While data-driven insights undeniably play a crucial role in marketing and communications, there are times when being led by data without considering its context and potential biases can lead to flawed decision-making. We explore when to listen to your gut over the numbers and how embracing your instincts can fuel innovation and success.Continue reading
For us communicators at (W)right On, it’s essential we understand and practice the art of conversation. It’s in part why we recently hosted a PRSA seminar on networking skills for industry up-and-comers, and on March 28th as part of The Next 25 series celebrating our 25th Anniversary will be hosting a panel of world-class tourism and travel industry experts to talk about the Future of Sustainable Tourism. Being both in-person at our San Diego headquarters and broadcast live online, it will be another great opportunity to put our conversational skills into practice.
Shown in Celeste Headlee’s interesting TED talk, it’s apparent that fewer and fewer of the younger generation are developing and exercising this skill. Imagine if the 1/3 of teens who send more than 100 texts per day instead worked on their conversational skills: they’d be better prepared for the dating scene, career opportunities and so much more. As Harvard University’s David Deming points out, “high-skilled, difficult to automate jobs increasingly require social skills.” In fact, surveys have for decades highlighted the importance of soft skills – such as oral communication; teamwork/collaboration; professionalism/work ethic; written communications; and critical thinking/problem solving – that are increasingly hard to come by.
Becoming an older person myself, I wrestle with this issue. On the one hand, it seems to me we need to learn – and teach – oral conversation skills for the numerous good reasons just noted. On the other hand, the tidal wave of alternate communication like texts, tweets, SnapChats and Instagram, TikTok and Facebook posts, to say nothing of the evolving immersive world, cannot be ignored. Communication evolves, and so must we all. So is the latter the new reality, with the art of conversation destined to a fading past? I think not.
At (W)right On, we deeply understand the importance of relationships in just about all endeavors. And at the heart of every developing and flourishing relationship is conversation. When we provide presentation training, media training, a social media program, and just about everything else we do, at the core of each is conversation. So while Celeste focuses on tips for conversations while you’re in them at networking events, say, I offer these thoughts as to how to get in – and out – of them.
- Go for it– Relax and let go of your fear, since there’s always something you can use to start a conversation. Ask a question, whether it’s for help, an opinion or advice. Make a provocative statement, or muse about a hypothetical situation. Noticing something about the other person (not too personal) or a mutual friend will usually pique their interest to talk with you. Having some topics in mind beforehand will let your subconscience be doing some prep work for you.
- Be aware of timing– Catching someone with their mouth full or clearly with one foot out the door is likely to be unproductive. But noticing and approaching someone by themselves in a crowded room will usually be met with appreciation.
- Embrace diversity– Conversations are more interesting if they’re with someone less like yourself. To switch things up, avoid the ‘comfort zone’ with your clone, and instead seek to converse with someone who knows things you don’t, be it a younger or older person or someone from another culture, societal background and/or education type and level. You’re less likely to find yourself drawing blanks since differences and new information are inherently more interesting than consistent agreement.
- Exit gracefully– Too much of a good thing can be just that, so it’s important to know when to move on gracefully. If needed, you can use a common reason (‘have to get back to…’, ‘connect with [person] before they leave’, ‘take this call/text I’ve been waiting for’, etc). If needed, you can also pull someone else into the conversation to tactfully take over for you. If you’re there with a colleague, you may even have a pre-arranged cue to help you guard your time. In any case, listen for the natural transition, keep the ending on a positive note and recap follow-up actions (so that it’s not so much a ‘good bye’ as it is a pause in the conversation to be picked up later).
The art of conversation is just that: an art. Though some seem to possess the gift of gab, it really isn’t something genetically programmed within a certain few. Great conversation skills must be taught, role modeled and ultimately learned and kept sharp. Like many skills, becoming good at communicating is as much about attitude and willingness to put in the effort as it is about technique – if you continue to work hard and develop your abilities, before too long it becomes effortless.
This post is updated from an earlier version published in 2016.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Grant Wright is CEO of (W)right On Communications, Inc., the award-winning integrated strategic communications firm founded in 1998. With offices in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Vancouver, B.C., his team handles complex communications challenges for B2B tech, cleantech and energy, healthcare, tourism and hospitality, not-for-profit and public sector organizations. Wright and his team elevate the agency experience through data-driven insights and measurable results for client partners.
When you advise innovators, change makers and industry leaders every day, it’s expected that you’re also keeping a finger or two on the pulse of shifting trends in business, public relations, and media. It’s our job to help client partners understand current trends, spot future trends, and make the most of them.
So, what are we ready to make the most of in 2023?
1. Immersive Storytelling and the Metaverse
Meta and Mark Zuckerberg have bet big on the Metaverse. Other companies are also investing heavily in virtual reality hardware, software, and immersive environments. They’re holding virtual meetings and gatherings, conducting onboarding and employee training, and building culture and community with virtual celebrations and shared experiences across time zones.
McKinsey reports $120 billion in venture capital, private equity, and corporate investment in the Metaverse during the first five months of 2022, and that by 2030, the consumer and enterprise value of the Metaverse may be equal to Japan’s economic output.
While immersive environments are perfectly suited for gaming and entertainment, all brands can and should stake their claim and build their brand presence in immersive environments like Horizon Worlds, The Sandbox and Decentraland. There’s an advantage to being an early adopter.
The Metaverse today reminds me of social networks in 2007. The numbers weren’t big enough for brands to dive in in large numbers, but if you parked your brand’s handle on Twitter and started experimenting with early content and conversations, you were able to grow and prosper as those platforms began to take off. Those who were late to the party had to work much harder to attract followers and build communities.
Immersive environments allow people to experience your story directly. What if you could take your ideal trade show booth, retail location, classroom, pop-up experience or other environment and untether it from time, geography, or the laws of physics? Imagine those possibilities.
While pondering what kind of out-of-this-world space you’d create, it’s worth noting that virtual experiences also lend themselves to highly serious uses.
Military medicine uses VR to counteract PTSD triggers. A museum exhibit places patrons on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to experience history first hand as Martin Luther King delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech. How could your mission or purpose be better fulfilled if time and place could be transcended through immersive storytelling?
Getting started in the Metaverse does not need to be expensive as many platforms and tools that can be adapted and customized to get your brand out there. It will not get less costly as tools improve and people’s expectations rise. (Right now, it’s okay to have avatars with no legs, for instance, but even that will soon be a thing of the past.)
Our 2022 trade show booth for XCOM Labs allowed immersive VR experiences.
Last year, (W)right On Communications designed a creative, branded trade show booth for our client partner XCOM Labs where attendees could experience a range of different simulations and trainings. The booth featured XCOM’s wireless extended reality (or XR) system which is an infrastructure solution for companies seeking the highest quality VR or mixed reality experiences. It has no wires and little to no latency in the network and supports multiple users moving through the environment. We’ve experienced the system a few times and it is always very comfortable and lifelike.
Over the past several months, I also completed the Institute for Public Relations Masterclass in Immersive Storytelling. This series features companies, creative studios and consultancies developing augmented reality, virtual reality and other extended reality experiences and solutions.
As part of (W)right On’s 25th anniversary year celebration, we’re planning an event to share some of our immersive storytelling knowledge and experience with our client partners and agency friends. Keep an eye out for details!
2. Artificial Intelligence Becomes the Writer’s Best Friend
Some readers may not want to hear this, but artificial intelligence is going mainstream in 2023. The great news is that communicators will save a ton of time this year if we task a tool like ChatGPT or Jasper.AI with our first drafts.
These tools require a very short learning curve. My best advice is to jump in and experiment. For now, you create a free ChatGPT profile that does more than chats. It can generate social posts, blog posts, news articles, press releases, web pages, emails, memos and more. It will render the content in a blink so that you can spend your time making the second draft more interesting, entertaining or informative.
It would be foolish not to use these tools to generate a passable first draft. However, they’re not yet a replacement for the human element – humor, color commentary, metaphors, tone.
ChatGPT was launched by OpenAI for free, for a limited time, on November 30 to test and get feedback from users. I asked ChatGPT to draft me a paragraph about OpenAI’s goals:
“The goal of the ChatGPT model is to provide a human-like conversational experience through the use of natural language processing (NLP) techniques. The model is based on the GPT (Generative Pre-training Transformer) architecture, which has been shown to be very effective in generating human-like text. By fine-tuning the model on conversational data, ChatGPT aims to generate responses that are contextually relevant, fluent, and appropriate for the given conversation. This can be used to power chatbots, virtual assistants, and other conversational AI applications. The overall goal is to enable more natural and efficient communication between humans and computers.”
I couldn’t have said it any better myself.
3. Uncertainty Everywhere All the Time
I learned a new word in 2022- and I think it’s here to stay: VUCA.
It stands for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Get used to it. It’s a VUCA world. Economically, geopolitically, medically (physical and mental health) and environmentally—no one knows what happens next. Not exactly fun, but something strategic communicators need to accept and mitigate.
How do savvy brands and their comms teams navigate a VUCA world? Back in early 2020- as the pandemic was first impacting the U.S., we wrote about applying the classic five stages of grief to crisis communications. This advice stands in a VUCA world. But let’s add to it:
• Change is coming at people faster than they can cope.
• Allow your stakeholders time to process big news or changes.
• Be a source of analysis to help bring perspective and context to big or rapid changes.
• Create feedback mechanisms so that people experiencing change can process their thoughts and feelings productively and so that you and your team can monitor your stakeholders’ thoughts and feelings and adjust messages or methods as needed.
• Manage expectations and don’t overpromise. Let people know what to realistically expect next, even if you’re unclear on what exactly happens next (like in a winter ice storm a few days before Christmas that overwhelms an airline’s scheduling software leading to unprecedented cancellations). You can at least tell stakeholders when they can expect to get the next update rather than feel you need to make a promise you can’t meet or exceed!
• Don’t use your communications to add to the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, or ambiguity.
When people are left to guess or second guess their trusted institutions, they’re no longer trusted. We all know that polarization and distrust in traditional institutions have soared. People are filling the VUCA vacuum with conspiracy theories. Which give them something to believe in and, while outlandish, people prefer to believe the conspiracy theory over the complex and ambiguous truth.
4. Enchanting Narratives: Give People Something Worth Believing In
Storytelling is a natural construct that creates characters, tension, and a suspense. Good stories are interesting- as they transport the listener, reader, or viewer. We’ve all got to get better at storytelling in 2023 and beyond and give people stories that are worth believing in.
Earlier this year, I read “The Enchanted Brand,” a book by accomplished brand strategist Jane Cavalier who makes a compelling case that people are seeking a bit of “enchantment” in this confuzzling VUCA world.
Take the Netflix series “Stranger Things.” I loved its third season. If you loved it too, you’ll understand this analysis completely. In all three seasons, the Upside Down is the malevolent world that the show’s characters get sucked into. It’s a very VUCA place. In season three, the Upside Down becomes personified in Vecna, an evil overlord who breaks and takes kids when they’re isolated and alone. He’s terrifying and powerful. I had no idea how Max would ever escape his clutches when he came for her.
As it turns out, that the way to safety in “Stranger Things” season three was enchantment. The kids just had to play Max’s favorite song to give her the strength to escape Vecna’s pull. (Cue Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.”) That song plus the love of her best friends pulls her from his clutches.
During turbulent times, strategic communicators must engage the imagination and help people transcend the VUCA world that, like Vecna in “Stranger Things,” keeps poking their flight-or-fight instinct.
So, how can your organization be enchanting?
• What’s its origin story? Is there a story arc and characters in your humble beginnings that is inspiring or relatable? Did you recently overcome a big challenge or help your employees or customers overcome one?
• How can your brand purpose enchant? Are you bringing it to life through employee or customer storytelling or are you creating magical moments that bring it to life, then capture and share those with employees and customers?
• How can your brand inspire and elevate employees, customers, and investors so they feel more emotionally connected and have a reason to believe in you that transcends their daily realities, fears, and frustrations?
I’m a fan of Alaska Airlines, and this winter they partnered with nonprofits in San Jose and San Diego to surprise some students with free flights who couldn’t afford to travel home for the holidays. The students’ heartfelt reactions were completely enchanting to me as I passed those videos on to two other people I know. This promotion is a great example of how to create and tell enchanting stories.
It also shows how storytelling starts with actions. Brands must start by walking the talk and being enchanting before talking about themselves that way. Word and deeds must always be in sync!
Going back to our number one 2023 trend, The Metaverse, it’s a perfect vehicle for enchanting your employees and customers. You can create fairy tale experiences and bring your brand to life in ways the real world won’t let you.
Speaking of the real world, our number three trend, VUCA as the new normal, also comes into play because enchanting storytelling is VUCA’s antidote. You might not want to entrust AI with formulating an enchanting story but you can task it with a solid first draft and then add your own magic.
Just remember in 2023 to bring a little enchantment into your PR, social media, and content as a clap back to the real-world Vecnas trying to bring us all down. And, if all else fails, keep running up that hill.
1. Integrate the influencers
In this era of diminishing trust, the public craves authenticity. This is reflected in the massive growth of a hospitality marketing tactic that recently established itself and is expected to experience five times more growth by 2021– influencer marketing. Rather than sticking to the basic ad placement that’s blatantly meant to sell, influencer marketing creates a sense of sincerity. The influencer isn’t seen as some big corporation looking to make money, but rather as an admired friend that’s looking to inform their followers about a great product or destination that they think they’ll enjoy.
Influencers are now widely used in campaigns, but there are a few important steps you need to take prior to introducing an influencer into your hospitality brand’s campaign.
- Assess the campaign goals as well as the overall goal of the brand
- Analyze the influencer’s audience
- Evaluate the type of content the influencer posts to see if it will actually aid in achieving your brand’s goals (i.e. geotagging, hashtags, tagging, shots of the hotel/destination)
- Most importantly, track the levels of engagement between the influencer and followers
After assessing your goals and properly vetting the influencer, communicate your goals to the influencer. Don’t simply offer money or free product to the influencer in exchange for specific content. Instead, collaborate with the influencer to ensure they understand the mission of your brand and empower them to create the content that will resonate with their followers the best. This process results in content that feels more genuine and is more appropriate for the target audience.
2. Freshen up your storytelling
With the plethora of channels used by consumers to share and exchange information, it’s getting harder and harder for a hospitality brand’s content to stand out. Yes, being an outstanding writer is important, but what communicators now have to consider is how to best present their message to the audience in a fun, creative and visual way. Luckily for us, there’s a variety of exciting new storytelling tools at our disposal. From virtual reality to drones to infographics to 360 ° cameras, take advantage of these tools to create unique stories that immerse the viewer and hint at the kind of experience they will have if they choose your hospitality brand.
The point of using these technologies is to help spark a feeling about your brand through content. The ultimate at doing this is Disney. Instead of focusing on specifications and features – X number of beds, X amenities, $X per night, etc. – you should be focusing on the experience they deliver and the emotions surrounding it.
Sidenote, if you’re interested in hearing more about how to use 360° cameras in your campaign, read this post by WOC President and Founder Julie Wright.
3. Listen and engage
Two-way communication has never been more important than it is today. Users are not only consuming content, but they’re also creating it. Not only does user-generated content remove some of the hassle of creating original content, but it also creates a feeling of authenticity. Plus, an unpaid consumer sharing their experience with your brand is third party validation just like great media coverage.
Take advantage of this user-generated content and find ways to include it in your communications strategies. To find this content, deploy social listening campaigns. Through social listening, hospitality brands are able to spot content where they’re featured and identify what’s being said about them. An excellent social listening tool is Hootsuite, which enables you to link and create dashboards for multiple social platforms that show streams of mentions, comments or shares so you can quickly and easily share or respond.
Natalia Xibille —Communications Coordinator
By Chance Shay —Director of B2B and Infrastructure Development
Marketing communications in silos doesn’t work. If your PR efforts aren’t aligned with your content marketing and your digital marketing is on a different frequency, you’re setting yourself up for a not-so-fun conversation with your CMO. In a time when the average attention span is eight seconds and where humans are producing the same amount of data in two days as was generated in all of human existence leading up to 2003, it’s easy to see why each individual marcomm channel is less effective in isolation.
But with a challenge comes an opportunity. By syncing up all of their efforts, marketers are able to make the overall impact of marcomm efforts far greater than their individual sums. This is integrated marketing.
Integrated marketing communications (IMC) is the only marketing strategy that is effective in 2017. It optimizes the communication of a consistent message from a brand to stakeholders by integrating communication channels and harnessing the benefits of each channel, which amplifies their impact beyond what they could achieve individually.
The entertainment industry has done this for years. At Comic Con, you’ll see the same message about a new movie being promoted on advertisements (paid), conveyed during interviews and editorial stories (earned), used on social media (shared) and said during the panel discussion with the movie’s stars (owned).
B2B brands have to take this same approach, but with a few key changes. To help, we’ve put together a foolproof, five-step guide to help any B2B brand nail its integrated marketing plan.
1) Define the business objective
An obvious first step, but it’s essential that the integrated marketing flow from the brand’s overall business objective. Whether stealing market share or creating a new category, the brand’s big picture goal will drive everything from strategy to KPIs and execution.
2) Know thy audience
More than just understanding the type of business that’s a good fit for your service or product (i.e. a SMB in cleantech with $10-25 million in revenue), a brand must have a rich, granular picture of who is most likely to purchase their product and why. The “why” is important for establishing and framing the unique selling proposition for any good or service, but the “who” is the most important for structuring your IMC plan. Is your customer likely to be innovative or more risk adverse? What’s important to your customer in how they operate their business and the culture they create internally? Is a top tier trade outlet or a general news daily with huge name cachet more influential to them? For example, if the decision makers for your prospective customers are millennials, you’ll want to know they are 247% more likely to be influenced by blogs or social networking sites than older generations. That impacts strategy in a meaningful way, so get as holistic a view of your audience(s) as possible.
3) Set SMART communications goals that support the business objective
Like with most sound strategies, for IMC planning you must start with the end goal and work backward to develop a plan for how to get there. What is it – in a specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time dimensioned way – that you’re wanting the plan to achieve. Is it to drive a 20 percent increase in free trial sign-ups? Is it to grow website traffic for key landing pages by 30 percent? At the end of the day, for B2B brands it all boils down to driving revenue. The marcomm component is meant to move new business prospects down the marketing funnel from being brand aware to being brand loyal. Setting SMART goals and KPIs for your integrated efforts will help ensure you’re on the right track.
4) Select your weapons of choice
Not all platforms and mediums are right for every brand. In some industries, trade shows have a higher demonstrated ROI than weekly vlogs on YouTube. For others, the best way to reach decision makers is on LinkedIn and not through content marketing. The first question to ask when determining where to focus marcomm resources is, “Where are my customers spending their time and how are they influenced?” Almost as important is asking yourself, “What channels allow me to showcase my brand’s strengths?” If your brand offers something innovative but a bit dense and niche, then Instagram as a platform would be challenging to generate traction. Instead, speaking opportunities at conferences where you (or your CMO) have more time to explain nuances would be more impactful.
Remember, you have all the PESO (paid, earned, shared, and owned) channels at your disposal.
For Paid, consider if your audience is actively looking for your solution or if you have to be proactive in helping them realize they need your product or service. When thinking of earned coverage, would contributed by-lined articles support your communications goals or would an analyst evaluation be better? On Shared channels, selecting the platform must flow from determining the strategy for how social media will help reach the communications goal – whether by creating a community, showcasing thought leadership, engaging in the digital conversations prospective customers are having or otherwise.
Part of how IMC for B2B brands is different than for consumer brands is how owned content is leveraged. Owned content should be valuable to your customers and your customers’ customers. Your customers want to know you “get them,” but they also appreciate content that reinforces their value. The ROI is clear when you consider that B2B companies that blogged 11+ times per month had almost 3X more traffic than those blogging 0-1 times per month. If your content is targeted, that increase in traffic means an increase in leads. Of course, that’s just one data set, but wouldn’t you like 300% of the traffic you’re getting now?
5) Use an umbrella to make it rain
Traditionally, an umbrella blocks the rain from hitting you. But for B2B brands, you need an umbrella that covers all of your IMC to bring in new business and make it rain. The umbrella, of course, is an overarching theme or idea that ties all of your marcomm efforts together. It could be owning a position or using some fun, quirky euphemism to convey the unique selling proposition of your product or reinforce a brand identity. This doesn’t mean that all efforts across all platforms need to look exactly the same. In fact, solid marcomm utilizes the most impactful features of each platform, but the umbrella campaign theme or concept keeps everything cohesive and consistent. When deciding an umbrella theme, think big picture about how it would translate across each of your decided platforms and whether it syncs with your strategy for how you intend to utilize each channel.
With audiences diversifying and a fragmented media landscape, there are no silver bullets for achieving communications goals. To be effective in moving the bottom line needle, communications – from advertising to PR, from social media to content marketing – need to be intentional in both strategy and timing. Check out a few ideas here, then follow these steps and you’ll be on your way to crushing the IMC plan and impressing your CMO.
By Kat Beaulieu—HR Communications Strategist
There is a too common perception among donor-reliant nonprofits that targeting Millennials with fundraising efforts is a waste of time and resources. If the big donations tend to come from the bequests and corporations associated with older audiences, why put effort into trying to reach Millennials?
Engaging Millennials to support your nonprofit organization can have far-reaching benefits that positively impact your bottom line.
Here are four crucial reasons to reach out to them.
Millennials are now the nation’s largest living generation.
That alone should be enough incentive. What business plan ignores the largest living demographic? A short-sighted one, that’s what. Through their sheer numbers, Millennials can make social media posts go viral, providing a tremendous awareness boost to charitable giving campaigns. Just look at the reach of initiatives like #GivingTuesday. And as a direct result of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which took social media by storm, scientists discovered a new ALS gene.
Because there are so many of them, Millennials are in tough competition for jobs.
Those who want to get ahead understand the value of having volunteer experiences on their resumes. Talented and eager Millennials will work for your organization for free on labor intensive but meaningful activities like events, emails, and social media. This can save your organization time and money. Pair your Millennial volunteer with an experienced individual who will share all the intricacies and nuances of the role. Imagine the awesome results when your paid Volunteer Coordinator explains the complexity of volunteer scheduling and the Millennial researches and implements the latest scheduling software, shaving 10-hours off the Coordinator’s weekly workload.
Millennials want to be part of your boards–they just don’t know they’re invited.
Board appointments are another powerful reference Millennials would love to have on their resumes. Imagine the impact of replacing some of your retiree board members with Millennials. Instead of having people who have nothing to prove, you’d have people who have everything to prove. Again, you need to set them up for success. They’re new at this, so setting clear goals and expectations is key, and assigning a mentor is even better. But the time and cost-saving results of having an enthusiastic Millennial heading up or assisting on a board project can be remarkable.
For Millennials, there is a connection between volunteering and donation amounts.
In fact, by a margin of more than two-to-one, Millennials who volunteer for nonprofits are more likely to make donations. Also, Millennials who form long-term volunteer relationships tend to give larger gifts and encourage friends and family to give and volunteer as well. This means there’s an exponential effect to engaging Millennials in volunteer work. Not only will the volunteer work likely lead to donations, but the Millennials will pull their friends and family in too.
These are four good reasons why your nonprofit should be engaging Millennials, but perhaps the most powerful one is that you’ll be benefitting now while building a relationship with future bequestors and corporate decision-makers.