Hello, Who is it?
Communication is the largest predictor of success and failure in a multitude of fields, from romance to bureaucracy, friendship to business. Though sometimes so obvious that it may be cliche, communication and the ability to effectively use it can make or break a business. As an entrepreneur, or a prospective entrepreneur you have already seen the power of a truly well-worded and compelling pitch, meeting or proposal. Learning to wield this skill effectively is not simply a life vest in unsure currents, but the boat, the sail and sometimes even the water keeping you afloat.
In the business world, you have likely already grown to prize those amongst you who have a true gift for communication. People whose comfortability with the spoken word allows them to not only keep scores of people enthralled with their well-spoken message, but can also listen and respond to feedback in an informed and deliberate way.
What if I told you that this gift is not something innate that you must be born with, but something that you can learn, hone and perfect? In this article, we will break down communication to its very base elements, discuss and dissect those elements so that you can learn more effective communication strategies from the ground up.
Why is it so difficult to get your message to the people that need to hear it?
Everyday you are bombarded with both wanted and unwanted communication, an errant sign, your significant other, your colleagues and friends, the junk mail plaguing your inbox (both in the physical and digital worlds). This ever-present cacophony is such a mundane, normal occurrence that we have become highly sophisticated in our methods of ignoring sometimes even critical information. But, in a world vying for our attention, how can you overcome the din and find the right customer when you yourself have a message fighting through the static, waiting to be heard? And once you have been heard, how do you know if your message is being truly understood?
Let’s break the problem down with an entirely common scenario.
You feel a buzzing in your pocket, and though you only have a minute and you do not have time to even venture a look at your caller-ID, you bring your phone to your ear…
You can dissect communication in several ways. Aristotle’s older method of communication analysis would see 3 familiar ever-present elements of communication; a sender of information, the receiver of information, and of course the message itself.
…“Hello, who is it?”, you bluntly say your phone impatiently, hoping to understand the point of the call quickly so that you may go about your day. Within scant seconds you will have decided whether this call is worth continuing or not. If you hear the familiar silence before a robocall begins its tinny pitch, you will hang up having only earned some mild aggravation. In this scenario, you have demonstrated Aristotle’s first three elements of communication. With you as the receiver of information, the pitch being the information sent and the sender likely being a firm in some far-removed place, likely hoping to mine your data.
In this example’s dissection, though accurate in its own way, we are clearly missing some context. Aristotle’s pared down model is accurate, but he could never have foreseen a world that exists parallel with spam emails and robo-calling.
A second, more involved communication model is one where we take into account the effect and the system of message, to see a more holistic and updated version of communication and its impact. After all, even with all three of these elements in place, did you ever really even get to hear or absorb the information that was sent to you? The two further dimensions in which we can see true communication are channel- the method in which you are reached (in this case on your phone) and effect- the reaction to the message (in this unfortunate scenario, mild irritation).
Every step in this analysis of communication is useful and will shape the way that you are communicating as well as the message itself. First, let’s examine the receiver. Have you figured out who your product will assist best, and who is most interested in becoming a consumer of your product? Next, have you identified a channel for your message that would not only be cost-effective, but would be visible and helpful during the daily lives of your customers? Is the information that you are sending not only an accurate and positive representation of your product, but something that was shaped and curated with the end-product user’s needs and ideals in mind? Do you have a respected and useful avenue for feedback, so that you can measure the effect and efficacy of your modes of communication?
When Lyft was a young start-up, barely able to find its footing in an industry already starting to be completely driven by its competitor, Uber, they found their own way to cut through the static and communicate with their own potential customers. The affixed large, silly, fuzzy but none-the-less attention-grabbing pink mustaches to the front of their driver’s cars. And, in so doing they were able to communicate their numbers and presence in the industry to those already looking for a ride. They saw the need for their product, saw what their client base was looking for and found a way to communicate their product to them in a simple but effective way. They listened to the demand for a competitor in a tight industry, found themselves unable to distinguish themselves in the eyes of their potential clients and they found a way to communicate directly with those customers. Due to the success of their idea, they too have become a behemoth within the ride-sharing world.
Something that you may have noticed in the analysis of communication is the ever-present importance of listening.
To identify your receiver, you need to know whose needs you are listening to. In the channel of communication you need to listen to the daily lives and struggles of your customer, and discover the best and most convenient way to reach them to suit their needs. The information that you will be sending your consumers should ideally be shaped and created with their feedback and needs in mind. After all, a product is nothing without someone whose life it will improve. And finally and most importantly, there is no way to determine or measure the impact of this communication if you are not listening to your customers’ responses throughout the process.
A simple, understandable and well-spoken message can break through the noise of the world and find your audience. When the Melbourne Metro in Australia was given the goal of raising youth awareness of rail safety in 2012, they saw that their target audience would like not take a traditional PSA very seriously- despite the seriousness of the situation. So, listening to the feedback and failings from previous campaigns, they settled on coming out with a cute, simplistic animation characters with a catchy, but gruesome, song entitled “Dumb Ways to Die” featuring the adorable characters making dumb dangerous mistakes to reinforce the importance of safety without talking down to their audience.
This campaign was a hit due to its simple, shocking nature but also because it met the intended audience with the appropriate balance of sincerity and levity. The Dumb Ways to Die campaign even developed and App in conjunction with the campaign that reached #1 in the IOS App store. Not bad for a PSA!
Communication requires a second party, not simply the message and sender. It is a process between two parties, and both sides of this process will craft and interpret the message according to their own vision. This is why it is vitally important to have a clear and concise message when you begin working with clients. It is imperative to make sure that you are being heard and understood. It is also a critical skill to be able to lend an ear to your clients concerns and feedback, and be willing to change your pitch and product to suit the often morphing needs of a modern client-base.
Proficient communication in business is what makes or breaks a business and learning to master every step of the process is what will chart your course to success. This mastery means identifying your customer base, and listening to their current needs in order to meet them where they are- not where you want them to be. It is finding a crystal clear and uncomplicated message that can cut through the noise of the world to reach those prospective clients. It is navigating within the 5 steps and finding where there is a miscommunication and correcting your path as needed. With these skills in your arsenal, you will find your way forward- whether it be through clear skies or choppy waves.
What should you remember to consider as tools for effective, succinct customer communication?
Communication between companies and their clients has changed dramatically, so you too must change to meet current needs.
Think of not only yourself, your customer and the message when communicating with your clients- but also the results and methods of your message.
Create tools to measure the impact of your communication.
Consider the method of communication and its implication carefully before deciding on advertisements.
Leave yourself open to feedback and be willing to change dynamically when your communication is not as effective as you would like.
What will effective communication in business look like for you? And, what does effective communication mean for your business?