Monday, February 9

Measuring Communication, Intent Part 3 (ROC)

According to Julia Hyde, people expect a "real" company to have printed sales literature (even online companies). Specifically, she says, every company needs a brochure if you want people to "know you mean business."

She then goes on to define twelve steps needed to produce the most effective brochure possible. Some points are better than others, but one key question is missing. What is the intent of the brochure? Since Hyde only provides one answer — to be credible — it seems she never really asked the question.

Most people never ask that question. It's apparent because most brochures start and end the same way — the presentation of a formulaic template, starting with "about us," following with "products" or "services," and concluding with "clients" or maybe "contact" information. Right on. Most Web sites read the same way.

If you want the right outcomes, ask the right questions.

Don't misunderstand me. Brochures, sales collateral, and Web sites can all be extremely useful. However, the better question is "what is the intent of the brochure?" as opposed to "what size brochure?" In fact, in asking this, the company might even decide there is a better communication tactic or tool for the intent of the communication.

The same can be said about the basic news release. The better question is "what is the intent of releasing this news?" as opposed to "what can we get in the news this week?" Or online, the question might be "what is the intent of the Web site?" as opposed to "how many search terms can we capture?" or "how cool can we make it look?"

While all communication tactics might be useful to companies, defining the purpose of the communication or campaign needs to be tied to the outcomes you hope to achieve. And, at the same time, whatever tactics are decided upon must still meet the objectives of the company, its communication strategy, and reinforce its brand equity in the short term.

If there is no intent, then any outcomes are nothing but luck.

For example, I often wondered what the intent of Burger King's Whopper Sacrifice gimmick was before it was disabled by Facebook.

If it was to give away free burgers, then maybe it worked. If it was to generate "online buzz" about Burger King, then I suppose it worked (except for the 233,906 people de-friended.) If it was to demonstrate the company's philosophical differences with Facebook, there is no question it worked. But other than meaningless intent, did it sell more burgers?

Did the free burger campaign only capture Burger King fans that would have bought one anyway? Did all the buzz drive McDonald's diehards to Burger King instead or make someone who eats one Whopper a week buy two the next week? Do anti-social campaigns reinforce the Burger King brand?

And for that matter, do people want to eat angry burgers? Take a look at the logic, and then maybe you can tell me. Or better yet, tell them. It's clear there was no intent whatsoever.

Defining the purpose of communication helps make it measurable

If your intent is to engage customers, then maybe a brochure can wait. If you want to establish an expert position in a market, then maybe a mass blast to journalists on the set schedule of eight releases per month (or whatever) contradicts that goal. If you want to attract prospects toward a sales funnel, then simply owning top searches (YahooBuzz, yesterday: Stimulus Package, Obama, and Jessica Simpson) that attracts everybody doesn't make much sense. (It might even make some of them mad.)

On the contrary, most companies simply need to connect with people who are looking to purchase a product or service that they offer (eg., Southwest Airlines vs. major airlines). Some companies have to change people's behavior to get them to purchase their product over another (e.g., iPhone vs. smart phones). A few companies need to sway public opinion so potential customers ask questions that will eventually lead them to the company (e.g., Subway vs. burger chains).

Can a brochure do this? Can scads of news releases? Can online buzz?

Maybe it can and maybe it can't. Or, to answer Karen Somerville's question "do micro sites work effectively in raising brand awareness and allowing content to be spread virally?" with some questions ... does the micro site even convey Burger King's brand? I see a logo, but the brand? And what is the intent anyway? Is it supposed to motivate people to do something related to the objectives of the company?

Sure, the original angry onion commercial made sense in terms of product branding. It was a new spicy burger. Got it. Nice creative too.

The micro site, on the other hand, had a flawed intent. The intent was to go viral. And that basically means the intent was to make noise. Right on, but making noise and buying a burger are different. Unless, of course, someone is counting this post among earned column inches. (Don't laugh. Someone is counting column inches on this blog and others. I assure you.)

More often than not, the "why" you need to communicate and the "what" you communicate, will dictate the "how" you communicate. So if the intent is to introduce something new (which the micro site does not), then that intent is different than than the objectives of increasing sales or capturing market share (which is what Burger King really wants to do).

Or, going back to the original example, when the intent of communication is to engage customers, then a brochure might not be the most effective communication tactic. And, if you really do need a brochure, then you might consider what outcomes you expect it to achieve. (To educate prospects about your products or services is not an answer.)

Maybe. But if you want to know the truth, most people who accept formulaic template brochures do so for one of four reasons: to show to the real decision maker (which means they need it for their credibility and not yours), to compare you to your competition (because you didn't close the deal), to remind them to visit your Web site (because they already know they won't remember you), or because it's a polite way to conclude the conversation. If you hope it does more, you need a better intent.

Next week, we'll begin exploring intent realization. There are other considerations to ensure intent measures up.

Download The Abstract: Measure: I | O = ROC

The ROC is an abstract method of measuring the value of business communication by recognizing that the return on communication — advertising, marketing, public relations, internal communication, and social media — is related to the intent of the communication and the outcome it produces. Every Monday, the ROC series explores portions of the abstract.

Friday, February 6

Getting Personal: From Phelps To Psychology Today

"Like most Americans, and like Michael Phelps himself, we were disappointed in his behavior. Also like most Americans, we accept his apology. Moving forward, he remains in our plans." — Subway

The statement reportedly came late today after speculation that Subway intends to drop Olympian Michael Phelps' sponsorship deal. Apparently, Subway is simply pushing back promotion plans until the smoke clears.

Kellogg Co. (Kellogg's) was less understanding. Yesterday, it said it would not renew its sponsorship because of the photo. However, some speculate it was Honey Nut Cheerios that did him in last December.

Should Kellogg's Have Dumped Michael Phelps?

For all the kudos we gave Kellogg's in its handling of the peanut recall, it seems this one wasn't handled with the same crisis communication savvy. Regardless of how one feels about the Phelps photo and subsequent apologies, the Kellogg's contract was coming to a close anyway. It would have been best to let it close quietly.

Instead, the company's reaction to the photos has made Kellogg's the story. And I mean that very literally. Psychology Today made John Harvey Kellogg the story, apparently asking if Kellogg was consistent with the company's image.

Obviously, Kellogg's missed the research that suggests an image isn't what you say it is, but rather what other people say it is. They also missed that celebrity endorsements have always been a mixed bag. Now they've lost on this one, twice.

Meanwhile, comments of support continue to be left on Phelps' Facebook account after he posted his appreciation today:

Hey guys - thanks for your comments. I really appreciate you standing by me…this has been tough…I meant what I said, I made a mistake and I’m sorry. And for those who are mad at me or no longer support me, all I can say is I'm sorry.

This is in no way an expression of support for Phelps' actions. As our Fragile Brand Theory suggests: it is always more important to stick with your image — whether you choose a halo or horns — than the choice you make.

Thursday, February 5

Trending Generations: Pew Research Center

The Pew Internet and American Life Project, an independent public opinion survey research project that studies attitudes toward the press, politics and public policy issues, posted the results of its Generations Online in 2009 last week. The comparative study evaluates data between 2005 and 2008.

In keeping pace with Harris Interactive's poll in 2007 and the Universal McCann study in 2008, Internet users range from the very young to the young at heart. Right on. The Internet is for everybody.

The Internet Has Become Multigenerational

• 24 percent of adult Internet users are ages 55+ (Boomers, S.G. and G.I. Gen)
• 22 percent of adult Internet users are ages 45-54 (Younger Boomers)
• 23 percent of adult Internet users are ages 33-44 (Gen X)
• 30 percent of adult Internet users are ages 18-32 (Gen Y)

The largest increase among a singular age demographic were Internet users ages 70-75. While only 26 percent of this group participated online in 2005, 45 percent participated in 2008. Participation among ages 75+ also increased from 17 to 27 percent. Ages 60-64 increased from 55 percent to 62 percent.

Other Key Findings Online From 2005 to 2008

• Ages 18-32 are more likely to use social networks, seek entertainment, read blogs, and create content
• Ages 33-64 are more likely shop online, perform tasks (banking), visit government sites, and research products
• Ages 65+ are most likely to research products, obtain health information, visit government sites, and use e-mail

A quick evaluation of the general differences reveals that younger Internet users are increasingly active and much more likely to engage content creators and become content creators. In fact, it is interesting to note that despite calls by Wired that blogs were dead, Internet users ages 12-38 are more likely to create and read blogs than ever before.

But why does any of that matter? So what?

After scanning several dozen blogs, it seems few people drew conclusions beyond the Pew data. But then I remembered a post penned in December called Generation "Why". As Valeria Maltoni pointed out then, the context is changing. And with it, so are the conversations.

Marketers may even be making a mistake. While most are attempting to become increasingly targeted, Internet demographics are becoming increasing diverse. And that might mean marketers will have to learn how to balance targeted content with inclusive conversations that touch multiple publics. How do you do that? It begins with listening.

Wednesday, February 4

Tracking Topics: Tweetfeed Adds Value To Twitter

Twitter, the real-time short messaging service that works over multiple networks and devices, continues to grow exponentially, increasing its membership from 500,000 in Dec. 2007 to 4.43 million in Dec. 2008. Membership is not the only area Twitter has grown. So has the number of tools.

There were approximately 60 tools noted by Mashable's Palin Ningthoujam in Sept. 2007. He added 140 in May 2008. One of my favorite Twitter term and tool lists was compiled by Shannon Yelland at SiteMasher.

While it's not complete, the color coding and short definitions make for an easy novice scan. (She includes Celebrity Tweet, which helps people stalk celebrities, presumably those verified as real.) Webdisortion also sports a good list too, and includes Tweetfeed.

What is Tweetfeed and why does it add value to Twitter?

Tweetfeed is one of the newer applications that allows people to create customized search term feeds, and track those topics in real time. What makes it stand out from Twitter's native topic search engine, in addition to presentation options, are the search operators.

Feeds can be generated based on exact phrases, either or phrases, from specific dates, by attitude, sent to or from specific people, and within a certain proximity, among others. There are sixteen operators, assuming you count some basics such as hashtags (#) or attitudes (which is basically a smile or frown search).

We used it a few days ago to help capture a conversation between Shel Israel and Scott Monty. It proved more useful than toggling back and forth between the two in order to find the start of their conversation on Twitter's native search engine. It also made it easier to capture portions of the conversation that occurred hours apart.

Tweetfeed is also "Share This" enabled, allows for custom CSS presentation, and Web analytics. (The combination of features, along with larger type, makes it ideal for "Twitter walls" that are becoming more common at conferences.) The customization features add flexibility.

What are some potential applications for Tweetfeed?

1. Social Media Monitoring. You create a custom search on your name and/or your company and add it to your bookmark service. Like every other tracking application, this is probably the most common usage.

2. Information Sourcing. You can track topics to help you identify people with similar interests or stay up-to-date on content being sourced and linked to by people on Twitter. It could also be used to help determine what is the most popular discussion point around a certain topic.

3. Presentation Augmentation. "Twitter walls," which have become especially common at social media conferences, can be customized with conference colors and brands. The feeds can be customized beyond hashtags and include the presenters or topics relevant to the presentation.

4. Comparative Models. As illustrated by one of the examples, Tweetfeed tracked McCain and Obama in single feed, which could have been later analyzed for compare frequency, attitude, tone, or even topical content between them.

5. Sharing Content. Since it's "Share This" enabled, sharing a link is easy. The "Share This" feature publishes the feed link with your account name and the name of the feed (you can edit it before posting as long as you save as a draft).

There are several more possibilities, but these five capture enough for an introduction. Of course, this is not to say Tweetfeed is perfect. Like most beta services, Tweetfeed has some setbacks, including: frequent login prompts, a missing feed delete option (you can edit a feed), and the lack of RSS. However, these issues might be corrected in the near future.

What else is there to know about Tweetfeed?

Although still in beta, Tweetfeed was recently acquired by our friends at BlogCatalog. BlogCalalog has a solid track record as a member-driven social network for bloggers. It's safe to assume that public feedback will be read. Some requests have already been met.

"I looked at it as a tool that bloggers could use to help them track hot topics," Antony Berkman, president of BlogCatalog, told me. "Twitter is great in that tends to capture the pulse of the Internet. Tweetfeed makes it easier to manage that information around topics, people, and companies."

The acquisition may bring new life to Tweetfeed. Given its potential uses, it may have never received the attention it deserved.

Simple tips for success: follow your fans on Twitter
• TweetFeed - customizable page that displays Twitter activity
Taking the time to turn out tweets using Twitter

Tuesday, February 3

Bracing For Aftershocks: Peanuts Cause Reactionary Communication

The epicenter of the salmonella epidemic may have originated at a Georgia processing plant owned by Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), but continuing aftershocks will be felt by everyone. To date, it is linked to as many as 529 sicknesses, eight deaths, and 430 product recalls.

While new salmonella cases seem to be subsiding, public outcry continues to be on the rise. With each new aftershock, an exponentially increasing segment of the agricultural industry may be impacted. It's true. What started out as one bad processor practice is quickly escalating to encompass everything as reactionary communication becomes the new normal.

Peanut Corporation of America

After several weeks of mishandling a non-existent crisis communication plan, PCA seems to be working toward ending a self-imposed communication blackout imposed after the criminal investigation began. The Web site now offers a media inquiry number. The decision to provide a number comes after the PCA was likely prompted by what happens when reporters are provided no contact. They start speaking to everyone else.

Yesterday, the Associated Press ran a story with several quotes from former employees. One account describes managers as so concerned with the bottom line that they would allow soggy peanuts and five- or six-year-old peanuts onto the production line. Today, the Associated Press learned that the PCA processing plant in Plainview, Texas, has operated uninspected and unlicensed for years. The plant manager pushed off the communication on the corporation, where he said he sent the paperwork more than a year ago.

Lesson: Once you commit to communicate as the PCA had done, albeit unprepared, you have to remain committed.

King Nut Companies

A few weeks prior to the crisis, Kanan Enterprises, which owns King Nut and Peterson Nut Companies, was celebrating that Matthew Kanan, executive vice president of sales and marketing, was awarded one of the top 40 executives under the age of 40 in Cleveland by Crain’s Business Magazine. Today, it's fighting for its life with increasingly aggressive messages.

King Nut was originally cited as the possible source of the epidemic by the Minnesota Department of Health before the company revealed it did not manufacture its own label. On Jan. 29, the company sent a release expressing "shock and dismay at findings that report the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) knowingly released a product with potential salmonella contamination into the food supply, as released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)."

While the company distributed products under the assumption that the required safety certification was accurate and cooperated with authorities to locate the source, the message of being "only a distributor" is likely to deliver mixed results because at least some of the products carried the King Nut label. Unlike companies that received peanut ingredients or distributors who solely distribute, King Nut took on the appearance of a manufacturer by offering its own label.

Lesson: Never put your name to another person's work until you have verified the quality.

U.S. Food And Drug Administration

The U.S. Food And Drug Administration has released a recall widget to help all interested parties keep the public ahead of the curve. Since the beginning of the epidemic, it has taken a no nonsense approach in its investigation into one of the largest food recalls in history.

However, it seems investigators are not exempt from contempt. U.S. President Barack Obama said this morning he is ordering a “complete review” of the Food and Drug Administration after it failed to detect shipments of salmonella-contaminated peanut products. The Consumers Union shares the President's view.

Lesson: Don't bark too loud at the fox who ate the chicken if you were the dog responsible for the hen house.

Kellogg's And Those With Recalls

Given how many companies facing recalls made missteps (with Jenny Craig among the worst), we decided to focus on one company that is providing a near perfect model. Kellogg's was among the first to place a hold on its products and first to issue a recall.

It immediately built a recall page that addresses the situation in a non-accusatory manner, preferring to focus on providing customers the information they need, including an FAQ that covers what to do, where to seek more information, and who to contact at the company. All of the information provided is right to the point, with an emphasis on proving facts and information on consumer safety. On the rare occasion the company did offer a quote, it was were clear, empathetic, customer focused, and direct from the company president.

Lesson for everyone else: If your communication team doesn't know what it is doing, consider what the best did.

The J. M. Smucker Company And Those Without Recalls

Never underestimate the impact of a crisis. After the FDA issued a video statement that correctly stated to err on the side of caution and not eat peanut products unless you know the source, many consumers stopped buying peanut products all together, dragging companies that were not affected into the crisis.

The J. M. Smucker Company is one of several that immediately took action to ensure customers that its products are safe because it does not purchase any ingredients from Peanut Corporation of America. In addition to pop-up announcement, J. M. Smucker Company provides a link that includes all of its brands as well as a customer service number. In addition to being smart, the announcement remains balanced, devoid of any marketing messages.

Ironically, we visited several company Web sites with recalls and, unless you look in the press section, you'd never know it.

Lesson for everyone else: You don't have to be part of a crisis to be part of a crisis. Manage only what impacts you.

American Peanut Council

Ever since the American Peanut Council issued the harshest albeit correct language in a statement released on Jan. 29, it continues to draw attention. Some companies are even including Archer's quotes in their own news releases.

“This is a clear and unconscionable act by one manufacturer,” said said Patrick Archer, president of the American Peanut Council. “This act is not by any means representative of the excellent food safety practices and procedures of the U.S. peanut

The Peanut Council may not be at the heart of the crisis, but it knows it will be charged with helping clean up the mess. In addition to attempting to help association members by publishing a list of brands NOT impacted by the recall, The Peanut Council will likely face an uphill battle fending off reactionary legislation. Ironically, its communication added even more fuel to the blaze.

Lesson: Never add fuel to a fire that your industry will eventually expect you to put out.

Reactionary Communication is Not Communication.

As these aftershocks continue to rattle the nation, it might be time for someone to lend a voice of reason. If someone does not, reactionary legislation and regulations will likely impact the entire agricultural industry, all for the actions of one irresponsible company. And that could bad for all of us.

Monday, February 2

Measuring Communication: Intent, Part 2 (ROC)

Last week, we presented Measuring Communication: Intent, Part 1 as part of the exploration of the ROC abstract. While that post focused on the mission statement, it takes much more than a mission statement and its various counterparts (purpose, vision, core values) to establish clear communication objectives and define communication intent.

The reason is simple. While mission statements often present the qualities or characteristics of organizations, they do not necessarily define how that organization interacts with the world around it and tend to change at much slower pace than the needs of organization and the needs of communication. They are generally not the best verbatim message for an organization.

In other words, stating a mission statement might even be likened to saying one expresses empathy. It's not meant to be said. It's meant to be demonstrated. For this reason, other strategic planning processes must also be considered to effectively establish the objectives of communication. These methods help move beyond having a foundation and toward establishing guidelines for how this foundation wants to interact with the world around it.


SWOT Analysis is a strategic planning method used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a project or in a business venture.

• Strengths Defines the attributes of an organization that are helpful.
• Weaknesses Defines the attributes of the organization that are harmful.
• Opportunities Considers external conditions where objectives can be expanded.
• Threats Considers external conditions that could damage the business.

SWOT Benefits: Introspective Analysis, Set Organizational Goals, Unique Selling Points, Short Term

While many references claim there is no point of origin, SWOT was primarily developed by Albert Humphrey, a business and management consultant who specialized in organizational management and cultural change, as part of a research project at Stanford University. It was originally referred to as SOFT.

At Procter & Gamble (P&G), for example, the organization had become complacent after a long period of market dominance. In fact, in the 1980s, it almost lost market dominance. Recognizing this, management realized that in order to retain market dominance, it needed to create a more "nimble organization and to increase the speed and quality of innovation. (Davila, Epstein, & Shelton, 2006)."

The result was the development of an aggressive play-to-win strategy that was encapsulated in its corporate moto “Touching Lives, Improving Life.” However, when you look at the full product line at P&G, you might notice there are many other product- and market-centric messages that reinforce its communication.


Core message systems, which we will refer to as CORE, is a message development process used to evaluate existing and potential internal and external communication in order to identify, determine, and develop specific key messages that will resonate in the marketplace. It has also proven useful in developing core values.

The core messaging process was originally developed by the Leadership Institute, a training organization for public policy leaders founded in 1979 by Morton C. Blackwell. We employ an evolved model at our company, and this only includes the initial evaluation portion of the process.

• Internal Sources. Captures organization stakeholder messages to internal and external publics.
• External Messages. Captures what other industry organizations are saying to external publics.
• Public Feedback. Captures communication from competitors, detractors, and customers about the organization.
• Stakeholder Response. Captures what the organizations stakeholders might say about competitors and detractors.

CORE Benefits: External Awareness, Consensus Building, Contrast Points, Consistent Messaging, Short to Mid Term

We've been involved in dozens of CORE sessions that range from candidates and small start-ups to major corporations and international organizations. Without revealing specific clients, some examples include: helping a national pool builder break away from price point modeling typical in the industry and shifting to a message of reliability; breaking a technology service provider away from industry stereotypes and establishing a culture of friendly professional service; assisting a nonprofit organization transform its "feel good" messaging into a return on investment message for the state it served.

Simply put, the CORE message analysis process rediscovers assets that already exist within the company and then prioritizes those assets based on the environment in which it operates. Done properly, the resulting messages communicate tangible contrasts (beyond unique selling points) between the company and various competitors.

Real Time Communication

While there are many methods, real time (RT) messaging, in this instance, pertains to messages that fall outside of normal communication parameters. With the possible exception of SWOT on occasion, short- and long-term communication do not generally include for specific situational events.

Since this section on real time communication (or immediate response) is a compilation of communication processes such as crisis communication, disaster response, social media, or other immediate conflicts as they occur, the following is only meant to provide a baseline evaluation.

• Situation Analysis. Evaluate the situation or event, with an emphasis on collecting all known facts.
• Determine Impacts. Determine the potential impact of these facts, including public perception.
• Synchronize Messages. Define and synchronize messages specific to the crisis or event taking place.
• Designate Spokespeople. Designate a spokesperson, recognizing that the messenger is part of the message.
• Collect Feedback And Adjust. Provide for mechanisms that collect immediate feedback and adjust communication.

RT Benefits: Event Specific, Consistent Message, Crisis Sensitive, Flexible, Immediate

There are dozens of examples that show how better real time communication could have benefited companies and organizations on this blog. In almost every case, the proper implementation of situational communication demonstrates why crisis outcomes and communication breakdown are seldom related to what organizations do, but rather how they respond to what occurred.

RT communication is also becoming more pervasive as companies adopt social media as a communication tool. Daily success often relies on how well the communicators can make minute-by-minute situational assessments.

Tying the mission statement to strategic planning methods.

Any or all of these strategic methods are influenced and can influence the ever-present communication offered by a mission statement. In some cases, depending on the outcome of these evaluations, they may even indicate when a mission statement has become outdated and requires refinement. However, in defining communication intent, what is most important to consider is that these strategic methods, together with the mission statement, define the objectives of the communication.

Next Monday, we will present how to define the tactical portion of intent, which begins by understanding the specific purpose of an individual communication component or campaign.

Download The Abstract: Measure: I | O = ROC

The ROC is an abstract method of measuring the value of business communication by recognizing that the return on communication — advertising, marketing, public relations, internal communication, and social media — is related to the intent of the communication and the outcome it produces. Every Monday, the ROC series explores portions of the abstract.

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