We must hold our organization accountable and use words that enlighten both brand opportunities and challenges.
Communicators are often in the right spot, with the right skills, and the right information to transform average organizations into great brands. To do so, we must be prepared and willing to step into that role rather than merely acting as a “wordsmith” for the executive team.
I emphasized this point recently to a class of honors students taught by business communications lecturer, Christina Moore, at Texas State University. I began by asking these future business leaders,
“How many of you anticipate having to tell your future boss that she misunderstands the motivations and concerns of your company’s customers, employees, or the marketplace?”
To the students’ credit, most of them raised their hand, but I saw questioning hesitation on many faces around the room. After all, such honesty could be career poison in many organizations.
Words have meaning.
Most “corporate speak” is the result of mental laziness and groupthink rather than malice. Years back I was hired to help a nationwide services company based in Houston. Sitting in the office of the HR director, I asked, “What does this company stand for? What is your purpose?”
She paused to reflect, “Well, there is a poster in the lobby with our mission statement, but other than that, who knows?”
Nearly every organization has a Mission-Vision-Value declaration of some kind. “We believe in integrity, quality, innovation, trust…blah, blah, blah.” Such mantras are generic, boring, and at their worst, packed with lies.
Employees, in particular, are way too savvy for such mush. Printing the word “innovation” on a poster and then trimming the R&D budget for the fifth year in a row is corporate malpractice at its best. Words have meaning and words must embody the vitality of truth.
Communicators in the crow’s nest.
In my role as the director of communications at a top business school, every program director, faculty member, and alumni group wanted me to know about their pet projects. They were looking for a mention in the alumni magazine, a press release, or a cherished spot in the dean’s annual report. Consequently, I had a broad insight about school initiatives, a view from the crow’s nest of the school, unmatched by anyone other than the dean.
I also had the training and skills (and a talented team of communications professionals) to put the right words to that complex mission, to tell the story with authenticity and purpose. With that privileged view comes the responsibility to speak up as a communicator when the organization is drifting from its stated values or when key stakeholders are left out of the conversation.
A Model for Living Your Brand diagrams the interaction between business strategy and operations. The overlapping set is where brand brilliance or market disappointment happens.
Frontline employees are the brand delivery team, with more power over the brand execution than a strategy wonk in the home office. That service team has direct customer insight to communicate to management — and employees, in turn, need to be privy to strategy discussions to fulfill their brand responsibilities.
A recent r/AskReddit post, “What company has lost their way?” drew responses from hundreds of Lowe’s employees and customers with tales of brand execution failures.
One former Lowe’s employee said, “They want to sell like Home Depot but specifically market to middle-aged women on Pinterest. Yet, they wanted me to do a million a year at the pro desk. What a joke.”
That’s a market positioning fail, caused in part by lack of communication both up and down the organizational chain.
As I told the business students in Moore’s class, if communicators and marketers are dutiful mouthpieces for corporate speak, we become amplifiers of the problem rather than brand builders.
I recently addressed a gathering of communicators at the Air Force Reserve Command Public Affairs Powerhouse Forum and summarized these thoughts and related issues with the following infographic list:
David Wenger’s Eight Ways to Be a More Strategic Communicator
Business communicators become brand heroes when they dare to hold the organization accountable, staying true to its mission and ethical responsibilities, and using words that enlighten both brand opportunities and challenges.