A Lesson from Politics on Business Communication


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Observations from the political world teach lessons about business communication.

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A Lesson from Politics on Business Communication

  1. 1. A Lesson From Politics on Business CommunicationBy: Alan Walsh, Owner, Huntington ConsultancyAmong the complex factors determining the outcome of the last Presidential election was asignificant difference in communication style, methodology, and deliverybetween theopposing camps. While The Republicans were communicating “lofty thoughts” and “civicslessons” that were issue-focused, the Democrats crafted a set of communications that were“short& sweet”, simple, jingle-istic whenever possible(developing a word or short phrasethat would be instantly recognized as representing a more complex thought or concept),and focusing on core hot-ticket issues of voter self-gratification (as determined from polls,town hall meetings, and other sources).As the success of their communications grew, the Democrats’ messages were presentedwith more & more of a lofty air, implying “We Get It..They Don’t” and instilling this belief intheir adherents to psychological advantage.The Democrats made better use of the internetin getting their messages distributed; thus making better use of their campaign funds anddrawing voters into a more personalized relationship. Often, adherents conveyed themessage for the campaign.In other words the Democrats made best use of, and appealed the most to, basic tenets ofhuman nature; in the most effective way.Before anyone gets their political “underwear in a knot”, let me comment that this is not apolitical manifesto for –or- against either party. The Reagan campaign in its time did muchthe same thing to their hapless Democrat opponents. Reagan was a master at reducingcomplexthoughts into simple, popular, easily-remembered phrases& jingles and plantingthem in peoples’ minds.The Reagan campaign used this communication strategy effectively when the internet wasstill pretty much a “gleam in its daddy’s eye”. We all recognize now that the internet age
  2. 2. has brought about a revolution in the style and delivery of communications; opening upwhole new realms of possibility & challenge, and lending exponential power to thecommunication methods described above; if done properly. The Obama campaign madegood use of this added dimension.Businesses which want to survive and thrive would do well to absorb these lessons into thefabric of their communications.KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPIDThe time-honored “KISS” principle serves well inguiding the crafting of effective businesscommunications.Simplify.. Shorten:We’ve all watched company ads on TV that left us scratching our heads afterward aboutwhat they were trying to say – or sell. No offense BASF, but I remember an ad campaign ofyours that left me saying – “Huh”?Lofty, multi-faceted communications just don’t work well;especially in this day & age. “Manifestos” are quickly ignored and forgotten.Likewise we’ve all seen ads where they tried to get “cute” or “clever” with the result that the“trick” was a poor fit to the message, or the message just got “lost” in the nonsense. I can’tthink of one off the top of my head, but there have been many.Conversely, we’ve seen ads that communicated strong messages well with very few wordsor none at all. Budweiser and Coca Cola come to mind.We live in a “bullet-point” world now. Complex messages tend to get lost in the backgroundclutter, and people don’t have the time or patience for them. They especially don’tappreciate communications that are drawn-out, vague, or communicate above or belowthem.Communicate in ways that fit in with the society’s contemporary language usage. Peoplerelate better to language that’sin common use.“Jingle-ize” whenever possible. If you can establish a simple word or phrase to representand replace a complex thought or concept in the customers’ minds, it makes communicationsimpler and you tend to gain “ownership” of that talking point; almost as if you copyrightedit. Whole business identities and brandings have been built around such “jingles”.
  3. 3. Know Thy Customers:The key element in effective communication is understanding the “talking points” thatresonate with your customers on a personal level. Society has taken on a much greaterpersonalgratification/quality-of-life orientation than in past generations; which wereburdened withglobal war, nuclear-age cold war and sacrifice for the greater good.A differentsocietal mind-set existed then. Personal talking points that would have had little effect, orbeen looked on as being “self-centered”by past audiences, now resonate strongly with thenew generation. It’s just a reflection of the times, but important to understand for businesscommunications going forward. Even if you’re selling business-to-business, try to reach thekey decision-makers on a personal level; and give them reasons to justify with their ownpeople that they made the right decision buying from you.Businesses are more & more recognizing this “personal” element. For instance, aerospacecompanies have been running ads that are crafted as “civic messages”, touting “defenseand security”, to build public goodwill and cement themselves in the public’s minds as “keyplayers”. Northrup Grumman comes to mind.Do the research.The internet’s a great place for any business, especially a small cash-strapped one, to seewhat works and what doesn’t. In fact, the internet isjust as useful for research as forcommunication. Just go on Facebook or a similar site and see what’s attracting “Likes” and“Comments”. The values, interests, and personal desires of society are laid out for ouredification on a daily basis; expressed in their own words.So are the communication effortsof competitors. Likewise, you can go to places like LinkedIn and see what other businesspeople are saying & thinking. It’s all there toobserve.Get to the PointAny ad man will tell you that certain styles sell. Without making a qualitativejudgment, I’lljust note that “Sex” still works well if used properly (even though certain segments ofsociety are increasingly finding it repugnant}–and- “Friendly.. Touchy.. Feely.. Warm..Safe.. Secure” is taking on increased importance; amongst other styles.Whatever “flavor” you want to give your communications, you’ll be wasting your breath ifyou don’t get to the point; quickly. You can have all the “sex symbols” or “friendly, warm,fuzzy style” you want, but if you’re not appealing to a real and direct want or need, anddoing it with a quick, simple, memorable message, you’re wasting your time and thecustomers’.
  4. 4. Get Their Attention, and Give Them Something to RememberSometimes, it’s just not possible to get across everything you want to say with a simplemessage or “jingle”. In such cases, use the simple message or “jingle” to capture theirattention and draw them into the more complex message. You’ve got to get their attentionbefore you can tell your story. Plus, the simple message or “jingle” will be remembered wayafter the long message has faded; especially if you finish with it. Reagan did this well. He’dstart off with jingle-istic phrases and work into more complex statements in his speeches;finishing off by reinforcing the jingles. Later, when the long speech was forgotten, peoplewould be quoting the jingles.Differentiate YourselfA car is a car, but lots are sold for their “safety”, or “sexiness”, or other “fuzzy qualities”.Those “qualities” are often planted in customers’ minds with well-crafted messagesandimages. By associating your products or services with desirable or friendly “qualities” incustomers’ minds, you will “own” those “qualities” and differentiate yourself; carving aunique niche.Just as in politics, you’ll have competitors making their own offerings. Sometimes thoseofferings will be stronger than yours; sometimes they’ll be the same. Where you can, stressthose offerings of yours that are unique and/or stronger than your competition’s. Otherwise,try to build an aura that disguises or downplays your weaknesses and gives you the edge onthe common points. Politicians do this to each other all the time; usually through some“likeability” factor. If you’re personally attracted to the politician, you’re likely to overlookflaws and weak “fighting points”.Use Visuals“A Picture Says a Thousand Words”. A single image can convey a whole message. A set ofimages can attach “qualities” openly or subliminally while you’re stating your mainmessage; or can be your main message. Images are “eye candy”, and are usually well-received. They fit in well with the concept of simple, rapid communication. They can “define”your brand. Use them to advantage. Just consider the image at the start of this article. Itdefines the topic instantly and attractively.