transformative change

“Are We There Yet?” — Change, Communications, and Culture

If there’s anything that’s more difficult than transformative change, it’s communicating about transformative change. And let’s face it, the past two years have been defined by change.

As leaders of organizations living through a profound period of global change, we’ve learned some powerful lessons:

  • The future will not be more stable or more certain.
  • Black swans feel much different when we live through them (sometimes multiple times), than when we read about them in economics textbooks.
  • Disruption or large scale change cannot be contained to one aspect of life.

In short, societal shifts spill over into personal and business life, business upheaval impacts personal and societal security, and uncertainty about personal health throws a wrench into every aspect of life. No matter how hard we try to avoid it, transformative change comes for all of us.

With the hindsight of the last few years, now is the time to review our approach to change and ask ourselves how we can better prepare for and communicate about the next wave of transformative change. Let’s take a closer look at the core aspects of strong communication here.

The Pulse of the Organization

Exhausted organizations do not handle change, let alone transformation, well. Think about how well you operate after a series of all-nighters. Even the thought of having to eat — to survive! — feels like a monumental task. Similarly, exhausted organizations can barely perform key functions, which doesn’t bode well for facing changes with grace.

When leaders continually keep their fingers on the pulse of their organizations, however, they are less likely to lead exhausted organizations and much better positioned to handle transformation. Keeping your finger on the pulse means recognizing when your people are being pushed to their breaking point and making the necessary adjustments needed.

How do you take the pulse of your organization?

  • Get to know your employees and customers: Use pulse surveys (Voice of the Employee (VoE), Voice of the Customer (VoC) surveys), “ask me anything” sessions (AMAs), virtual and IRL coffee chats, town halls, skip level meetings, “walking the halls” (for those back in the office).
  • Get to know your leaders: Keep tabs on your people leaders and customer leaders too. Managers can often be the linchpins of culture and influencers of others.
  • Ban the “just deal with it” mentality: Of course, decisions need to be made and transformative change must go on, but if your strategy is to tell your people to “just deal with it,” then you have a failed strategy on your hands. Instead, build a plan with the tools, support, resources, and aircover they need…and be ready to adjust. 

Transformative Change and Culture

Taking the pulse of your organization is only the beginning of figuring out how to communicate about transformative change. To really pull this off, you also need to consider the culture on a deeper level.

Having a change playbook is important, to a point (and lord knows you can find a consultant who will sell you one), but remember that a guide is just that — a guide. There may be times when what your team really needs is for you to set that playbook on fire (maybe even literally).

Here are some areas to consider when it comes to culture: 

  • Consider what is authentic to your organization. What is the general tone of communication? And if there was ever a time to be more transparent, more honest, more plain spoken…transformative change is that time.
  • Consider who is trusted in your organization. Perhaps the Board of Directors is more trusted than management (I’ve worked there). Or perhaps long-tenured middle management is trusted more than the new or newer executives? Understanding these relationships and building that into your strategy is crucial.
  • Consider why you’re doing what you’re doing and have a good answer. Just because “all the other $1B organizations” use top-down communications for layoffs, doesn’t mean that you have to. Keep in mind, “because I said so” is not a successful strategy for successful change.
  • Consider what you are asking of your team and customers. Transformative change, or any change (hello, Atomic Habits), requires commitment. It’s about the larger purpose and that’s generally an emotional ask. You are asking your team and your customers not just to help you make a business change, but to take a journey with you toward achieving your organizational purpose — which will solve more customer problems, make the world a better place, make the organization a better place to work, or any combination thereof.

A Few More Do’s and Don’ts

Once you have thought through the lay of the land and have the big picture in front of you, here are a few more do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.

1. Don’t sand down the edges on the executive team. 

Whether it’s a layoff, a major acquisition, or an IPO, your people are your biggest asset — yes, even in the metaverse. And employees, customers, and the media are all looking for leaders to lead and exhibit humanity.

In a recent interview, Brian Chesky, the CEO of AirBnB, said it well, 

“I think CEOs and leaders are more human than they come across. I mean most of these people are real people. They do have feelings. I think the problem with corporations is the lawyers and the HR people and the others, ‘sand the edges’ off the person in an effort to protect the person. And, that is a major disservice because they just reduce them to something that’s not even a human being anymore, they’re just this very cold person.” 

Of course, you need to work with your executives to communicate in a way that complies with the law and represents the organization appropriately, but this is very different from turning them into robots who are afraid to show any glimmer of vulnerability.

2. Do acknowledge the suckiness, if it sucks.

You may be surprised at how much resistance to transformative change can be relieved with a simple acknowledgment of how difficult it is. When it feels like you’re the only one feeling the pain, change can be a really lonely place. Often your people just need you to see them doing their best through an objectively sucky situation. And if it sucks for you too, talk about it.

3. Do acknowledge the excitement of the future, as appropriate.

As hard as it can be, change also usually comes with a lot of excitement. Don’t be afraid to embrace the excitement and display appreciation for the teams that will make the change happen.

4. Don’t promise a return to the status quo.

Never offer to “stop the change.” It may be tempting to try to relieve the pain of transformative change by promising a return to the status quo on a particular date, for example. This falls into the category of promises you can’t keep, though. Sure, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel, a product launch, a closing date on the merger, but even those flashpoint events aren’t likely to spell the end of change. 

We’re all changing, all the time. Our environment is changing, the market is changing, society is changing. All we can do is remain in a ready stance — flexible, fluid, optimistic, and ready to roll with the next pivot or “tweak.”

Finally, I want to leave you with some more words of wisdom from Brian Chesky because these two sentences are really all you need to know when it comes to communicating about transformative change: “Just do whatever you think is the right thing at that moment. Take care of people and then they’ll root for you.”

And you know Audacia Strategies is here for you. We’re ready to help you better prepare for and communicate about the next wave of transformative change. Let’s talk!

Photo credit: Businessman Applauding With His Colleagues During A Presentation by Flamingo Images from NounProject.com

rebuilding corporate trust

Rebuilding Corporate Trust: 4 Ways Business Leaders Can Bring About Real Change

As we slowly leave the pandemic behind and enter the rebuilding period, let’s not forget our responsibility for rebuilding trust in public institutions. With all the highfalutin talk about rebuilding society and cultural norms coming out of the pandemic, it’s tempting to point the finger at the government, NGO’s, and the media.

But we are at a unique crossroads where business leaders are positioned to bring about real change both inside and outside of their organizations. Want evidence? Look no further than corporate reactions to measures tightening voting accessibility. Just over a week ago, hundreds of companies and executives signed on to a new statement opposing “any discriminatory legislation” that would make it harder for people to vote. 

This type of overtly public engagement has become increasingly common over the past few years as corporate executives step into the trust gap vacated by government organizations. 

Earlier this year, global communications firm, Edelman, released its 2021 Trust Barometer and the results are revealing, especially when it comes to rebuilding public trust:

  • Business has a 61% trust level globally (that’s higher than any other institution)
  • 86% of respondents believe that CEO’s must lead on societal issues
  • 68% say CEO’s should step in when governments fail

We can point the finger at others, or we can embrace this as an opportunity to reshape relationships and build new communication paths providing benefits that will long outlive the current moment. Edelman’s Trust Barometer makes it clear which choice your customers and employees want you to make. So let’s look at the why and how of rebuilding trust.

Rebuilding Corporate Trust in Response to the Epidemic of Misinformation

How did we get here? If you were an alien landing on Earth today, you might expect to find people turning to governments and other long-standing institutions for guidance as we restart the global economy. However, the way governments handled the global health crisis has not engendered confidence in people.

Time Magazine nicknames the findings of the Edelman report the “Epidemic of Misinformation.” In the first half of 2020, public trust of governments did rise. Early on, both U.S. and Chinese citizens deemed the government to be the most fit institution to handle the COVID-19 pandemic. However, by May 2020, China and the U.S. saw significant drops in trust by 18 and 23 points respectively.

To explain these sharp decreases, Richard Edelman points to China’s use of censorship and U.S. officials’ touting of “miraculous cures” that were discredited while simultaneously diminishing the efficacy of mask wearing and social distancing in favor of reopening businesses. Edelman’s recommendation: it’s time to declare information bankruptcy

As trust in governments has diminished, trust in businesses has only grown stronger. Given that trust is the glue that holds society together, especially during trying times, leaders must take the initiative to rebuild corporate trust.

How Our Clients are Rebuilding Corporate Trust

Even before the pandemic, many CEO’s appeared to be heeding this call and stepping into their roles as “America’s new politicians.” In 2019, 181 of the nation’s top CEO’s agreed that “driving shareholder value is no longer their sole business objective.” This is a significant break with the past profit-above-all-else mentality.

And this shift, spearheaded by Business Roundtable Chairman and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, reflects growing pressure from employees, social media, and customers to do more than increase stock prices. The pandemic and recent political events have only accelerated this shift.

At Audacia Strategies, we’re fortunate to have a front row seat to see this change in action with our clients. Here’s how our clients are stepping up to rebuild corporate trust one organization at a time:

1. Looking deep into the “soul” of the organization

Our clients are looking deep into the “souls” of their organizations to tap into their purpose. They’re asking: Why do we exist beyond profits? And what value do we add?

They’re also recognizing that often rebuilding corporate trust requires reaching out to customers and employees to ask for help. They’re initiating Voice of the Customer and Voice of the Employee studies to really take the pulse of their key stakeholders.

In many cases, though, rebuilding trust is perpetually aspirational. This applies not only to startups, but also to long-tenured companies. As the world changes, how we leave an impact can and must evolve too.

2. Knowing credibility matters

Employers are recognizing this moment for the opportunity to be a credible voice and to provide clear, unambiguous information for employees to follow — whether it relates to corporate strategy, benefits changes, or societal changes.

When organizations look at employees as humans, as opposed to money-making machines, they see beyond increasing productivity, profitability, and financial performance. They see how having empathy for what their employees have experienced in the past 12 months can open doors for the organization.

In the current climate, employees are exhausted from having to parse through health messages online, in their inboxes, on television, and in the media. Misinformation and disinformation have created a void leaving many without an orientation point from which to believe anything at all. Operating in such a gray area is exhausting and demoralizing.

Companies focused on rebuilding trust recognize the chance to fill this void for their employees (and customers) and gain credibility as a result.

3. Believing consistency is king

The quickest way to blow your credibility when it comes to communications is to broadcast inconsistent and sporadic messages. The old 7×7 rule is still a good starting point — but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. 

For our clients, we encourage a message architecture that ties every communication back to the organization’s purpose and vision

Overcommunication is key… but not via an avalanche of emails. Instead, use multiple channels and — most important — use live events whether structured town halls, small group roundtables, regularly scheduled staff meetings, or just chatting before the next Zoom call. All of these are opportunities to reinforce a consistent message. And that leads me to…

4. Proving trust is not a one-way street

Employees must also have a voice and provide feedback in real time.  And although annual engagement surveys can help, these shouldn’t be the only means of listening. Some ideas:

  • Hold open Q&A sessions
  • Use your internal communication tools like Yammer, Slack, or Google Hangouts to solicit and facilitate feedback
  • Share pulse surveys
  • Voice of the Employee (VOE) research 
  • Have an open inbox/phone line/door for receiving and sharing feedback

When your employees feel heard, they trust that you’ll share with them what’s working and what’s not in a constructive way. They trust that you’ll share the questions and suggestions you receive. And they will trust you to create a roadmap forward and share your progress regularly. 

Rebuilding corporate trust is hard work. It’s sticky. It can be emotional and truthfully, it can be exhausting for the leader who often says, “but I’ve said this in the last 5 meetings — let’s move on.” Remember, though, consistency is credibility and credibility is trust. 

As leaders, we don’t have the luxury of passing the buck here. Rebuilding public trust starts with us. If you’re ready to boldly step into this new era of radical transparency and corporate trust, your partners at Audacia are here for you. Contact us to discover how we can work together. 

Photo credit: Group of happy people working together in an office by Flamingo Images from Noun Project

Voice of the Customer

Want to Know What Your Customer is REALLY Thinking? Voice of the Customer Can Be a Game Changer

We are committed to helping clients make progress and develop new strategies for our new reality. Voice of the Customer (VOC) analysis is a valuable tool to deploy to stay connected to customers, demonstrate commitment to serving them well, and gain valuable insight into how to best (re)shape your business strategies (which are probably in flux). Download our Voice of the Customer brochure here for further information on services offered. 

Do you know what your customer thinks of your firm? 

No, I mean what they really think.

Do you wonder how to get honest feedback from your customers? Do you worry that your preconceived notions or conventional wisdom gets in the way of understanding your customers’ real priorities? 

We all know understanding our customers is key to business success and yet, the pace of day-to-day operations and the span of stakeholders across most organizations can force managers to make assumptions about priorities and even customer satisfaction. 

This may be because traditional feedback loops are more prescriptive and formal or because there is a natural hesitancy to probe too deeply into customer satisfaction. Whatever the reason, a Voice of the Customer (VOC) study can provide an additional channel for customer communication and insight.

To get you started, Audacia Strategies CEO, Katy Herr, sat down with VOC strategist and Audacia Strategies partner, Robin Kogelnik, to talk about the what, the why, and best practices for a Voice of the Customer strategy.

Robin brings to the table over 20 years of experience in business strategy, market and competitive analysis, and business development operations. She has led Voice of the Customer and Voice of the Employee studies in classified and unclassified environments for a wide range of clients from large aerospace firms to small businesses and nonprofits. 

To find out how your firm can benefit from VOC, check out these highlights from Katy’s interview with Robin.

Q | Can you talk about what a Voice of the Customer is? What is a Voice of the Customer survey?

A Voice of the Customer study is a very positive and effective way to connect with and get unfiltered feedback from your clients. It’s a structured set of interviews conducted by a third party to gauge how things are going beyond formal communications and normal day-to-day interactions. 

Why do we recommend a third party? Honestly, it makes the process credible and limits the second-guessing! Someone who isn’t directly involved with your day-to-day work and isn’t involved directly with the customer can ask the questions and record the answers objectively. There are no filters, agendas, or assumptions that can interpret a customer’s response or skew the results. 

In my experience, doing a Voice of the Customer study is a discriminator—it shows that you genuinely want their feedback and it really underlines your commitment to their success.  

Think of it as one more powerful tool to add to your customer relationship management and business development arsenal. 

Q | Can you explain how the process typically works?

First, you and your account and business development teams know the customer best. You select the individuals to include in the study and provide all the contact details. We’ll help you prioritize the information you need and craft a set of interview questions that will provide the kind of insight that you can act upon.

Obviously, the number of interview questions has to be realistic and respectful of your customers’ time. We never ask for more than 30 minutes. Sometimes interviews take less time, and sometimes people talk and talk (which is wonderful!). But if the initial ask is too much, they’ll say no. So be disciplined and keep it to a manageable number of questions that focus on the information that you truly need.

Now, the goal is always to get unfiltered feedback, so you want to give customers the opportunity to tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly. You can get that kind of honesty when any and all feedback is on a non-attribution basis (AKA anonymous). 

Anonymity is key because it gives people the opportunity to open up in a way they’re not afforded on a daily basis (particularly for those who work within the government).

There are a lot of different ways to conduct the interviews and capture the customer’s feedback, but you want to make it as easy as possible for them to participate. What I’ve found to be the most effective is having the conversation over the phone. The calls are scheduled whenever it’s most convenient for the customer. 

“I’ve had interviews with customers at 11:00 pm and 5:00 am, and I jump at the chance. It reinforces how important they are, how much you value them, and how much you value their opinion.”

Phone interviews give customers the most schedule-flexibility, but in an interesting and subtle way, they reinforce the fact that their feedback is on a non-attribution basis. It creates an environment that gives them the freedom to relax and answer questions in an unguarded and thoughtful way. “I always joke that it must be like going to confession!”

“All joking aside, we take the non-attribution structure very seriously—from beginning to end. In our reporting, we summarize the feedback by topic to ensure there’s no traceability back to any one individual. We do capture everything verbatim, and we include direct quotes to provide the right amount of emphasis (i.e. the customer’s emphasis) when it makes sense and when it helps to highlight the importance of any particular feedback.”

Q | How do you see clients using this information once they have it?

Well, that really depends on where they are in their business development cycle—whether they are concerned about a particular account or they have a big recompete on the horizon or if they’re interested in branching out into other areas within the customer organization. 

It’s also been a great way to check in with customers after a big internal reorganization or after a merger. There are times when things are moving so quickly that you decide you need to call a timeout: How is everything going? What are we doing well? What’s not working? 

This is a way to get clear on how you’re doing and the customer’s priorities.

“Ultimately, though—and this is key—this information helps clients prioritize how to spend their time, how to spend their resources, whether they need to make personnel changes, whether they need to shore up a particular service or support they provide, or even whether they need to change partners or bring on a new partner.” 

I’ve also worked with companies that are interested in developing their value propositions and trying to understand what differentiates them from their competitors. I think this is a valuable insight: Why did they choose you? What do you do that separates you from everybody else?

And your value proposition is another one of those things that can very easily be subsumed by company dogma and generic corporate-ese. You might assume, as most companies do, that you know what differentiates you from your competitors. But hearing it from the people that are evaluating you against your competitors will either confirm the messages you’ve always relied on or provide you something more. Insights that can guide how you position for the next program, how you qualify and quantify your value in a proposal, and how you compete for business. 

Q | It sounds like it’s helpful across the customer life cycle. It’s helpful when you’re in business development and for your positioning. It’s helpful for taking the pulse of the customer once they’re on board operationally. And it’s helpful for keeping that pulse throughout the customer service journey—showing “we care, we want to know, and we listen.”

Absolutely. I think going beyond just making sure that you’re on the right track with deliverables, it’s important and it shows that you want to invest in doing all the right things for your clients. For many clients, the Voice of the Customer study becomes a real value add. Even if you don’t always like the feedback, it’s such a positive process and experience. 

An extremely high percentage of customers I’ve interviewed (I won’t say 100%, but a very high percentage) are very glad they’ve been asked to participate. They say things like, “Thank you. This is a good thing to do. I really appreciate that they included me in this process.” They feel good about your company because you’re going above and beyond. They feel good because you chose them, you respect their opinion, and you want their feedback. 

Q | Are there best practices in conducting a Voice of the Customer study that companies should think about when they’re embarking on their planning or thinking about how they might utilize the information?

Yes. First, when you’re planning your VOC, in order to get relevant feedback, you want to get a representative sample of the people that your company, i.e., your personnel, are interfacing with. So you want to contact customers working at different levels and in different functions—not just manager to manager, but a 360-degree evaluation.  

Also, ask questions that get at the information you need, like: How has it been going contractually? Or on the financial and business management side? How has it been going in terms of service delivery or technical deliverables? How are we doing from a program management perspective? How are we doing on subcontractor management, partners, and bringing on the right people and skill sets? 

Finally, if you decide to do a voice of the customer study, you need to plan to follow up with them afterwards. You certainly want to acknowledge and thank them for participating, and you don’t want them to think that it was a waste of their time. So you can use the results to continue to build those relationships. 

It’s important to say, “Hey, this was a big help. We really appreciate the feedback. It gave us a lot to think about (or it gave us a lot of good ideas on how we can improve).” It doesn’t mean you have to throw a lot of money at anything and it doesn’t force you to commit to anything. It does give you another opportunity to have follow-up conversations, to continue to build trust, to get direct feedback on how you can move forward and how you’re doing, and to show that you’re always focused on helping them succeed. 

Q | Is there any one thing that you wish your customers would know about Voice of the Customer, either to get a better outcome or something that would make the process easier for them to make a decision on or to get more people to participate?

Yes, I think it helps to set the tone for the whole exercise if you introduce the idea to your customer informally. If it seems too formal and strict, they’re going to be reluctant simply because the formality makes people wary.

“And don’t be afraid of being straightforward about why you’re doing a VOC. Maybe the company’s in the midst of a change, maybe it’s spinning off, maybe it has just been acquired, maybe there have been layoffs in other parts of the company, etc. Some big change is happening at the company, and you want to check in and see how things are going. We always want to keep it positive right from the beginning. So I encourage people to just bring it up during a regular meeting or give them a call and let them know your plans.” 

For instance, say your business development lead has a great relationship with one of her counterparts onsite. Ask her to bring up the idea the next time she’s onsite or mention it on a call, “Hey, we’re thinking about doing this study, and we’d really love it if you can participate. Would you mind if our consultant gave you a call and asked a few questions? It’ll be quick, and just think, you can really let us have it if you want to!” 

Sometimes people are concerned about why the study is being done, but it’s a very positive experience all around and it’s never about trying to disrupt anything or to get “dirt.” Customers feel very good about being asked to participate. 

And you can set the tone at the very beginning for what this experience is going to be like—you want your customer to know that it’s going to be very positive, it’s going to be very easy, and say, “we’re only asking a very select group of people, the ones whose opinion we value the most.” That might sound like hyperbole, but it’s true.

Q | This has been hugely helpful, Robin. Thank you so much!

So, there you have it: a Voice of the Customer study can be a game changer for your business strategy, your business approach, and your customer relationships. Consider the opportunities investing in unfiltered customer feedback could open up for you. (And, by the way, this works for getting employee feedback too! We call this…wait for it…Voice of the Employee (VOE).)

Audacia Strategies now offers VOC and VOE services. Download our Voice of the Customer brochure for further information. If you’re looking to “get under the hood” and get an unfiltered read on your customers’ or employees’ experiences, we’re ready. Book your consultation session today! 

Photo credit: HONGQI ZHANG

value-based messaging

Want Increased Sales? Learn to Love Value-Based Messaging and Understand Your Customer Better.

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it 100 times: every company is in the communications business. And communications is key because successful businesses use strong communications to connect with prospects—enter: the concept of value-based messaging.

The benefits of value-based messaging are clear. The right message helps us connect more efficiently with potential clients and shortens our sales cycle. When you tell a consistent story and communicate your company’s values clearly, you attract prospects who identify with the problem you solve and value the solution you’re offering.

However, we’ve also seen companies make the mistake of focusing so much on articulating their own values that they forget to consider their customers’ needs. Without this all important “gut-check,” a brand’s messaging can feel at best, disconnected and at worst, downright narcissistic. Taking a broader understanding of value-based messaging reveals benefits far beyond connecting with prospects and making sales.

Follow the step-by-step process below to begin developing your brand’s identity, retain your most valuable clients, and become increasingly valuable the longer you work together.

Step-By-Step Process for Effective Value-Based Messaging

Value-based messaging is all about how well you understand your customer and her needs. Once you are clear about those elements, seeing your business grow is a matter of aligning your offerings with what your ideal customer needs and delivering on the promises you make.

So what is the most effective way to get to know your customers? It all starts with simply asking them.

increased salesStep 1. Discovery

During this stage in the process, your goal is to collect as much information as possible about your current customers, prospects, and competitors as possible. This critical step is the beginning of understanding your customer lifecycle and buying process. You will use these early conversations in building customer profiles.

  • Interview sales reps: Great sales reps know what questions to ask in order to get closer to closing a sale. Ask them about the easiest deals they have closed, as well as the ones that they struggled with. Ask them what message they think resonates with your customers. Ask them to list customers with whom they have the best relationships and who would be the best ambassadors for your product or serve.
  • Shadow sales calls to learn about prospects: Listening in on sales calls is a great way to gather information about potential customers. You can quickly learn about their challenges, what makes them buy, how they understand your product, as well as pinpoint their biggest sticking points.
  • Interview lost prospects and current customers: Interview your last 5 lost prospects, the last 5 customers you won, and 5 customers who have been using your product for at least a year. Send a quick email asking if they will spend 15 minutes on the phone chatting with you. If you need to offer an incentive, we’ve seen a $25 Amazon gift card do wonders.
  • Interview industry experts and analysts: Large corporations have access to full time marketing researchers who gather all kinds of useful data, which is hard for the rest of us to get our hands out. Our recommendation? Select a company who would be a great customer. Add them to your customer profiles. Positioning yourself as someone looking for expertise, reach out to them for an interview.

Step 2. Build Customer Profiles

When building customer profiles, industry, revenue, number of employees, and whether a company is publicly traded are important pieces to the puzzle. But when it comes to really understanding your customers in order to create a value-based messaging strategy, what you really need to know is what values and benefits individuals are looking for in a product or service like yours.

In order to get to the heart of the matter, create the following items for each customer profile:

  • List of daily activities
  • Goals and responsibilities
  • How does she measure success?
  • What are her biggest headaches or problems?
  • What role does she play in the buying process (decision-maker, influencer, user)?

Once this picture is clear, you can consider targeted companies and how your customer profile fits into the larger organization. Now you have your ideal customer profile. You want to understand the kind of companies you sell to, who uses and buys your product, what motivates them to buy, and what issues do they want to solve.

Step 3: Create Value Statements

Having gone through the first two steps above, you are in a great position to begin creating value propositions. Start with categories of values (or pillars), then create value statements for each category.

Example:

Value category: Revenues

Value statement: Reduce lost opportunities for increasing revenues by proactively monitoring website and email conversion rates.

The key when it comes to creating value propositions is to focus on actual values, not features of your products or services.

Step 4: Review

Once you have brainstormed value categories and value statements for each one, you are ready to review the messaging framework with your team. This can be a daunting task especially if you have dozens or even hundreds of individuals on your team. The easiest approach is to design a simple questionnaire to ensure that information remains consistent and well organized.

Here are some further tips for the review stage:

  • Identify the best members of each group from which you’re seeking feedback. For instance, if you have 30 inside sales reps, choose the best 5-7 to interview.
  • Create 2-3 rounds of interviews and make sure each round includes a representative from sales, from manufacturing, from sales engineering, and from the c-suite. After the first round, analyze and make adjustments to your questions if necessary, then again include representatives from each group.

This comprehensive approach allows you to get measured feedback across all departments. It helps you avoid interviewing your entire sales force. And it prevents you from making changes that are unacceptable to executives or won’t work with your product map or other strategies.

Benefits of Value-Based Messaging

Follow the above process and you will be in an excellent position to develop high quality, targeted messaging along the following lines:

1. Shape your value proposition to your customer’s needs.

When speaking with clients, investors, and other stakeholders, do you understand their challenges well enough to explain how you can help them? For example, suppose your firm sells consulting services, in addition to a software solution. How do you identify prospects who are in need of consulting services versus those in need of the software solution? Which current customers are likely to bite on a promotional offer for a service they aren’t buying from you now?

By shaping your value (or unique selling proposition) to your customers’ needs, you have essentially primed the pump for your sales team. If your sales reps understand how much it costs a prospect to adopt a new software product, they can shape the sale as a means of cost avoidance via reduced risk, lower long-term cost, 24/7 support vs. hiring another employee, etc.

2. Position your company as the expert in your industry.

The more often you help prospects and customers with problem-solving around their biggest challenges, the more likely your brand becomes synonymous with expertise in your industry. And after the research and interviews there is a good chance, you will have the goods to start creating valuable thought-leadership content.

Here’s another example: let’s say you work for a publicly traded company. How much does it cost (in time or dollars) your shareholders or potential shareholders to evaluate a new stock for their portfolios? If you understand their portfolio goals and evaluation process, you can explain easy ways to save them time in terms that will resonate.

3. Show how your product or service saves your client money.

Finally, understanding how much your customers spend on acquiring new clients or servicing existing clients, etc. will help you position your company as providing cost savings. If your product or service can save them money or help them increase the number of clients the acquire for the same amount of time or dollars, that’s a win and shows the value of their investment.

Keep in mind in all three situations above, while facts and figures can reinforce a point (we’ve posted about the virtues of numbers before), leading with them is rarely persuasive. If you want to connect with potential clients and investors, which is the whole point behind value-based messaging, it’s crucial to activate their emotions.

That being said, it’s also important to note that we’re not saying you need to be everything to everyone or that your broader strategic message should change when you speak to different customers. We’re suggesting simply that you understand their key challenges/goals and tailor your messaging accordingly.

At Audacia Strategies, we are masters at helping clients tailor their messages to resonate with key audiences. And you don’t need to worry about sounding like you’re pandering or fitting into a cookie-cutter mold of some company you never wanted to be. We are all about helping you find your strategic, authentic voice. Let’s discuss how we can collaborate with you.

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media monitoring

Does Your Firm Have a Communications Early Warning Strategy?

Nothing teaches us the value of media monitoring and early warning systems quite like a crisis.

As we sit glued to news coverage about hurricanes hitting the southeast and wildfires lighting up the skies in the west, we watch social media to make sure our friends and family heed official warnings.

Somehow, it’s a whole different story when it comes to corporate communications though. Here most of the focus seems to be on crisis management, rather than prevention. We’ve seen too many horror stories of firms that wait until they are in the throes of a serious crisis before they seriously consider how to manage their communications.

If this hits a little too close to home, no judgment! Check out our previous posts on crisis communications here and here for more tips on planning for and managing through a crisis. And once you’re back to smooth sailing remember that having a strong media monitoring strategy makes crisis management a whole lot easier.

Because it’s simply no fun to learn the hard way that having a strong media monitoring strategy reduces the time and energy an organization spends in crisis mode, let’s discuss how to use communications as an early warning system.

What to Watch

Before developing the right strategy for your firm, it’s important to figure out what you should be looking for. Today, let’s focus on three key audiences to consider when developing a media monitoring plan:

1. Investors,

2. Customers, and

3. Employees.

It’s important to remember that each of these audiences represents a separate, though potentially overlapping, audience. This means that your communications team will need to monitor different types of media and create different types of communications targeting each group. For example, you are likely to learn more from surveys custom-designed for each major audience segment, than from one general survey sent out to your entire email list.

1. Investor Relations Communications as an Early Warning Signal

When it comes to investor relations, the early warning often comes as much from what investors don’t say as from what they do say. I’m not saying you should try to read your investors’ minds, but media monitoring around the publications your investors read can help keep you in a “ready stance.” You may be surprised at what you can learn about investors’ desires by watching subtle fluctuations in the market and media coverage of the market.

The same holds for direct communications with investors. For example, you should have a sense for how your shareholder base will respond to your quarterly earnings and incorporate that knowledge into your earnings communications. If your CEO finishes a quarterly earnings  meeting and made some important announcements, but there are no questions from stakeholders on those announcements, that could be a sign that the information wasn’t presented clearly enough or that investors aren’t sure what to do with the information presented.

Investors aren’t known for being wallflowers. If there’s an elephant in the room, it’s best to face it head on, rather than waiting for someone else to bring it up. Listen carefully to the sound of silence.

2. Customer Feedback as an Early Warning Signal

We all know that listening to customer feedback is crucial for raising brand awareness. But often this type of communication comes too late to really be helpful as an early warning signal. Again, keeping a lookout for subtler hints about how customers are feeling about new products, a new marketing campaign, or a PR strategy is key.

Here, it can be helpful to consider your broader business ecosystem. What are the trade publications saying? Distributor channel publications? And, if your budget and time allows, don’t underestimate the power of focus groups before launching a major new initiative or product.

In addition, social media is probably the best way to get a read on customer perceptions in a more timely manner. But in order for this to be most useful, it helps to have a dedicated media monitoring team for social media.

Here are some items your social media team ought to take into account:

There is no doubt that social media complicates corporate communications. Although monitoring social seems straightforward, what constitutes “good listening” will depend a great deal on your firm’s particular strategy. There’s a big difference in public perception, expectations, and customer engagement with a brand, like Starbucks, that receives millions of mentions per day and with a regional brand that may only see thousands of mentions.

Also, keep in mind that your day-to-day social followers are not necessarily the same people who will come out of the woodwork during a crisis to put their opinions out there. While your media monitoring team’s goal should be crisis prevention, when crisis happens, it can be a relief to remember that the “instigators” involved may not be your regular followers and they may even use different channels from your regular followers to make their voices heard. This means your team needs to listen broadly to develop a well-rounded perspective.

3. Internal Communications as an Early Warning Signal

The final component of putting together a strong corporate communications plan designed as an early warning system is closely watching internal communications. While internal staff may not be as forthcoming with warning signals as the two groups above, there are important signs to look for here as well.

When we at Audacia Strategies work with a new client, it’s always interesting to gather information about the company’s culture. If morale is low, it can be difficult for someone on the inside to determine what’s really going on. This is where bringing in an expert team can really be of value. Quite often, the outside perspective helps companies catch issues early and make the proper adjustments.

Also, in many cases, internal staffing changes serve as the proverbial canary in the coal mine. Data like sudden drop-offs in productivity, a decrease in retention among new employees, and an increase in whispering around the “water cooler” can be signs of bigger challenges on the horizon.

Media Monitoring Resources:

It’s important to budget for the right resources to meet your needs, but you can forget about trying to benchmark against others or buying the slickest new media monitoring software to hit the market. So don’t waste resources, while (simultaneously) being less prepared. Your best resources are a thoughtful crisis communications plan and a consistent practice of listening to your key audience.

That being said, there are several automated media monitoring systems available that could work as a first step depending on your needs. Still, bear in mind that even top-notch software won’t allow you to “set it and forget it.” Monitoring tools are incredibly helpful, but fallible. There’s no complete shortcut, but a thoughtful and strategic approach will help you prioritize your budget and your interactions.

Wrapping Up

Just as creating a game plan on the fly is not a roadmap to winning the 2017 US Open Tennis Tournament (way to go Sloane Stephens and Rafael Nadal!), creating a media monitoring strategy on the fly during a crisis is not a roadmap to communications success.

Companies with a record of successful communications know that media monitoring is a central part of preventing or at least, getting out ahead of any crisis. Our team is ready to work with you to develop the right strategy to create your personal early warning system. Let’s get you out of the path of your next communications crisis!

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