Communications

What CEOs need to learn from Michael Cohen and AT&T

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One of my all-time favorite political campaign books is The Selling of the President.

Written by Joe McGinnis, the book covers the story of how Richard Nixon was repackaged and reshaped for the American public as a candidate for president in 1968. Eight years after Nixon’s losing presidential campaign and his lackluster television performance at the Nixon-Kennedy debate, he faced all the old image problems.

Nixon hired then 28-year old Roger Ailes to remake his image. An image that would win at the ballot box, and more importantly, on television. Ailes created television moments that made Nixon, not smart, not knowledgeable, but well-liked. Ailes created television moments that engaged numerous constituents on their terms.

1968 was no time for policy, it was a time for charismatic personality and shared values.

McGinnis’ book makes clear, presidential candidates can be rebranded and remarketed. Television does not expose and demystify the powerful. Instead, it makes personality stronger. Television ensures style is substance.

David Miller, of the legendary political consultancy Sawyer Miller, saw how television and mass communications would change not only candidates but commerce. He wrote in an article for the Yale School of Organization and Management that just like candidates, if done correctly, corporations could use the tools of television and campaign management to ensure market size and good paying consumers.

Miller wrote: “Corporations must recognize that it is now in their long-term self-interest to develop much more democratic relationships with all of their shareholders, community members, and the public at large.”

Miller foresaw how the corporate world was quickly resembling a politician’s world and how a politician relates to constituents. 

As information channels increase, multiply, focus on niches and distinct tastes and thoughts, corporations need to forge an emotional bond with their various constituents - just like a politician.

The only sensible and meaningful way to do is - establish a relationship and commercial transaction based on shared values.

Today’s masters of the universe CEO is poor decision away from disrupting a relationship based on shared values. Corporations can no longer control the flow of information and can lose control of the narrative within hours.

Corporations are under assault from government regulators, reporters, shareholders, and employees all demanding style that supersedes substance. 

CEOs today need to woo their customers, engage regulators, listen to shareholders, reinforce employees, and make their case daily. CEOs need to communicate more often, on more platforms, and more broadly. Sawyer believed CEOs needed to define themselves before someone else set them - just like a candidate who works like they are up for reelection daily.

As all significant institutions continue to lose sway and influence, the pressure on corporations and CEOs to fill this void increases daily.

For AT&T it wasn’t the paying for access, advice, and public affairs expertise which was a bad idea, it was that they paid an individual (Michael Cohen) who was out of step and not in line with the shared values of AT&T’s numerous constituents.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said as much in a memo distributed to employees last week.

“Our reputation has been damaged,” Stephenson wrote. “There is no other way to say it—AT&T hiring Michael Cohen as a political consultant was a big mistake.”

Companies need to sell worthwhile goods and services - this for sure will continue to matter. But the transaction now has an emotional connection as well.

As pointed out in Edelman's 2018 Trust Barometer: "A good reputation may get me to try a product—but unless I come to trust the company behind the product, I will soon stop buying it, regardless of its reputation.

63% of those surveyed agreed with this statement.

The Edelman Trust Barometer provided a clear directive for today’s CEOs - building trust is job one.

Winning commerce of the future will happen when a company is trusted, provides high-quality services and products, and where business decisions reflect shared values.

AT&T hiring Michael Cohen is losing commerce.

It is not essential to much to be smart and knowledgeable, but it is necessary to be well-liked.

-Marc A. Ross

Marc A. Ross is the founder of Brigadoon and specializes in developing winning communications, content, connections, and commerce for entrepreneurs and thought leaders.

Brand marketing in a direct marketing world

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Pop quiz: What was the top Super Bowl 2018 ad according to USA Today’s Ad Meter?

Heck, if you can name one of the top ten, I will give you bonus points.

The reason you can’t remember the best ad or any ads from the big game, it’s not the best tool.

It’s not the best tool because it doesn’t connect, make an impact, or leave a mark. 

You see brand marketing doesn't work in the direct marketing world.

Brand marketing is from a different age. A different business environment. A different communication era.

Brand marketing was created when John Wanamaker’s statement “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half” worked because it could work. 

It could work because advertisers created a mass broadcast communications environment to serve its needs.

Radio was created to sell ads.

Television was created to sell ads.

Brian Millar, co-founder of the Emotional Intelligence Agency, writes "traditional advertising went after ‘share of mind’–the idea was to get you to associate a brand with a single idea, a single emotion. Volvo: safety. Jaguar: speed. Coke: happiness. The Economist: success. Bang, bang, bang, went the ads, hammering the same idea into your mind every time you saw one.

"Advertising briefs evolved to focus the creatives on a single unique selling position and a single message. Tell them we’re the Ultimate Driving Machine. Tell them in a thrilling way. It worked when you saw ads infrequently on television, in a Sunday magazine, or on a billboard on your morning commute."

This type of advertising worked because it was a communications environment of one to many with only a handful of vehicles to reach an audience.

But that is not today.

Today we are living in a direct marketing world powered by the WWW.

Now we have micro-media and personalized broadcast communications environment which serves the needs of the end user.

The internet was not created for ads.

The internet is not mass media.

To better understand this new communications environment the Emotional Intelligence Agency conducted a study to understand what kind of content works. The firm found communications which used funny, useful, beautiful, and inspiring content delivers the best results. Not surprising the most successful brands do all four.

Also not surprising these are the adjectives used by any top storyteller. She knows they are best words when executing micro and personalized communications.

Yet most of us communicate using only one type of emotionally compelling content - if at all - employing brand marketing techniques that are closer to the days of Mad Men them to the present day of Laundry Service.

We still communicate like once a day, or worse just a few times a month. Instead of using tools that follow and engage our most active supporters in their media diet.

When it comes to the WWW and the direct marketing communications environment, being multidimensional beats being single-minded. 

Surprise beats consistency. 

Emotion beats fact.

Funny beats dour.

Useful beats sales. 

Beautiful beats boring. 

Inspirational beats directional.

The best communicators have always understood this instinctively.

By the way, USA Today’s Ad Meter ranked Amazon's "Alexa Loses Her Voice" as the best 2018 ad.

I don't remember the ad either. But I do remember my friends telling me a story or two about Alexa that used funny, useful, beautiful, and inspiring words to describe their experiences.

-Marc A. Ross

Marc A. Ross is the founder of Brigadoon and specializes in developing winning communications, content, connections, and commerce for entrepreneurs and thought leaders.

Are you listening to Richard Sorge?

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He is out there. He is speaking to you. He is sending you the signal.

But you fail to recognize him. You can't hear what he is saying. You think it is all noise.

Richard Sorge was Soviet agent operating out of Tokyo in 1941. Sorge repeatedly warned the Kremlin that Nazi Germany would soon invade the USSR. 

On May 15 he predicted that the invasion would come on June 20-22. 

But Sorge’s information displeased the big boss - he didn't want to hear it.

At the time, Stalin was then still in alliance with Nazi Germany. Even though Hitler had advocated the conquest of the USSR as early as 1924 in his book, Mein Kampf, Stalin famously believed Hitler to be the only person he could fully trust.

Stalin dismissed Sorge as “a little shit who has set himself up with some small factories and brothels in Japan.” 

How could someone operating in such an environment know what Nazi Germany was planning? 

Stalin knew best. He was the big boss in Moscow after all. He wasn't running in the underbelly of Tokyo. It didn't matter what was written in 1924.

Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi German codename for the invasion of the USSR, commenced on June 22, 1941. 

Launched by someone Stalin trusted entirely and against the terms of the existing non-aggression treaty, Hitler was doing what he always believed and was doing what some lesser person said he would do.

Are you listening to Richard Sorge?

Is someone telling you something that you don't want to believe? 

Is someone telling you something that goes against your station?

Are you overwhelmed by the noise and failing to hear the signal?

Marc A. Ross is the founder of Brigadoon and specializes in developing winning communications, content, connections, and commerce for entrepreneurs and thought leaders.