If you build it, will they come?

building blocks

Back in the sixties, when I was a kid, I loved to play with a well known building block toy (you’ll know the one).Essentially it was a collection of plastic blocks in a range of sizes. Some were grey and some were red and at some point in my childhood, they introduced clear plastic ones. With these basic blocks I built castles and forts, aircraft carriers and rocket ships. They were clunky and angular but my imagination filled in the curves. The point is, from those basic building blocks, I made whatever I wanted. There seemed no limit to the things I could construct.

Some years later, the parts became more sophisticated and were clearly intended to build a replica of whatever was illustrated on the box.

Now, this post isn’t about corporate greed dulling the creative capacity of our children. I’m using this as an analogy for public consultation. Local Authorities deliver stuff. It may be the management of refuse, a working road network, libraries (for now) and leisure centres. But in future, what will it be?

Perhaps if we began with basic blocks and not proscriptive solutions and had a dialogue with residents around that, we could identify what people need, rather than want. We could start with a snap shot based on known data sets and local intelligence at the hyperlocal level. We’d need to manage expectations and establish some ground rules. For instance, asking for a positive, can-do attitude. That isn’t about air brushing out failures. When we get it wrong we should fess up but airing old grievances wastes time and if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Most importantly, the blocks don’t have to be three-dimensional because people are infrastructure too; they have interests, passions and transferable skills. If we harness those, that’s a lot of energy. And if you add those into the mix, you’re on your way to creating sustainable solutions. So, when it comes to public consultation and building communities, let’s see what happens when we don’t put a picture on the box.

This post was inspired by a recent conversation with Rob Francis @ThinkingRob on Twitter. Check him out, he does this kind of stuff for a living.

Perspective

perspective

Knowledge is knowing stuff.

Wisdom is being able to use it wisely.

So. where does the wisdom lie in your organisation?

At the coal face is the practical experience, in the boardroom is the strategic vision and somewhere in between there are people with perspective.

Perspective is a valuable thing and acquiring it is something of a luxury. When you’re at the coal face or balancing the books, you rarely have time to acquire perspective. Perspective doesn’t tell people how to do their jobs; it accepts that the coal face and boardroom have years of accumulated experience. However, perspective might suggest that there may be ways to make life a little easier – a different angle, another approach. Perspective doesn’t judge, it enables.

Progress stalls when experience won’t listen to perspective.

So, if you’re wise, you’ll make room for perspective, even if you don’t have it yourself.

Mobilize your troops

And by troops, I mean your customer base.

Working for a local authority in the UK can seem increasingly like standing on a piece of melting pack ice. We may have a shrinking payroll but we still have lots of customers.

So when you embark on a marketing exercise, it’s worth asking yourself whether you’re making the most of your greatest asset; particularly when the marketing budget is meagre.

In an age of viral ‘shares’, ‘likes’ and ‘favourites’ it’s never been more pertinent.

It’s something that occurred to me whilst talking to colleagues in Public Health who recently joined us from the NHS. It was clear that they shared some common ground with colleagues in Leisure Services. Both are in the business of making people healthy and both need to motivate people to respond to the call-to-action; but in many cases that call is falling on deaf ears.

So, instead of marketing to ‘everyone who isn’t presently a customer’, could we explore encouraging our current customer base to explain to their friends why they responded to the call? There’s a lot of current thinking to support this approach. Alex Turnbull, CEO of Groove, talks about the power of storytelling in his recent BLOG on boosting reach. It’s well worth a read.  I’d summarise my thoughts using the analogy of a reverse target:

Audiences

Reverse target

The reverse target represents three audiences:

1 CONVERTED: Our existing customers who have already adopted elements of a healthy lifestyle

2 AGNOSTIC: People similar to ‘1’ but presently not engaged

3 IMMUNE: People who are resistant to key messages – “I hear you but I’m not listening”

 

 

 

 

Though we aim for the outer circle, we consistently hit the inner circle. So, how do we become counter-intuitive, improve our aim and hit the outer circle more often?

All services produce information about their offer and all services need to find ways to motivate people enough to change behaviour and be receptive to that information. Making converts of agnostics is the quicker win though by no means easy. Ultimately, we want to hit the outer circle which contains what we sometimes refer to as the hard to reach. It’s a well worn phrase though it could be argued that they’re only hard to reach because we simply aren’t communicating with them properly.

The Nudge

In marketing terms, one approach would be to harness the power of peer-to-peer recommendation; a recognised phenomenon in the marketing world. It’s always been an important factor but the advent of social media has increased its range and effectiveness because of the principle of communities of interest as illustrated here:

Communities of interest

These communities are built by people congregating around circles of friendship, shared values and shared interests.

My interactions with services and institutions through social media are also shared with my circle and, indirectly, with their friends.

It is the interleaving of these circles that create the viral nature of social media.

 

 

Within a community of interest will be existing customers who would be receptive to a video containing powerful, first-hand testimony on ‘Why I finally gave up smoking’.  A peer-to-peer recommendation from them has the potential to make a convert out of an agnostic. Within the same group, it also has the potential to make someone previously immune to messages to at least become an agnostic. By this means, more people become receptive to the call; and the market for our offer expands.

In essence; never forget that information of itself has no value if you can’t attach a motivation to change.

 

Images: Feel free to re-use but a credit might be nice.

Adopt, adapt, improve & share

adapt

I left my post in local government 3 months ago on the hunt for a new challenge. Shortly thereafter,  I was given a great opportunity to work with the Shropshire Wildlife Trust covering Comms over the Summer. It’s been a good opportunity to see if the enlightened approach we’d been deploying at Shropshire Council would transfer into the charitable sector and nature conservation in particular. Turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, that it does. An early trick was to create a blog  linked to Facebook and Twitter to provide a fast-track to followers and friends that wasn’t reliant on the vagaries of local media. Becoming your own news agency is a tactic I would highly recommend but with two provisos;

1 All organisations be they for profit or otherwise, need to communicate. Let me be clear, I’m not talking about pronouncements and press releases. The kind of communicating I’m referring to is reflecting the day-to-day business of doing your job, showing people your busy-ness. Not with a spin or ‘look how great I am’; because if you are any good, your customers will do that on your behalf.

2 You can draw like-minded people to your organisation with a well-time tweet or Facebook post but you’ll only keep them there by reinforcing your shared values; by demonstrating them through reflecting your work and providing ample opportunities for people to engage or converse with your through those channels. That’s real communication.

There are lots of cases studies of New Comms practice across the West Midlands in the white paper launched today by IEWM and Comms2Point0. Here’s a LINK to the paper.