Communications Guardrails: Your Key to Forward-Thinking, Innovative, and Grounded Messages
We recently posted this blog article about strategies for making your underlying messages consistent with how you want your brand to be perceived by the world. With the speed of information dissemination in our digital age, you can’t afford to be reactive. But being proactive is a real challenge too. Anticipating all the ways our messages might be received is a tall order.
However, there is another way to ensure you are shaping conversations, rather than allowing conversations about your firm to be shaped by those outside of your organization. All you have to do is come up with some strong communications guardrails and stick to them. Let’s dig in!
Communications guardrails? What does that mean?
Communications guardrails are a list of do’s and don’ts that are unique to your organization. They let the world know what your organization does and does not stand for. You can think of guardrails as rules, but that makes them sound really restrictive.
We prefer to think of your guardrails as well… guardrails. They are boundaries that keep everyone corralled just enough to ensure that the conversations you’re having both inside and outside of your organization are forward-thinking, innovative, and grounded.
Your guardrails will also act as guides as your communications evolve. They include your values, branding messages, and talking points, but we encourage our clients to go even further. To start, ask your team these five questions:
- What are we actively doing to show our commitment to our purpose, vision, and values?
- What are our firm’s priorities when it comes to communications?
- What industry-wide beliefs and best practices do we accept?
- What industry-wide beliefs and best practices do we reject?
- Do we have a solid crisis management plan? (because if communications are going to go off the rails, it will happen during a crisis)
With the answers to these questions in mind, you can begin creating your own guardrails.
Also, you’ll want to consider what has worked for you and your competitors in the past. But don’t forget to look outside of your industry for ideas too. If you want to be out front leading, you’ve got to think beyond those tired, worn patterns.
Finally, avoid the 7 Deadly Sins of Business Communications:
1. Pride: Lack of consideration for or understanding of your audience.
2. Envy: Trying to ‘copy and paste’ another organization’s messaging because it worked for them.
3. Gluttony: Know when enough is enough and skip the buzzwords.
4. Sloth: There are no real marketing “shortcuts” or “hacks.” You’ve got to put in the work.
5. Lust: Beware of falling in love with the latest trends or tools. Keep your communications genuine.
6. Anger: When communications are perceived as angry, defensive, or overly negative, your audience will tune out the message.
7. Greed: It’s okay to make the ask, but make sure you consider carefully who’s winning in the deals you make.
Time to Give Those Communications Guardrails a Stress Test
Once you have come up with your set of guardrails, the next step is to test them. This is yet another reason the guardrail metaphor is apt. Road crews don’t build guardrails and then put them out on the street without doing a proper stress test.
In the same way, you don’t want to assume that your communications guardrails are solid and test them out in the “wild.” You want to test them internally first.
One method we use with our clients here is the Murder Board. The term murder board (AKA “red team”) originated with the military, but it’s shorthand for creating a team of rivals or a committee of killjoys whose sole job is to poke holes in your team’s best ideas. It’s great not only for testing communications guardrails, but for any new idea you might come up with.
In short, the murder board is tasked with locating the problems, risks, and bugs insiders might miss. So bring your guardrails in front of a murder board.
Murder Boards are beneficial in a variety of situations related to communication guardrails:
- When prepping crisis communications, the murder board can hep you prepare for any number of scenarios and develop do’s and don’ts for your CEO and spokespeople.
- When prepping to talk to investors or analysts, the murder board can role play scenarios with your CEO to ensure she has answers to any number of “tricky” questions.
- When prepping your sales team or customer service on the frontlines, the murder board can get them ready to reply to customers who can be some of the toughest critics, especially during a crisis.
For high-stakes communication situations, there’s nothing better than a murder board. Finding your communications guardrails is a high-stakes situation. Without guardrails, you’ll find everyday communications feeling chaotic and overwhelming and crises quickly spinning out of control.
When you take the time to create your communications guardrails with your team, though, you have the opportunity to shape the conversations you’re having and to lead your industry into a brighter future.
What are your communications guardrails?
At Audacia Strategies, we’re used to fielding questions from executive clients about how they can be more aware of the underlying messages they’re sending. Our go-to answer is let’s work on your guardrails. Ready to see us in action? Contact us to schedule an introductory call!