Innovation of Business

and the
Business of Innovation™
Innovating Communications

Putting Relationships First

In business and innovation, communications have one primary, overriding purpose – to build relationships.  Not to inform or persuade, not to plan or contract, not to document or account, not to direct or report, not to buy or sell, but to build lasting value-driven relationships.

We “speak” to customers, investors, management, staff, allies, media, and other stakeholders located up-down-and-across hierarchies, within and between disciplines, to individuals and groups, and over distances from handshakes to oceans.  And in each case, the nominal purpose is always secondary.  Our primary job is to develop, sustain, and grow win-win relationships.

That means that product brochures are not really about products.  Business plans are not about businesses.  Project reviews not about projects.  Sales calls not about sales.  Scientific papers not about science.  It means that the product, business, and science are all supporting information rather than the core issue.

Darned hard to accept, isn’t it.  After all, most business communications are about the nominal topic (product, business, etc).  Can all those authors have missed the point?

Look at it this way.  Business itself is all about relationships.  Businesses must build bonds of trust with their stakeholders.  Customer loyalty alone delivers greater cash flow, more reliable cash flow, faster cash flow, faster time to payout, lower cost of sales, lower cost of capital, and higher share value.  Communications are strategies for reaching business goals, especially relationships.

We may be value driven and truly care about our relationship partners.  We may be highly strategic, seeing both short and long term priorities.  We may manage our businesses well enough to compete in global markets.  And we may blow it all away by misunderstanding the core purpose of our communications.

The Center

Communications can be characterized by their "center."  Self-centered communications are about the business, product, project, etc.  Take the classic product brochure.  Of course it is about the product.  What else could it be about?  Your cousin's new wife?

Customer-centered communications are distinctly different.  They put the focus on relationships.  The brochure first connects with customers at levels of their problems, frustrations, and needs.  Then it paints a vision of life without those problems.  And finally, it shows how the product delivers that new life.  It sets a context for value (connection), conveys the value (problems solved), and shows how value will be achieved (solution).

To expand this concept to any business interaction let's use the term "audience-centered".  Unfortunately, an audience center isn't natural.  People work so hard today that they identify with what they do.  Survival of the fittest in our business jungle seems to demand tight focus on tasks and on time to project completion.  It's only normal to carry that focus into communications.

Thus we need to manage our mindset.  Communications are expensive, and opportunities may be rare.  We can't afford to waste time on sub-optimal methods.  Graphic flash and design sizzle can't hide the center; they just make it more costly.



Successful communications build relationships in which audiences...

Are present:  With you, on track, following the presentation.  They are not confused, not lost.
Feel good:  Feel adequate about themselves and their abilities to learn.  Not intimidated or put off by style, pace, focus, or language.
Participate:  Interact with the communication, reading actively, listening actively, asking questions of the author if present and asking mental questions if not.
Continue to learn:  Appreciate the communication.  Feel it is valuable to them and worth their attention.  Keep at it and don't withdraw, either mentally or physically.
Extend:  Go beyond what is said directly and see implications.  Build mental models that incorporate what is said into their own visions.  Learn enough to add value to what is said.
Act:  Accept your point of view and  prefer that viewpoint.  Become willing to buy, fund, invest, support, and/or partner.  Best of all, feel an urgency to act.  They want to do it now.

Isn't this what you want from your investment in communication?  Now think about the opposite of this ideal audience:  minds wandering, people feeling put down, dropping out of the interaction, failing to see the point, never going to the next step, never developing a loyalty to your ideas.  If that is all you achieve, then why bother?

The difference is in the center.  An audience center builds relationships.  Other centers often put up barriers to relationships.


Developing the Center

Audiences are self-centered.  We need to keep them on track.  Audiences tend to pass on negative impressions more often than positives.  We need to create positive responses.

Here is one way to organize an audience center.

Problem:  Connect to your audience at levels of concerns, needs, and frustrations.  That is, connect at gut level.
Vision:  Portray life with concerns met.  Present the value of change in terms of the key benefits of resolving frustrations.  Connect to hope.  Connect at heart level.
Solution:  Offer your specific path out of frustration and into the value vision.   Connect to logic.  Connect at mind level.
Technical story:  Show how the solution will be achieved.  Length of technical discussion varies with type of communication.  A scientific paper may be 90% technical.  Connect again at logic and mind levels, this time to build confidence in the solution.
Summary:  Focus on benefits to each specific audience.  Touch again on gut concerns, optimistic hope, and the logic of your solution.

A Quick Tutorial

Information + image:  Every communication both delivers information and creates perceptions.  We have no choice about that.  We can't ever convey information without interacting with the parts of brains that build images.  Our only useful choice is to consciously manage what we do and say for image as well as information.

Positioning:  Trust in relationships depends on consistency.  Positioning is the process of image development through consistent, systematic, and visible reinforcement of desired marketplace perceptions.  Formal position statements summarize desired perceptions of corporations, businesses, products, developing technologies, and even formative ideas.  Develop your position statements before communicating, then manage everything said and done to support the intent of those statements.

Branding:  A brand is a value promise accepted by target markets and mentally attached to a name, logo mark, and slogan.  A value promise is a commitment to deliver specific value to specific stakeholders over time.  The value promise can often be presented in page headers and logo blocks, eliminating need for explicit mention in text.  Branding both organization and product requires promises that work well together.

Decision influence:  Every purchase or investment decision is made in two phases.  Justification drives commitment to making a decision.  Choice selects one option over alternatives.  Persuading choice falls on deaf ears if justification isn't complete.  Persuading justification is redundant and boring to those ready to choose.

Unaware audiences:  We often need to excite audiences about something they don't yet care about.  That task, more than any other, requires connecting to audiences where they are now.  Only when that connection has been made will they follow the communication into new territory.  When dealing with unaware audiences, plan more time/space for context and education.  Plan to inspire and motivate attention to the rest of your message.

Multi-target audiences:  A single communication may serve several audience segments with differing needs and value requirements.  The product brochure, for instance, may target users, technical evaluators, influencers, decision makers, and senior managers who can overturn a decision.  Leaving one type unsatisfied could stall the relationship, so create distinct sections of the communication for each audience segment.  Use titles, boxes, speech segments, and direct mention of the audience segment.  Change language as appropriate for the overall feel of the communication.

Principle of Value:  Always remember that no one every buys a product, invests in a business, funds a project, or licenses a technology.  They always invest in value, as they define it.  Value-driven communications are naturally audience centered.
Use these ideas to evaluate your communications prior to sending them.


Focusing Communications n Relationships

Normal communications inform and persuade.  Innovated communications take time to connect to their audiences.  Normal communications convey author priorities.  Innovated communications build relationships by focusing on audience priorities.  Normal communicators work inside-out, deciding what to say, then saying it.  Innovated communicators work outside in, learning about desired audiences first, then designing ways to create deep connections.

Normal communications force audiences to discover relevance.  Innovated communications present value first, confirming the win-win nature of the relationship before pushing "products."  Normal communications depend on graphic sizzle for gaining attention.  Innovated communications use a breadth of resources to build trust.  Let's say that again.  Normal communications attract attention.  Innovated communications build trust and loyalty.

In short, normal communicators invest in the impact of communications.  Innovated communicators invest in the impact of relationships.  One is a tactical view; the other very strategic.  One takes a short-term perspective; the other seeks durability.
Your center conveys unspoken messages with every communication, so learn now how put your audience first.  Every stakeholder will respond with higher loyalty.

The time for an audience center is now, and it always will be.



18. In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is. (Jan van de Snepscheut)

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