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Communications Keeping Pace With Change

A couple weeks ago I attended a MaRS Discovery District presentation on technology marketing.  The talk reminded me of how very important is to be nimble in reassessing messaging when situations. It is essential to closely monitor changing external and internal situations and to quickly realign messaging accordingly, for both your customers and your employee team.

The lecturer discussed the need, in the tech sector, to change customer messaging quite radically based on the product life cycle. In the earliest stage of life a technology product appeals to “early adopters”, people who love technology gadgets. This group salivates at the thought of getting the newest thing, so the way to communicate the value of a brand new tech gizmo is to talk about how cutting edge it is. These first customers don’t care about documentation and support. They don’t even care if it works perfectly! They want it because it’s new and cool and the guy down the hall doesn’t have it.

Later in the product life cycle this first group moves onto whatever is now new and shiny, and sales move to the much larger group of people who want good tools. The way to communicate value to these people is to show how the technology can help them to do something better, faster or with greater ease. This group doesn’t want cutting edge. They want a well tested, well supported technology.

Same product. Two very different messages. What happens if a tech company continues with the same “isn’t this cool” messaging over time? The product falls into the “chasm” and fails. Too bad. It might be the best thing since sliced bread and be able to revolutionize how we make things, communicate, cook, entertain ourselves… but we’ll never know because the company that made the thing didn’t sell enough of them to stay afloat. The key is in knowing when things are changing and being nimble enough to change the message at the right time.

Companies do lose sight of changing situations, because they have their nose to the grindstone, and hang onto stale and even totally inappropriate messaging. An organization I know planned an external campaign involving photos of attractive but stern people with sutured cuts on their faces. The campaign was designed to illustrate in a humorous way that the organization’s people had been through the proverbial trenches and have the scars, and the learning, to make them valuable. Just as the campaign was ready for launch… war broke out in Iraq. The marketers didn’t stop to think of how the suddenly changed world situation might impact perception of their campaign. The campaign flopped dramatically!

Perhaps even more frequently, obviously changing situations are not taken into account in communications to employees; most often by not addressing situational changes at all. Companies often do not communicate around new situations that might be causing employee stress. They hesitate to address the elephant in the room, perhaps because they are often messy topics or full of uncertainty; a possible reorganization, new leadership coming onboard, the recession everyone is experiencing.  As we know, employee stress can cause a downturn in productivity so taking notice of changing external or internal situations that can cause stress and communicating quickly and honestly to employees can go a long way to return employees to business as usual. You may not have all of the answers but they will know that you are sharing with them what you know so that time-sucking rumor mills shut down and people trust that you will communicate when there is something new to share.

As a last point, some are probably thinking, “but we need to stay on brand so how can our messaging change constantly to our customers and our employees?” Changing messaging does not mean changing brand. Messaging can be fully on-brand and also appropriate for changing times, but no brand can stay relevant if it doesn’t stay connected to the people who make it and the people who buy it.

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