In an essay in a just-published book The Survival of Soap Opera, soaps scribe Tom Casiello says that, among writing teams for daytime dramas, too often “there was much talk of focus group results and the ratings fluctuations throughout an episode,” but “there wasn’t a lot of focus on The Audience.”
And in the equally angst-filled trysts of corporate communication, the results are startlingly similar. Peppercom’s managing partner Steve Cody moderated an Association of National Advertisers webinar in June 2010 at which about three-quarters of the 75 advertising and marketing executives attending had never approached their brand through their audiences’ shoes.
Understanding the user’s experience has been the darling concept of the digital design and gaming worlds for some time now, and for good reason: Innovative design doesn’t mean much if it doesn’t serve the users’ needs. Yet, for some reason, communicators don’t seem to take the audience’s experience with their communication architecture as seriously. And those messages we spend so much time crafting and honing don’t mean so much if they are completely disconnected with the experience our audience has when they connect with our brand.
MIND THE GAP
As you work to engage your audiences with compelling messages, have you interacted with your company from your audience’s perspective rather than your own? If not, all your hard storytelling work won’t amount to much. And, if a gap exists between the brand you promise and the brand they meet when they seek you out, your best PR might alienate rather than align.
Corporate America has sold the story that corporations are individuals. As we’ve all bought that myth, we expect companies to act like a person—to be coherent, conversational and human. Yet, if most companies were seen as a single entity from a communication perspective, they would have dissociative identity disorder (a problem straight out of those soap opera writing rooms). Advertising employees often don’t work with their colleagues in corporate communication, much less the sales, human resources or customer service divisions. But the audience sees all these divisions as one company. And they judge that company’s communication by the experience they have.
During my South by Southwest Interactive panel this year on negative customer sentiment, our friend and collaborator Emily Yellin, author of the book Your Call Is (not that) Important to Us, pointed out that the negative “buzz” that’s so shocking to corporate communicators in the social media era is often what the customer service department has been hearing for years. But nobody ever asked them.
DOCTOR, HEAL THYSELF
We at Peppercom wanted to make sure that we didn’t fall into that trap, so we approached our own Web presence as if we were our key audiences: prospective clients, journalists, job seekers and bloggers. We found areas where information was easy to find and communication avenues to get in touch with Peppercom were clear. And we found other areas where service offerings were touted without any obvious avenue for learning more and where our employees were profiled with no way to reach them. We also identified 20 avenues of direct contact that our online presence offered and took on the role of audience member to reach out.
We donned the cloaks of pseudonyms and called, tweeted and e-mailed Peppercom as journalists, as bloggers and as job prospects and as potential clients and partners. We were delighted with quick responses and knowledgeable employees. But we also identified chinks in our armor: phone systems that routed messages inefficiently, outdated team e-mail addresses and pathways for new business requests that put too much burden on individual employees.
Through this exercise, we’re now in a process of internal education and external revamping. We are completing a Web site redesign that fully addresses all the issues flagged by our testing. And we are addressing the flaws in our technical infrastructure and internal coordination that led to a less-than-stellar experience when we became our own potential customers.
In short, we’re making sure that what we’re selling and how we’re marketing ourselves align with the experience Peppercom offers its key audiences.
As Casiello set out to do in the soap opera writing room, we are prioritizing our audience’s needs at the center of our stories. If you haven’t, it’s vital you do the same for your organization. PRN
Sam Ford is director of digital strategy at Peppercom. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article was co-written by Steve Cody (email@example.com), managing partner and co-founder of Peppercom.