Vince Cable’s leaked letter, attacking his Government colleagues for lacking a “compelling vision”, struck a chord with me.

It did this because I’ve been addressing exactly this kind of issue with several private and public sector organisations, whose communications share one big flaw: they’re awash with information, but devoid of inspiring message …

I completely appreciate how this happens. It’s easy to get caught up in the functional information you feel you need to present. And the bigger the organisation, the worse the problem. Every department wants to convey information. People work in silos, disseminating disconnected messages. Co-ordinating a large volume of ‘stuff’ is an uphill struggle. It’s easy to lose perspective on how it all fits together.

Before you know it, your organisation has spawned a mass of shapeless, dry content which—in our world of escalating information overload—nobody will bother to explore.

For smaller organisations, information quantity is less of a problem, but managers are still often too close to the business to spot inspiring stories.

Sometimes, of course, conveying plain, factual information is enough. If you’re labelling fire alarm buttons, “Break glass” is all you need to say. But most communications need more spirit—especially if you’re trying to nurture a brand.

As Apple’s Steve Jobs said in 1997: “Marketing is about values. It’s a noisy world. And we’re not going to get people to remember much about us. So we have to be clear in what we want them to know.”

It’s an instructive (and fun) exercise to pick some big organisations at random and look at the stories about them their web sites tell us:

  • Vodafone’s site does a fair job of outlining a corporate story, although, visually, it’s shockingly dull
  • Liverpool City Council has a section called ‘About the council’ which seems to tell you nothing about it unless you delve around deeper. The main thing you find is links to long, tedious documents with no overall story clearly presented
  • Marks & Spencer’s company overview could be more engaging, but is at least elevated at the end by an impressive goal of zero landfill waste by the end of this year
  • Apple lets great images of its products do the talking—but tells you nothing about the company unless you’re really determined to dig around
  • HSBC’s site does a decent job of supporting its positioning as the ‘world’s local bank’—though I’d question how many consumers really care about its international reach
  • Exxon Mobil’s company summary is the dullest thing I’ve seen in a long time

This mixed picture is inspiring itself, as surely we can all do better.

How? No matter what your organisation and objectives, I would recommend the following five fundamental steps. If they sound like simple common sense, that’s because they are—but people too seldom take them.

1.  Stand back from the everday activity to look at the bigger picture and ask: what’s the most important message we should be conveying about our company/product/initiative?

Then ask: how can we build a clear, compelling story around that?

Mental exercises can help here. What, for example, is the one thing you’d love people to say about your organisation/product if you were to stop them in the street in 12 months’ time?

(Of course, there are other important points to consider in creating effective brand messages—perhaps a topic for another day.)

2. Review the information your organisation has already put out to see how well it supports this story. What can you leave alone and what, where possible, should you adapt or remove?

3. Then—and this is where the real action starts—look at what new content and methods will truly bring the story to life. How can you make it coherent, vivid and exciting? How can you grab your audiences’ attention?  How can you engage them in strengthening your story and passing it on?

Consider the best style to adopt. Think creatively about the most effective types of content—anecdotes, images, facts, statistics, case studies? Assess the best formats and channels, from blogs and films to social media, speeches, editorial and printed collateral.

4. Test your new content and methods on real people and amend accordingly.

5. Get out and tell your story, regularly reviewing feedback and improving as you go.

Admittedly, the simplicity of these five steps is somewhat deceptive: they’re not necessarily a quick or easy process. But they’re important and rewarding.

Done properly, they will boost the inspiration factor of any organisation’s communications, with all the tangible benefits that will follow.

 

What tips and techniques do you have to add?  Which organisations do you think have lifeless communications and which are inspirational?  Please add any comments below.