Monday, January 7

Defusing Perception: Naked Communication

It might seem odd to some people to draw a comparison between Lifetime’s new makeover show, “How To Look Good Naked” with Carson Kressley, and business communication. But the analogy might be compelling for some.

Most business owners and/or executives have a perception about their companies that will never match marketplace realities. Many market themselves based upon what works for competitors, resulting in some disastrous advertising and marketing campaigns, because one size does not fit all.

“We want to do this,” they say. “Because it works for our competitors.”

On the premiere episode of “How To Look Good Naked,” available as a free download at iTunes, Kressley asks his guest, Layla, to identify where she “thinks” she fits in a lineup of women with hip sizes ranging from 40 to 50 inches. She places herself between 47 and 48 inches. In reality, her hips measure 43 inches — the complete opposite end the lineup.

Imagine how this impacted her life. For 20 years, she had been making fashion decisions based on her perception that her hips were 6 inches larger than they were. The result: she looked heavier in clothes she chose than she ever looked naked.

Companies often do the same thing. They apply erroneous perceptions to their communication strategy. Early last year, we were contracted by a water purification company to script three :30 radio station-produced spots because the owner wanted to mimic the market leader’s buy. He had already ordered a 32-spot buy based on the urging of the station’s account representative.

Never mind that the market leader was already running 240 :60 second spots a week on the same station, compete with exclusive endorsements from the most listened to talk show hosts on the station. We did everything we could to convince the company to rethink its decision. But sometimes, people have already made up their minds when they call us.

“You’ll never look good in a size 6 when you’re a size 12 company.”

It’s something you learn working with the best of the best, let alone covering the fashion beat in Las Vegas for several years. Yep, even I know that size 6 women don’t always look good in size 6 outfits. So much depends on the designer, cut, and pattern. (Not to mention how important underwear can be.)

Sure, we did everything we could to convince the company to rethink the decision. But in this case, their minds were made up. Despite being station-produced, one of the spots even won an award. But in terms of results, all they really did was reinforce the need for water purification, prompting listeners to call the competitor whose brand dominated the station.

Sometimes perception is like that. You think your company looks one way, even reinforced by misapplying SWOT. But in reality, it really looks like something else in the marketplace.

Much like Layla, they attempt to mimic the identity of their perceived competition by wearing several sizes too small (because they refuse to wear a size bigger) or settling for cheaper, baggier clothing to hide perception rather than embracing their best qualities in reality.

In terms of Kressley’s show, no doubt some people will have mixed feelings about convincing women to parade around naked for a photography shoot. But if you can get past that little bit of Lifetime novelty, I suspect it stands a good chance of delivering on the promise of a perception revolution for women looking for a self-esteem boost. You can look successful and beautiful at any size.

Of course, the same thing can be said for companies, which brings me to the takeaway. Communication plans don’t work unless you know what you look like naked. And most companies have no idea what they look like because they rely too heavily on looking in the mirror. Don’t they know? Mirrors only show you want you want to see, and almost never what is reality.



David on 1/7/08, 11:02 AM said...

A really good, strong post. Thank you for sharing.

Rich on 1/7/08, 11:15 AM said...

Hey David,

Thank you for the comment. I appreciate the feedback; and respect your work.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post. I forwarded it to a friend who does heavy duty marketing consulting and she thought it was great.

David on 1/7/08, 1:12 PM said...

Thank you so much for those very kind words. They mean a huge amount coming from someone of your quality and standing.

Hawksdomain on 1/7/08, 1:31 PM said...

Just back to work and finally had a chance to stop by.... This one is powerful, but you've left me hanging!!

How does one determine what their company does look like naked? How do we brush aside the preconceived notions of what has been pushed for and actually see what the company has become?

Or, is this what you are paid the big bucks for? :)

Rich on 1/7/08, 3:32 PM said...

@Jeff, Thanks Jeff. Very much appreciated. I look forward to seeing some of the outcomes you're working on.

@David, Truly, my pleasure.

@Paula, I hope you don't frighten everyone away with the perception that we're expensive. Not so! :)

To answer your second question first. Yes, that is something we do and do very well. I can teach some of it, but most agencies say the way we do it is too difficult to duplicate. Probably because solutions tend to be as varied as the companies searching for them. As I said, one size does not fit all.

As a band-aid solution, you might start by listening to what your clients and prospects want. What do they say they want? What do your prospects say or do that irritates them? If you think in terms of a blank slate, what are the real issues facing your company? And from whom?

Even the smallest adjustments in communication make a difference. For example, when you talk in terms of looking for affordable solutions, are you saying your company is being smart or overly sensitive to investing in itself before anyone has even mentioned rates?

It's something to consider. You'd be surprised how much companies say about themselves with the first point of contact.

For example, what do you think of when you hear distress advertising, eg. slashing prices? That kind of communication is likely happening on the back end as well. We can't afford to buy the right sized clothes, they say. Never mind no one has checked the tags. ;)


Sherrilynne on 1/14/08, 4:42 AM said...

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