has helped break down company hierarchy, but early management level participation seems to have provided some structure and sense of expectation about how Yammer can best be used in that organisation.

So yes, enterprise microblogging can be an excellent addition to the internal communications toolkit, but it’s clear that although it bears many similarities to traditional microblogging – and indeed that is part of the attraction for many adopters – it does work fairly differently on the inside. The onus for users is on providing value through posing useful questions or sharing information, rather than stream-of-consciousness type posts. As Capgemini’s communications team summed up: “Every day brings new anecdotal evidence about time saved searching for the right information or right person (quite often, one and the same thing) and new discovery about …what we can do as an organisation”.

Shared Wisdom: How to make enterprise microblogging work

1. Visible champions are needed – senior executives need to be seen to adopt the approach, venture opinions and share information.

2. Trust should be shown, encouraged and built upon through open exchanges of opinion and sharing of information.  This is a non-hierarchical way of communicating. Everyone should be able to enter into the conversation.

3. Communicate successes.  It’s not always obvious to all users (or potential users) exactly what the value is, but when the approach has resulted in a meeting of minds, sharing of crucial information, or forming a great idea, make it known.

4. Don’t force it. Users need to come to a service like Yammer when they are ready – make it easy for people to adopt and feel part of.

5. Provide some guidance.  As with all technologies, there will be some reticence, concerns and lack of understanding at the start.  Basic corporate guidelines can help (what we use this for, good practice, who can help you if you’re not sure, security constraints, etc).

Thanks to Tom Barton and David Johnson

*Sorry. Terrible pun – couldn’t resist.

Wisdom London Launch Party: The Verdict

Posted in wisdom with tags , , on March 17, 2010 by wisdomlondon

Last night saw the Wisdom London Launch Party take place at the fabulous Fernandez and Wells in St Anne’s Court, Soho.  There was wine, pinchos, lots of chat and general merriment – a great way to toast Wisdom London!

Thanks to all who came along to help us celebrate – you were all amazing company.  In particular, thanks to:

  • Frances for moral support and decorative direction
  • My Dad for coming down from Yorkshire for the big event
  • Paul, Gordon and Dean at F&W for arranging everything brilliantly
  • Bruno for the impromptu tango
  • Carl for doing a great job on the door

…and all of you who have given such wonderful feedback.  Hope the heads are all functioning today…

As for me, I’m more energised and motivated than ever!  Back to it.

Photos to follow – stay tuned.

Time to drop the marketing/communications distinction?

Posted in marketing strategy with tags , , , on March 16, 2010 by wisdomlondon

After a conversation with a colleague last week, I was left thinking about the age-old debate of marketing vs. marketing communications and the distinction between the two.

The conversation we had lamented the fact that many of us work within a marketing team, or perhaps for a marketing provider, when in fact what we are delivering is tactical marketing communications – not the traditional definition of marketing.  It’s a fairly common scenario and the source of huge frustration for some marketers who find their time spent more on press releases and less on market segmentation or offer development.

But – as a communications professional with a strong marketing interest [treads carefully] – I wonder whether this endless argument over the distinction between the two disciplines is somehow de-valuing the role that marketing communications has to play? And perhaps the argument is defunct – is it time to redefine what marketing means anyway?

Part of the problem lies with the fact that ideally, marketing and communications are disciplines which should be recognised as being at the heart of the business strategy.  But often it sits further down the food-chain, so marketers are not involved in market-based decisions – rather, tasked with marketing communications once the strategic path has been set.  For me, marketing is unequivocally part of business strategy, and in its broadest sense communications is – or should be – too. I don’t think it’s marketers or communicators who have it wrong, necessarily – it’s a business-led culture tied up somewhere in hierarchy that has led to this.

But as marketers, communicators or both, we also need to be flexible – the whole landscape for interacting with our target audiences is changing fast and makes different demands on our roles.  Marketers must apply comms know-how in their ‘pure marketing’ activity since the online world defines so much in terms of buyer decision-making, just as comms without an eye to the business objectives  just isn’t marketing communications.  But more than that, the onus is perhaps on management strata to invite in views and ideas from the frontline at a strategic level – and for us marketers and communicators to continue to push for inclusion, whether by sharing unsolicited ideas, lobbying or simply asking outright.

Might sound simplistic, but we’re all in the business of persuasion, after all… aren’t we?

Share your views and experiences…is the definition of marketing changing?  Are marketing and communications getting closer, or further apart?

Kate Spiers is Founder and Director of Wisdom London

(un)conventional wisdom: Ian Huckabee

Posted in social media, wisdom with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 14, 2010 by wisdomlondon

Second in this series of shared wisdom from some of the most interesting people we know comes courtesy of Ian Huckabee of Weejee Media.

Ian is a web marketing strategist and founder of Weejee Media, which specialises in search engine marketing and social media marketing.  But more than that, Ian is a natural communicator, lateral thinker, thought-provoker and wise man*.  Take it way, Ian:

“It’s now proverbial that most people would rather get one good opinion from a friend on social media than thousands from a search engine. What is relevant today is not necessarily what search engines have indexed but the social signals we pick up in real time. Look at the real time results on Google’s search engine results pages. They include a live feed of updates from Twitter, Facebook fan pages and blogs. Content authority is changing. What blogs ushered in during the early 2000s micro-blogs have escorted to center stage today: your opinion.”

*Ian managed to turn around my entire frame of mind last week with a one-line response to an email.  I’d told him my day was a nightmare and I got this in return: “Turn it into a dream”.  We all need friends and collaborators like this.

Thanks to Ian Huckabee

Ladies, we salute you!

Posted in creativity, wisdom with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 8, 2010 by wisdomlondon

Happy International Women’s Day. And what better way to mark the occasion than to salute the women who inspire, innovate and genuinely contribute to the business of marketing, media and communications. Here are my heroes of the day:

Joanna Shields and Elisabeth Murdoch

Watch out. Joanna and Elisabeth have joined forces and are on a mission.  Their venture, under Elisabeth Murdoch’s Shine umbrella, sets out to produce content across online and offline platforms, with a focus on social engagement.  During Joanna’s time heading Bebo (and eventually engineering the sale of it to AOL for $850 million) she showed the world that she not only had her finger firmly on the pulse of social media’s relevance to content production (think Kate Modern) but that she could bring business value from it too.  Always engaging, completely relevant and super-smart, she’s a hero. And that, combined with the drive, ambition and media credentials of Elisabeth Murdoch, will be exciting to follow.

Arianna Huffington

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Huffington Post, one of the most powerful online media brands – bringing news and blogging together, and now one of the most linked-to news sites.  Arianna has revolutionised news, especially the way in which US political issues are covered. The Huff Post is now 5 years old and that that’s a long time in the online world. Then, and now, it provides something pretty great: quality content, speed to report, opinion and  – most vitally – serious stuff delivered with a light touch, making it truly accessible and engaging. Arianna herself is the visionary who clearly understands what we want from online news content.  With an incredible business network, sharp intellect and obvious drive, she’s a powerhouse.

Jane Bown

Photographer extraordinaire. Jane has provided The Observer with quite incredible black and white photography since 1949 and continues to delight with her ability to tell a story with a captured moment. Her skill is quite simply extraordinary: no gimmicks, no effects – just Jane and her 40-year-old camera creating something honest and enduring. Photography is a vital part of communications, helping us tell a story, evoke and illustrate. For me, there’s none better than Jane Bown.

Kathryn Bigelow

Hot on the heels of her Best Director (first woman ever, in 82 years!) Oscar win, Kathryn deserves a mention. In directing The Hurt Locker to Oscar and box-office success, she’s a woman who reigns supreme in a male-dominated oeuvre. Point Break excepted, she’s a star.

Who’s inspiring you today?

Related Links

Thought Leadership: The Real Deal

Posted in thought leadership with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 3, 2010 by wisdomlondon

Thought Leadership is a pretty well-used phrase these days and I fear its true meaning may be getting a little lost. Content alone does not equal thought leadership and many businesses would do well to remind themselves of what makes their content genuinely thought-leading.

I’m a big believer in the power of well-conceived and brilliantly orchestrated thought leadership. For the corporate world especially, it’s an excellent way of sharing collective wisdom, making superstars of their subject matter experts, and wrapping value and credibility around their brands.

But it’s no easy task. For an organisation to maintain a coherent message and gather momentum in the thought leadership stakes, they need a plan. What they want to say, when, by whom and how. And that should, of course, reflect the genuine wants, needs and interests of their target audience.

That’s not to say organisations should play lip-service: thought leadership should inform but also provoke and encourage debate. It’s fine to ask questions, even if you can’t give a definitive answer to them yet – the potential for dialogue is key. Great thought leadership inspires, generates ideas and develops a concept further.

What’s the difference? Thought Leadership v. Content

Thought Leadership IS:

  • A blend of knowledge, wisdom, ideas and interpretation
  • A different take on a subject – suggests new perspectives
  • An invitation for discussion
  • Attached to a person or people – it’s a human activity, not a ‘corporate’ one
  • Being curious, thought provoking and considered
  • Accessible, agile and current

Thought Leadership IS NOT:

  • …necessarily directed from the top
  • Unsynthesised facts and figures
  • A one-way street: it’s a basis for discussion and sharing
  • A sales pitch, disguised thinly or otherwise

I hope that the above might serve as a useful checklist for thought leadership development.  But that’s just the start.  Once you’ve got something thought-leading to say, make sure you say it!

Make the most of the channels available – thought leadership can and does exist on micro-blogging platforms as well as on the speaker podium and in print. Share the best of your thought-leading ideas with your clients by bringing them together in a roundtable debate. Integrate it in your media relations planning. Make sure you have passionate and articulate thought leaders ready and willing to enter into the debate.

Take your wisdom to a new level by applying about some thought leadership rigour – the business world will be a richer place for it.

Related link:

Kate Spiers is founder and director of Wisdom London.  (And a thought leadership freak.)