There’s a quote I love by Chicago Sun Times columnist Sydney Harris. He said people use “the words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.” You could change out “content” for “information” in that sentence.
I wrapped up a consulting and advisory engagement with a large business. After a few weeks of interviews with all the relevant people in marketing and communications, I came away struck by a number of things. One thing in particular was causing quite a ruckus.
As I presented my findings to the senior management team, I relayed a sentiment that I’d heard over and over throughout my interviews. The general idea was that the company’s content “voice” (to the extent there even was one) was siloed among product and service offerings; all the content seemed to focus on these individual siloes rather than a cohesive, holistic brand voice.
The CMO wasn’t surprised. He told his team, “It seems we have a communication problem.” However, the head of brand, the head of internal communications, and the head of product marketing were incredulous. “How can this be?” they asked. “We have a vision. We have a strategy. We’ve described it to everyone. Do they just not get it?”
They were actually asking me; this wasn’t rhetorical.
I told them that I didn’t know and that any of these three things could be true:
- Your strategy isn’t clear.
- Your strategy is clear, but you haven’t communicated it clearly.
- You’ve communicated it clearly, but people either misunderstand it or disagree with it.
It doesn’t matter which one it is. It’s still the leadership team’s challenge.
In my book co-authored with Carla Johnson, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing, we were honored to tell the story of Antonio Lucio, then global chief marketing and communication officer for Visa. As he told us, they scrutinized internal communications as carefully as they did their communications with external audiences. He told us, “We want to know that we’re making our employees true spokespeople for our brand.”
Getting our choir to sing and understand the song is challenging, but it can be a true differentiator. Gallup found that 41% of US employees don’t know what their employer stands for. Imagine solving problem in your organization.
This is a big opportunity for us as content practitioners. The more we can help our teams understand – and get excited about – the content we are creating for differentiated customer experiences, the more likely we are to succeed.
It’s like that classic Jerry Seinfeld episode about the rental-car reservation. Jerry’s reservation was in the system, but (the clerk informed him) they couldn’t give him the car because they had run out of cars. Jerry said,
“I don’t understand. The reservation keeps the car here. That’s why you have a reservation … You know how to TAKE the reservation. You just don’t know how to HOLD the reservation. And that’s really the most important part of the reservation. The holding. Anybody can just take them.”
With content, we have to do more than CREATE the stuff. Anybody can just create it. We have to COMMUNICATE its value to everyone involved. That’s the most important part of the content.
After all, a great story poorly told is a bad story.