There was a frosty atmosphere at the breakfast table, one of those mornings where I was vaguely aware I had something to answer for but knew it wouldn’t be wise to ask Mrs W precisely what. A house on edge then; hormonal kids, hormonal parents come to think of it, and even the dog playing up. Probably hormonal too. My wife eventually breaks the toast-munching silence.
There’s something I meant to mention to you but didn’t want to, in case you get upset.
Which of course means I’m about to tell you something that will cause you upset. So it’s not my fault but not good news either. I felt my stomach drop a couple of inches but feigned macho insouciant courage. Oh yeah?
Your hair. She says, throwing a sizeable curve-ball. Whoever did it last week shouldn’t be allowed to work in a salon. You’ve got these crazy layers, like three different haircuts going on at the same time, fighting each other. A complete mess.
I pretended to take this with manly calm. My hair. Few things are closer to me. A shrug and more toast. A few discrete glances using anything nearby with a reflective surface; taking time to fill the shiny metal kettle and carry out the first validation. An upside down me in my coffee spoon. Everything looking passable, just about, for first thing in the morning.
At last she leaves the room to go upstairs and I am free to scamper out to the hall mirror for fuller inspection. And when I do …
I cast my mind back three days. I took a seat in said salon and am asked in time-honoured fashion, What are we having done today then? To which I reply, in my time-honoured fashion, the usual bag of makes-sense-to-me instructions I have been giving the last thirty years, more or less. Just a tidy up, a bit shorter but not too short, leave some volume on top but not bushy either, formal but not military, Bryan Ferry but not too lounge-lizard. The same vague, contradictory, ticks all boxes stuff that any man of my vintage reading this might recognise. Only now, confronted by the full horror before me in the hall mirror I realise that if you do that over a lifetime you will eventually run out of luck. You will end up with what there is no denying I’ve got, THREE DIFFERENT HAIRCUTS GOING ON AT ONCE..
One salvage job at another of Alloa’s top stylists and £10 lighter, I am in conversation with a big cheese in the realm of Medical Supplies. A huge industry I had only recently become aware of through recent engagements in its sister industry of pharmaceuticals. Both fascinating to me; highly globalised, R&D led, highly complex supply chains, highly regulated local markets, fiercely competitive but with life-changing products at their core. He asks me with a friendly scepticism why I have pursued a meeting with him, what’s my thing?
What I’m about, I explain, is communications. Not how you bang out your message but what’s the real story behind it, the one unique to you that comes through every interaction and interface your brand has with its audiences. How can that be elevated to maximise competitive advantage? My thing is to distil the story and then look to explore new channels using hybrid techniques from other, consumer focussed markets. Brand Transmission. I’ve been running workshops on it, take luxury brand diagnostics and apply them to what seems unlikely and unsexy product areas. The breakthroughs can be startling.
Still friendly, only slightly less sceptical. As long as you’re not one of these people that just tells me my website’s rubbish.
More likely to explore the role of emotion in your strategy, I say, as unlikely as that sounds.
Emotion? He muses aloud. There’s no shortage of emotion in our work, in fact there’s probably too much. The problem is that no one has managed to channel or focus it so that it generates the advantage you describe. We have guys whose life work is to perfect something innovative, like an artificial lining for a cancer damaged intestine that can mean the difference between a colostomy and an uninterrupted life for the patient. There’s passion, commitment, disappointment and euphoria on a daily basis in our world, and it’s everywhere ... the sales channels, the distribution channels and the feedback. You couldn’t get more emotive.
I’m happy to be corrected. I call up the landing page of his company’s website. Where, I ask, is all that you have just said in the words and imagery here?
We look at the page in question. A visual of the reception area of corporate H.Q. A huge atrium with a logo and desk, and no one in it other than a bored looking lady peering unenthusiastically into a computer screen. Accompanying this, the headline text refers to the successful acquisition trail that has led to them being a global superpower blah blah blah. A handsome atrium, clean and tidy. Empty.
Your website’s rubbish, I can’t help but say. It’s like three different haircuts going on at once.
So. Here’s the test. How would you fare in the same scenario? If you are reading this and you yourself are a senior player in the organisation you work for can you call up your homepage and explain what’s going on in the image and words that greet you? Can you relate it to the story of the business -emotions and all- that exists in your head?
To my mind there are only three outcomes to that challenge. Firstly, that you can. If so, I congratulate you, for you are one of a rare breed.
The second is that you can’t, you have never looked at it that way before. The website is the responsibility of the guy with the hoodie down the corridor, and you have been told he’s very good and surprisingly cheap. In which case you don’t need me to tell you that you are being criminally negligent.
The third outcome in many ways is the worst; you were asked for your input to the brief and you gave it, to the best of your ability, as were a few other colleagues. Between you, you covered all the bases and none, threw everything into the mix and left your audience to make sense of it. Like me with three haircuts.
Of course it’s not all about the website; this is merely symptomatic of how embedded a compelling corporate narrative is in the DNA of your business. If you have a bland and confusing landing page my guess is that you are not consistent in the conversations and engagements that open doors to prosperity elsewhere in your business. The hypothesis being that there is no due diligence given to how you collectively project your brand.
We all compete for attention, and in a world with a shorter and shorter attention span. Imagine you took the time out, one day a year and thought about your Brand Transmission. You might even use a facilitator with hybrid models that turbo-charge the thought process. My experience? At the end of the day you have new insights and identified new channels, and a plan for how to use them. For sure, these themselves might only generate a small performance gain.
But in huge saturated markets, that can be worth an awful lot. I’ll let you do the maths. I’m just the communications guy. That’s my thing.Back