How to be a Mindful Communicator

When I worked for a government organisation, I was tasked with drafting an internal document that would help outline a new project. After a month, it was a multi-chaptered, highly detailed and cross-indexed behemoth – the kind of document you complain about putting together, but are secretly proud of when you send it “upstairs” for approval.

Unfortunately, “upstairs” was not as in love as I was, and what followed was a week of vague feedback about “alignment” and “strategic integration”. Frustrated and dejected, I eventually went to a more senior colleague who, after a quick read, said “Aiyah! No wonder they said no. Don’t have the buzzwords they wanted!” He then proceeded to give me a list of “key terms” that needed to be added to the document. These phrases did not add much meaning, they did not communicate anything new, and, in some cases, had to be shoehorned in to fit. But you can guess how this story ends: magically, the document was now perfectly aligned and strategically integrated.

Most people laugh at this story because it’s relatable –  everyone in the working world has come up against this type of corporate speak at least once. But to me, it’s both a humorous anecdote and a cautionary tale: because I sometimes catch myself automatically lapsing into buzzwords and corporate speak.

So in 2019, let’s Marie Kondo our habits and aim to be a more mindful communicator.

The importance of mindful communication

In George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, he introduced the idea of “Newspeak” – a totalitarian government’s attempt at stripping language down to its bare essentials to eliminate “undesired thoughts”. Within the novel, Orwell theorised that if people had restricted grammar and limited vocabulary, it would limit freedom of thought.

Though the world hasn’t completely reduced the value of discourse (okay, maybe a little), I’ve seen many instances where people opt for the shorthand of corporate speak instead of taking the time to explain fully what they mean. Though the use of corporate buzzwords can be essential at times, the danger lies in when it comes time to think about new things or to improve on existing models.

To help us break out of the spin cycle and practise mindful communication, I’m sharing a few lessons I’ve learned  over the years and that I, too, am using on the daily.

1. Communicate with intent

There’s a misconception that many people in the PR industry talk for talking’s sake. I believe the opposite is true. Most of my peers are hyper-aware of everything they say, and if it’s a choice between saying nothing or risk saying something that doesn’t have value, they tend to err on the side of caution. Before starting on any type of correspondence, ask yourself if there’s a clear intention behind it. If there really isn’t – and you’d be surprised how often this happens – then not communicating might even be a better choice. If there is a clear intention, though, then let that be your starting point. For example, if your email is to request information from a client, then start your email with that request upfront and gear the rest of the email towards helping your client fulfil that request.

2. Think beyond words

Communication is closely tied to words and language, but it’s about so much more than locution. There are studies that indicate using mind maps helps with the ability to recall that information. This makes practical sense, as the bias toward visuals is probably why YouTube has become the world’s second most used search engine (consider the last time you needed a “how-to” guide).

A mindful communicator should be prepared to explore other means of communication, such as illustrations, videos or charts, in order to make a point. Even with text-heavy documents something as simple as inserting bullet points and tables can be immensely helpful when discussing dense information.

3. More than just buzzwords

Jargon, buzzwords and industry slang can be great in certain situations, but you’ve got to be mindful of how you use these terms.

Take, for example, the phrase “end-to-end solution”. Technically it means a product or service that encompasses an entire process, but this term has become overused (and misused, in some cases) within the tech industry. Not only has it lost its meaning and impact, those outside the tech likely will not fully understand what it means. This happens often with buzzwords (e.g. “sustainability”, “holistic” “360-degree-approach”), and thus the challenge is to find new ways to phrase concepts that are both accurate and succinct.

So, the next time you find yourself slipping into a buzzword fugue state, take a cleansing breath and try to bring a little more awareness and mindfulness into how you communicate – hopefully you’ll find a new way of breaking through an already noisy world.

 

How to eliminate jargon when addressing the media

Overheard while walking the halls of large technology company – “The new feature is built around ephemerality, and we are in-roading programmatic integration”

If that sentence made you slightly queasy, you are not alone. Technology rushes forward and language can sometimes barely keep up. To compensate, many of us resort to linguistic shorthand – acronyms, technical jargon, or even brand new invented words.

That’s all well and good when discussing internally – but eventually we need to shout about our products from the hills. And screaming – “IT’S AN INTEGRATED HOLISTIC PLATFORM THAT ENABLES THE AUTOMATION AND DIGITISATION OF INFORMATION THROUGH SELF-LEARNING ALGORITHMS!” – is not an inspiring war cry.

So here are a few tips when we need to talk about new things.

Articulate the value you’re giving to customers

My favourite quality in a spokesperson is passion and pure excitement about innovation. They are usually experts in their fields, and sometimes the brains behind breakthroughs. But sometimes, they get too excited about the process, they forget to talk about the results. In building a narrative, start with the customer. What problems are they facing or why would they like your product? Instead of talking about nuts and bolts of self-learning algorithms, talk about what that could mean in terms of cost-savings and efficiencies.

Use Analogies, but avoid cliches

One of the most elegant ways that Open Source coding was explained to me through this analogy.

“Imagine buying Car A – you can drive it, but no one is allowed to look under the hood. If anything goes wrong, you’d only be able to take it back to the manufacturer’s garage. The manufacturer’s mechanics would be the only people to work on the engine. That’s Closed Source coding. Now imagine buying Car B – you can drive it, and anyone can look under the hood this time. Any licensed mechanic would also be able to look at the engine – and in fact compare your engine to other newer engines and make modifications. That’s Open Source coding.”

While one could nit-pick the technicality of the analogy, this is still a good primer for a non-technical person to understand something new. With the consumerisation of technology and more IT decisions being made by non-IT professionals, the ability to convert technical concepts to plain speak is becoming more essential.

Graphics are worth a thousand words

While analogies are great, sometimes words hit a barrier when it comes to explaining things – especially for very abstract concepts. You could always try multiple analogies, or pouring more words in, but sometimes a much more effective solution is the deployment of visuals to clarify things.

I highly recommend this YouTube channel – Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell. It’s a great example of how effective visuals can help explain difficult concepts, like Universal Incomes or the science behind GMO foods. And of course, statics graphics can work just as well.

Ultimately, the trick is to start with your customers. What do they know and understand? What touchpoint would they relate to? Once you meet them on their side of the bridge with something they understand, that’s when you can guide them along your narrative journey.

Need help with your PR strategy? Drop us a message at hello@mutant.com.sg

Turn user-generated content into Digital Marketing gold

Is your social media strategy starting to feel a bit stale? Do you feel like you are running out of content to post? More importantly, are you having difficulty connecting with your audience? User-generated content (UGC) is any type of content that is created for a brand by its fans – ranging from online reviews to customer photos on Instagram. While the brand gets free content and promotion, users are rewarded with discounts or similar offerings. Consumers trust peer recommendations more than any other type of advertising, so your audience is more likely to trust your brand if the content is user-generated. Simply put – it’s marketing gold!

But how do you incorporate it into your existing strategy? Carrying out a successful UGC campaign requires a thorough understanding of your audience and a well thought-out strategy. Stumped on ideas? Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

Create a buzz

If you want people to be speaking about your brand, you need to give them a good reason! From Coca Cola’s ‘Share a Coke’ campaign where they swapped their logo for random names, to Starbucks’ festive ‘Red Cup Contest’ campaign, there’s a number of different ways you can create a buzz for your brand with products. One of the more recent UGC campaigns that got everyone talking was #castmemarc

Popular fashion designer Marc Jacobs took to social media, announcing that he’s casting models for his next advertising campaign from Twitter and Instagram submissions. The campaign generated over 15,000 submissions in just 24 hours from fashionistas around the world! Needless to say, this led to a trend of ‘selfie-casting’ with companies using social media to discover the next face for their campaigns.

UGC idea for your brand: Create a campaign completely bespoke to your brand that has not been done before, think outside the box!

Suggested read: Writing for Social: Why one size just doesn’t fit all

Leverage the power of the #

A hashtags is the most popular way of initiating UGC. Used effectively, it can spread like wildfire. A brand that’s slaying the UGC hashtag game is the renowned online retailer ASOS. Creating a curated page on their website for #AsSeenOnMe, customer could submit their images via Instagram or upload them directly.

While that already created a lot of buzz, ASOS went a step further making every shared image shoppable, linking it to the product item featured in the image. 

UGC idea for your brand: Add customer photos to product pages

Offer cool rewards

You don’t have to give out discount codes or pay anyone? It can be as simple as sharing the content of users. When it comes to UGC, the smallest gesture of appreciation of a ‘like’ or a ‘share’ can go a long way. In 2015, National Geographic launched their ‘Wanderlust Contest’ campaign, encouraging users to post photos with the #WanderlustContest hashtag, for the chance to win a National Geographic photo expedition to Yosemite National Park.

The idea took flight – the campaign photos were featured on their website with their hashtag still generating over 60,000 posts. Campaigns of this nature underline the power of the hashtag, in conjunction with a creative, shareable reward.

UGC idea for your brand: Offer rewards to customers who write reviews

Make its easy for users to generate content

Having a UGC strategy is a great idea, until it becomes complex. Keep your platforms easy to coordinate, straightforward and fuss-free. This way you won’t be putting off your users from engaging. Take GoPro as an example, the GoPro product is literally a content creation machine, coming from the better-known phrase it’s a ‘video camera’. Yes, this is a given advantage, but, as much as GoPro’s product lends itself to UGC, you still need to make it happen. GoPro recognised this and made it happen, introducing their DIY product to the world allowing us to share our experiences, like those in the below GoPro user-generated clip:

Similarly, creating tools and platforms to enable your customers to share content without the fancy software makes a world of difference to encouraging UGC for your brand. Empower users to capture, create, share and enjoy their own work with others – to your brand’s benefit.

UGC idea for your brand: Introduce a platform that is easy to use with simple guidelines to follow for your users

Get in touch with us at hello@mutant.com.sg to see how we can help you create your own user-generated content.

 

 

 

Your brand sucks: Part 2

If you’ve just joined us, this feature is part of a regular series giving you a brutally frank yet realistic look at the startup world. In ‘Your brand sucks: Part 1” I talked about realising that effective brand communication is key to success. This second part will continue with some more honest truths.

  • You are not Steve Jobs

You just aren’t.

Don’t make subtle comments in meetings about what Steve Jobs’ approach to marketing was. Don’t make sly comments about Steve Jobs’ attention detail when you are ripping apart plans or copy. You just aren’t him!

But don’t worry. You are you, and that’s awesome. You can have your own vision for your brand. Use that to justify your decision making processes instead of having input simply for the sake of having input.

You are building your own empire, and that means there are a whole new set of rules that you decide, and which marketing students in 30 years’ time can marvel at. If you don’t know what the vision is, then that’s also ok. Plenty of amazing leaders have built billion dollar companies by knowing their strengths and collecting the right people around them, who can help them to articulate, communicate or even develop a vision and brand.

  • Don’t go cheap

This makes me want to cry. I see it most often from the types who transition from a bigger corporation into startups. They are used to these things simply happening in the background without understanding it. They usually react to the discovery of cheap offshore outsourcing like they’ve discovered a life hack no one else has ever stumbled across before.

They’ll proudly pull out their branding decks at a first meeting and exclaim how they got it done in Thailand for a few hundred dollars (often followed by a series cocky statements reminding us that our prices need to be dirt cheap, or they’ll simply get that done offshore as well.)  

Firstly, I take this as an insult to me, my colleagues and the craft we’ve spent our working careers learning and developing in. It’s not a great start to any partnership to insult the other person. If you talk to me like this at the beginning, I will simply tell you to go elsewhere. Why would I pour my energy into your brand if I think you’re an arse?

Secondly, the “great deal” you were offered probably sucks. Nine times out of 10 you’ve gotten something I would slap a high school student for submitting. This is particularly true if you’ve just asked them to come up with something without a brief or concept.  

If you fail to see the problem and refuse any input, I’d write you off as a lost cause. No one’s got time for that, and I’d prefer not to associate my agency’s brand associated with you. As a startup you are already up against the odds. Throwing in an amateur, cheap-looking brand and poor strategy just makes your own life so much harder.

Like any rules there are exceptions, and people love to cry out in outrage pointing out the inaccuracies of it all because they can point at a handful of companies it doesn’t apply to.

And to be honest I don’t care. Ignore it and make your business journey 10X harder than it needs to be.

It’s not about spending money, it’s about using your brain.

Need help? Drop me an email at hello@mutant.com.sg.

Your brand sucks: Part 1

This feature is part of a regular series”Getting frank with Joe” giving you a brutally frank, yet realistic look at the business world.

Look, I get it. You’ve worked your arse off building your business – you deliver a product or service you are proud of. The market is simply waiting for something like this and a massive increase in sales is just around the corner simply because you have nailed it. Right? Wrong.

When you fail to communicate your brand, you will not achieve the success you aspire to and – most likely – will crash and burn. I’m not about to give you a step-by-step guide on how to do that but I will give you a few pointers to keep in mind.

  • Your business is not unique

I’m a simple guy; I love the idea that a person can deliver an exceptional product and it will become a success. But unfortunately those times are no longer here, if they ever existed.

Sure, there is the odd exception, but when you do come across those rare cases, there is a specific purpose and strategy behind it. Think of those cool bars with a secret entrance and no obvious branding. They didn’t get popular simply because they make a good cocktail, there is a specific strategy behind their success. This can be a mix of PR, word of mouth and social media. I’ve seen amazing businesses go under because they wanted to be underground or aloof, without understanding how to effectively communicate.

It’s not just lifestyle either. Whether you are in construction, B2B technology or whatever, if your target market doesn’t know you exist, can’t relate to you, or they don’t easily understand your key values, then you are not building the long-term relationships that is  needed to scale your business.  

  • Take a look in the mirror

All founders need to take a good, hard look at themselves before getting too involved with branding at a creative level for both planning and execution. Supply the vision and ethos that will guide the strategy, but if you lack the skills, understanding, or even interest to get involved, then please don’t.

I’ve seen all sorts of approaches towards brand strategy and communications, where the CEO doesn’t have any experience or know what they are doing. If they recognise they lack in the area, they are often fine. The others, less so.

mutant-startup-brand

In one meeting, I met the CEO of a tech company that had successfully raised millions in funding. It was an amazing platform and should have done really well in the market since they launched 18 months earlier. Yet here they were looking for desperate last ditch measures to get sales, so they could raise more funding just to survive.

I asked the CEO about his marketing and branding strategy. There was none. He even told me he hates doing “that sort of stuff”, yet he was the one in charge of executing it. Unsurprisingly, the marketing efforts fails, and then the CEO decides it doesn’t work.

With millions of dollars and over a year of operations, this company had built itself a large global team, yet not one person outside of the CEO had a role that involved giving thought on how to actually get the product in front of paying users, or how to build the brand or to scale it (beyond tech requirements).

So there you have it! Stay tuned for the second instalment to my branding series where i’ll guide you on how turn failure into success.

In the meantime, drop me a note at hello@mutant.com.sg if you could use a hand promoting your new idea.

Missed the first Getting frank with Joe instalment? Check it out here.

 

Inviting the media: the do’s and don’ts for a full house

Media events are a crucial part of the work we do at Mutant for clients both big and small. From intimate food tastings to large festivals, we’ve done them all. Much more than just a boozy knees-up, a well executed media event has the ability to build the hype and momentum needed to give a campaign gravitas.

Once the event has been decided on, the venue booked, budget confirmed and itinerary planned, all you now need to do is get the right people attending. It’s harder than you might think when you consider that your event is just one in an ocean of other media engagements.

Here are some of the most important do’s and don’ts to ensure that no seats go empty:

DO –  Think about who makes the list.

It’s not just about going for numbers. You need to ensure that your ultimate campaign objective is front and centre of everything you do, and that starts with knowing who you want to attend.

You should always have clear objectives. What is your event trying to achieve? Media coverage? Lead generation? Having a clear objective helps decide the kind of target numbers you should aim for. Decide all of this before you pick up the phone.

Small-scale intimate events like food or drink-tastings mean you have to be super selective about who you invite, otherwise you risk compromising the quality of the event. For a small intimate event you want ideally no more than 10-15 people. This allows you and/or your client to spend quality time with each of them. If lead generation is your aim then you want media to come in droves and don’t need to be too picky. 30 or more would be ideal for this although bear in mind that the size of an event space makes a big impact on how busy an event feels.  

DON’T – Ignore the plus ones

This can seem counterproductive and a waste of  budget but members of the media are actually just like you, with social lives, and friends. Torn between a work event and dinner with a friend – many would choose the latter.

If bringing a partner or friend sways their decision, then think about how important their attendance really is. If the cost of an extra ticket means that an influential journalist comes along and writes a full page feature, then it is money well spent in the long run.

Talk to the journalist, see if they have an angle in mind and help them find one if they dont. If you can bring them to the point where a story angle is already well formed in their head, then you can be more confident in justifying the extra expense of a plus one to your client.

In the end, use your discretion. Is the potential coverage worth an extra seat? If so then do it.

DON’T – Be afraid of hand-holding

It’s simple – make it very easy for the media to come along. This can range from sending comprehensive written (or even video) directions to find the event space, to organising their own private parking space (I actually have had to do this before). Think long-term, you want this to foster a lasting relationship with the media. Try to delight them as much as the client and they will trust you as a source of a good story, and come back again.

DO – Think Willy Wonka.

A bit of mystery and intrigue goes a long way.

Spill the beans from the start and the media little incentive to come along. The event needs to provide some exclusive value to them whether it be an interview opportunity, an announcement or an experience so always explain the value that this event will provide them. This is why we generally avoid providing the menu for a food-tasting beforehand, so that the media arrive curious. It’s good to find a balance between telling them the information they need to know, but still keeping a bit of the mystery alive.

Need help with media invites? Drop a message to hello@mutant.com.sg 

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