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President, Credible Context
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- General Manager, Fitzgerald Communications
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- Deputy General Manager, Hill & Knowlton
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Actionable Messaging and Competitive Positioning
President, Credible Context
- Social media has transformed the way industries and their consumer audiences perceive and interact with one another.
- The biggest, most impactful trend today for companies is the social media explosion. Social media is ubiquitous. It's persistent. It's unrelenting. It's ravenous and it cannot be controlled, yet it must be engaged. There is no wiggle room any more – a company cannot say one thing to one audience, and another thing to a second audience. Everyone hears everything at the time it is being said, and everyone checks its veracity as they hear it. For example, if a company tries to promote itself as "green", but its employees know that it still uses high-energy-burning lightbulbs, it will have to face the consequences of its misrepresentation, because it will most likely be outed by one of its employees thanks to social media.
Actionable messaging is critical in social media because one of its key aspects is communicating the truth of who you are. You know the adage – "If you never tell a lie you never have to remember the lies that you've told." Actionable messaging adheres to the notion that a company promotes itself honestly, authentically, transparently, credibly, and that it is able to answer any question at any time because there will always be an internal consistency to what that company is saying. Social media demands an internal consistency of messaging and actionable messaging enables a company to create that internal consistency.
- The creation of a self-service economy empowers customers to take greater responsibility for their choices and decisions.
- Remember the first ATM machines that appeared back in the 70s? They forever changed the relationship that banks have with their customers. Before, if you wanted cash you had to go to the branch store between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. With the advent of the ATM machine, customers could withdraw cash or consult their accounts at any time. This was essentially one of the first instances during which customers were able to manage their own experience with a company. A more contemporary example is the fact that today, the majority of airline travelers arrive at the airport with their boarding passes downloaded on their smart phones or with a printed version from their home printer.
In recognizing improved business efficiency and lowering costs by encouraging customers to take more responsibility for their experiences and decisions, the world has successfully built a self-service economy. One of the consequences of this kind of economy is the dwindling direct contact between customers and the companies they patronize. Interactive voice response systems are an essential part of the way customers interact with companies today. We make fun of these systems, but we cannot escape them. While these systems gain momentum, it is increasingly important that companies reach out to their customers with actionable messaging so that the connection between them and the company does not become so tenuous that it is easily snatched up by a competitor's message. As people do more and more for themselves, actionable messaging becomes an invaluable, critical part of a company's customer growth-and-retention program.
- Data and information are a company's ticket to more value creation.
- Data and information is the new "oil." Indeed, most of the value created by a company today is in the data that it collects. If you were to ask a venture capitalist how many, among the last ten pitches that it had received, were built on collecting and mining data, the response would be ten! Business players have entered a new era staged in a new arena whereby what a company knows about its customers is a key indicator of how successful it will be. As this key trend takes hold across all sectors, it is imperative that companies engage in actionable messaging to protect the data they have collected and the customers they have collected it from.
Actionable messaging must be used to communicate the company's policies, practices, procedures, technology and training that govern and enable data collection, and to ensure that it will be used for the benefit of customers and not fall into the hands of hackers or be misused by the company itself. This is potentially very treacherous terrain, as recently witnessed in the hacking scandal of retail giant Target and the 70 million individual customers who risk credit card and identify theft. Other global players like Facebook, Apple, Visa and MasterCard also know a great deal about their customers.
As data and information become increasingly more important as a new, raw material in business, companies need to be consistently aggressive in delivering actionable messaging to ensure the safety of their customers' data, and to reinforce continued customer trust and reassurance.
- It no longer pays to be single. Collaborative partnerships combine expertise and experience to deliver more value.
- There is an expectation in the marketplace today that companies will collaborate to create and deliver the best value. Collaboration signifies the merging of different but complementary expertise, technologies and experiences, all of which, when added together, equal more than the sum of their parts. Indeed, when once a single company might have proposed a total solution, today it is a rare occasion when the market will accept such an offer.
Collaboration is manifested in many ways – Apple working with Verizon and AT&T to sell iPhones and telecom subscriptions, or Whirlpool working with Proctor & Gamble to develop a high-efficiency soap under the Tide brand for Whirlpool's high-efficiency appliances. This creates a collaborative chain. Without the right kind of soap for Whirlpool's new top performers, the market for them would be undermined. This is a classic example of two companies bringing their expertise to the collaborative table in order to build more added value into a commercial offer with the aim to generate more customers, more customer satisfaction and more value for their businesses.
In such cases, actionable messaging is used to communicate about how the collaboration works. But it is also used to focus on the products and services being developed. Then, should something unexpected or negative occur on either side during the entire supply chain process before the product is introduced, actionable messaging has already reinforced the value of the product and the collaborative approach. The result is that the two companies are able to meet the market's expectations and increase the potential for their success. They are also able, thanks to actionable messaging, to withstand whatever market criticism occurs and shield themselves from potential failure.
- Understanding influence is a more powerful tool than company standing.
- Actionable messaging is a bit like the tree falling in the forest when there's no one around to hear. If a company does not deliver actionable messaging to the right ears, it's as if it never delivered it in the first place, for it will most likely not receive the attention, the reaction or the actions it desires.
In the past, household brand name manufacturers like Proctor & Gamble or Stride Rite Shoes have been the biggest source of reliable information about products and their designs for babies and toddlers. When people of status – such as marketing directors and head designers – within these companies stood up to talk about product, it was their title and position, and the company's standing, that was speaking. Their expertise was never called into question. The customers, mostly mothers, accepted this information as truth, as the value they needed to justify their purchase.
Today, however, there is a huge difference between standing and influence. Consumer groups are becoming the main source of influence, primarily thanks to social media. Mommy Bloggers, an intermediary consumer group, exerts tremendous influence now over consumers of product categories targeting babies and toddlers. They have no particular standing, other than the fact that they are real mothers dealing with real baby and toddler issues every day. They are the people purchasing on the Main Streets of the country, and their voices, heard instantaneously online, are the voices consumers are listening to.
Actionable messaging, when delivered to the right people, the people who are the real influencers, is the true form for market success. It is important to appreciate the difference between someone with a title and the suggestion of strong influence, and someone who has the real influence due to the nature of their essentially online involvement. Companies who understand the power of these influential consumer groups and use actionable messaging to reach them will not only improve their patronage, but they will be building a much more sustainable and credible customer base.
Actionable Messaging and Competitive Positioning: Key Trends