Do something different

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 14.45.45Do you remember the ad vans commissioned by the Home Office two years ago that said ‘In the UK Illegally? Go Home or face arrest’?

Last week I went to a conference titled “’Go Home’: Mapping Immigration Controversy” at the University of Warwick. The conference reported on a two-year research project designed to explore this and other related campaigns, their impact on migration and public attitudes.

It was fascinating and, at times, more than a little sobering.   One of their findings was that many people came to the UK because of what they understood to be ‘British values’; democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs. After being here they doubted if these values existed.

Whatever you think of immigration, this should give you pause for thought.

One of the other findings was there was no evidence the Home Office communications team based on the campaign on any research about ‘what works’ in migration.

Of course it depends what they were trying to achieve. If it was to get migrants in this country illegally to come forward it was a dismal failure; it just filled them with fear and anxiety. But if it was to make a ‘statement’ about being tough on immigration then the results are mixed.

There was also a fascinating workshop on performance politics. Essentially it looked at how core messages can be brought to life through performance. The theatre set we create at our borders with flags and guards; whether its politicians or Border Agency staff who do the interviews.

Everything we do and say and the way we behave creates meaning. We just need to be sure it’s the meaning we intend!

I don’t normally go to conferences like this one but it’s really made me think. I’m still working through it in my mind but it’s certainly given me a new perspective for my communication work.

Doing something different, being open to new inputs is always worthwhile.


Take a look at this short video if you want to find out more about the project.


Innovation comes from diversity

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 08.58.35Today the BBC is reporting a survey by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission that says elite firms (lawyers, accountants, financiers, etc) are recruiting graduates who probably went to selective state or private schools.  Despite decades of talk of social inclusion these firms are still recruiting mirror images of themselves.

It doesn’t surprise me but I don’t understand why.

I am working for an engineering business on a project designed to showcase the female role models in their business. I asked a senior engineer why it mattered and he said there’s no innovation without creativity and no creativity without diversity.

Encouraging women is obvious for such a traditionally male dominated world, but they’re also driving forward social and racial diversity.

But surely professional and financial services firms want to innovate too? Surely they will benefit from the creative tension of diversity?

The focus of a dinner in Birmingham last week was employability. The goal was to find ways to encourage a relationship between Birmingham’s young people and the city’s employers, many of which in the city centre are professional and financial services firms typical of the Commission’s report.

The dinner was constructive and those present shared good practice. But change will be small scale and piecemeal until and unless businesses understand the benefits.

Driving forward this type of culture is not easy. People are often frightened of change and there is a commercial risk, after all the firm has been successful so far.  But be clear about why and how and support the change process with a strong internal communication programme and the results could be significant.

Standing out from the crowd is difficult in sectors where professional qualifications underpin the service; everyone should have the technical expertise and lay people don’t have the knowledge to work it out anyway. An innovative culture built on a diverse cohort of talented individuals could really set the firm apart.

Turn your customers into advocates

shutterstock_258632825If you’ve got the product, price and service right and people know about you, they’ll buy.

But if they feel connected to you, loyal, they’ll be your advocate.

I get my weekly food shopping delivered; I can never find what I want in store and hate the queues and crowds. I switched to Waitrose for a change and now can’t stop singing their praises.

Food at its sell by date is free and the drivers have goodies every day in the van they can give to customers as they choose. I’ve had two boxes of chocolates, a bottle of wine and, importantly, treats for my dogs!

Advocates like me are powerful. Without the vested interests of the business we’re believable and persuasive.

So how can you turn your customers into advocates?

We are all social beings, categorizing ourselves into different groups according to all sorts of criteria from our values and political affiliation to the books we read or films we love.

Our sense of self comes from membership of these groups and we behave accordingly. Even a slight affiliation can have a disproportionate effect. Tell some people they are in the red group and others are in the blue group and they will begin to favour those in their own group.

It’s extraordinary but it’s well evidenced. Look up Henry Tajfel and Social Identity Theory.

Imagine then how powerful it would be if your customers felt part of your social group, better about themselves for buying from you.

As Waitrose has done with me you have to get the product and service right. Then it’s about building the unity of the group.

There are plenty of tools and techniques you can use, for example customer magazines and tailored offers. Initiatives that add value can be particularly effective.

But irrespective of the tactics you use, language is important. Sharpen your messages and express them in the right way and you will soon be creating advocates.

Give me a call to find out how.


The charity connection

Coventry_branch_logoIf you’ve already signed up to my 21 Steps to Communication Success you’ll know I’m a Listening Volunteer with Coventry & District Samaritans.

(If you haven’t signed up, you might find it useful.  Click here to take a look.)

We’ve just received an incredible donation from the combination of Coventry & Warwickshire First and Barclays Bank.  I’m on the board of the former and we made Coventry & District Samaritans the charity for our gala FirstPro Awards.  Barclays generously agreed to match fund the sum raised, doubling the income from the night in one quick step.

At Samaritans’ we’re incredibly grateful for the support.  It covers the cost of running the service for over six weeks.

But for commercial organisations there can be more to it that just handing over the money and feeling warm and cuddly.  Such a donation is obviously good fodder for a local news story, inclusion in the staff newsletter, popping on the website and spreading on social media. But if you really want to make the donation pay there is plenty more you can do.

Take Samaritans.  By definition we have to be good at listening and are given a lot of training on how to do it well.  Why not tap into this.  As you’ll know if you’ve signed up to my 21 Steps, listening is an incredibly important to good communication.

Charities like Samaritans are happy to share their expertise*; the more good listeners out there the better!

Think about a more structured partnership. Coventry & District Samaritans has a shop.  Working in collaboration, it could provide a tool for getting new, young employees to improve their commerciality.

Get the charity to set a commercial challenge for your young employees.  It could be anything; re-structuring the service (improving efficiency in commercial parlance) or increasing donations (driving sales to you).

And, of course, each activity provides material for the media, social media, your newsletter, and internal noticeboards.

Think laterally about your charity donation and you’ll get a far bigger return on your investment.

* Calls to Samaritans are completely confidential.  Information is not shared outside the organisation.

The power of social proof

Don’t panic this isn’t a party political broadcast.Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 08.48.41

I’m a member of the Labour Party. I joined over 20 years ago and stand every year in the local elections in an unwinnable seat.

To me the Labour Party stands for equality, compassion and social justice. I may not agree with everything and when that happens my responsibility is to argue my point within the party.

You’re now either with me or think I’m a delusional fool; politics rarely conjures up neutral positions and this dynamic and productive conflict is one of the reasons I love it.

But why am I writing about this now in my role as a communication consultant?

You’ve probably noticed there’s an election going on. Campaigning costs, so the Labour Party is sending almost daily emails to members asking for donations.

And they’re excellent. They get the job done.

I have a monthly standing order to my constituency party, another for the national party and I made a donation earlier in the year. I thought I’d done my bit. But I still clicked on the link and donated.


The emails use positive social proof.

Social proof is a psychological phenomenon where people follow the behaviour of others so they do the ‘right thing’ in a given situation.

Positive social proof encourages the behaviour you want and negative encourages the opposite.

Visitors were picking pieces of wood from the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona as souvenirs. The authorities wanted them to stop so they put up a sign telling people their heritage was being vandalized every day by the theft of wood, mostly a small piece at a time. The thefts tripled*!

The emails from the Labour Party told me about the 11,000 plus people just like me who have donated in the last two weeks. Before I really knew it I was clicking on the link.

* Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion by Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin and Robert B. Cialdini.