Communication is both the receipt and transmission of information.
It’s a great example of something that seems difficult to measure and to quantify. Unless you’re familiar with the math that drives companies like Google, then communication is going to seem like a liberal art. But great people learn how to systemize everything. It’s difficult to truly excel at something without systemizing it. And both Google and the truly great excel at both parsing the nuggets of gold from information received, as well as crafting their content to convey the intended message.
Crafting the right message your business, brand or project requires skill and experience. It’s a tough optimization problem. The best take great pains to craft a minimal message. By minimalizing the content, the message and its concepts are pure, simple, easily understood and easily recalled. You can tell just by looking at Apple’s advertisements, their user manuals, their developer documentation, their tech support dialogues – these guys have gone through great pains to craft their message for simplicity and to promote their brand’s identity. I can just tell, that Apple as a company, from the top down, is structured differently, just by observing the uniform style and goals of nearly 100% of their communication.
As the internet dominates information distribution and makes it available to everyone, being privy to information and knowledge is no longer the difficulty. It is sifting through the firehose of data. Now the informational advantage is available to those who can process the data. Whereas acquiring information used to be the barrier to overcome that signified opportunity, now it is the capacity for sifting through the data to find the valuable nuggets. And so, both identifying that valuable data and providing it through a viable gateway for a large market will prove valuable in the social age. Of course, providing paid access to distribute information to a market in a targeted manner is not new. That’s basically advertising in general.
With Increased Informational Surface Area
The prevalence of social media represents ennumerable opportunities to network with customers, to learn from them, to understand how they think about your products and to observe the kinds of experiences your products create. But social media also presents itself as a huge vulnerability to business strategy. If you’re not watching your message, you could be revealing a lot of information about that business strategy. You could be projecting the wrong message and associations for your brand, confusing your customer’s perception of brand identity or unintentionally diluting your brand’s value. Branding is one of the most crucial aspects to tech products, especially since tech products are informational by nature.
Whereas a can of coke has a characteristic sound when you open it, technology products lack many of the physical phenomena that correspond to the reinforcement of brand. The types of experiences that generate your consumer’s notion of brand identity are harder to singularize: they are more highly varied and differ in more virtualized ways that are difficult to quantify/control.
Moving back towards the facets of great people, I enjoy watching interviews of founders or other great leaders today. I like watching new and unknown founders who might not have as much experience, but I like to do so because I see myself in their shoes. These guys are green. They haven’t had the PR training. What mistakes do they make? What do they consciously and unconsciously focus on presenting to the audience and why? What do they think is important about their product or their message? How do they react to pressure when they’re on stage?
When watching interviews of people like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk or a ton of other influential people, it’s important to pay attention to more than just the message they want to convey. There’s a sea of information you can glean from these videos. You get to see how they react with people of various stature, including those who might be almost unknown. Even when an audience member asks a dumb question, or a leading question, you can learn how they respond to different situations and a little bit about why.
Ooohhh, yeh, you might want to watch your answer on that one, just sidestep and keep moving.
You’ll notice that these people are smart and quick, yet usually passive, when someone does something like asking a leading question. They usually just don’t attach to it, and I’ll elaborate on that in a later section. Observing how someone responds to problems is vital to measuring their character.
If you know about the long term goals and mission of this person’s organization, looking at how they posture themselves and their organization can speak volumes about those goals. How do they say they say? What are their motivations behind the structure of their message? How are current events and market conditions affecting their message today as compared to the past? What are the obvious points they could be making, but haven’t mentioned and why? Do how they stay on message or circle back from a risky area? Does it seem like the interviewer or this person veered off track and why? What was the outcome of seemingly off-the-cuff statements and questions? Good? Bad?
It’s important to note that many, if not most, inferences you make that aren’t grounded in fact might be based in misinterpretation of words & actions. So properly weighting the inferences you draw is key.
And Know Your Audience
There’s so much you can garner from the audience’s reaction. Have you ever thought about how it would be to perform as the rockstar on stage? There’s a ton of information you’re missing, as the audience member. It’s crucial and difficult to understand how audience members are going to perceive your words and actions. This varies from area to area. Politics can be volatile and people will latch onto anything. Business, not so much, but it can be unpredictable. But, it’s definitely worth it to have someone else help you construct your message here and to help you craft together content for a media appearance.
Imagine the processes behind an interview or media appearance. How did they identify the questions being asked? What was the process to set up the interview? What’s the message they’re obstensibly trying to convey? Why did they agree to this appearance? What are both parties getting out of it?
And Why Those Answers?
If they have someone managing PR, how did they work to posture content for the organization and/or its projects for this interview? What would motivate them to do so? How long ago does it seem like they structured their content and message? Have current events affected their PR posturing in the week(s) leading up to the interview? For politicians running for election, did some article or video clip set the tone? How was their PR and team involved in responding to this? Are they responding to the elephant in the room? Is that typically how they handle situations like that and why?
But, again and perhaps most important, when they veered off track, why did that happen? This might be where you pick up the most information that wasn’t intentionally conveyed.
While it’s critical to convey a simple message, for many organizations, this can render elements of your business strategy more predictable than you’d like. In contrast, your organization needs to keep people guessing. The idea here is at least two-fold. First, people are excited with new information and this keeps your fans and customers focused on you. And secondly, extraneous information makes it much harder for a competitor to completely discern elements of your strategy. So, if you only stick to what seems relevant, then it becomes easier for your opponents to predict your intentions, strategy, opportunities and other facets of your organization’s behavior.
These tactics contrast with the goal of keeping communications simple and minimal. At best, these tactics allow your organization to remain agile and retain surprise. Yet, the wrong idea could backfire, if not properly assessed or executed. Using tactics to avoid predictability requires that you have an intimate understanding of how your message is perceived by various categories of customers and how it could be perceived.
That’s It for Communication
I might write about the facet of communication again soon, but since it overlaps so much with networking and signaling, it’s difficult to identify topics which apply only to communication. I hope to post the content I have on signaling and networking next.