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The unifying theory of communications: Sustain us

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unifying theoryWhen less is simply less 

Look at Earth, hanging in space, alone in darkness. After you’re done admiring the beauty of what you see, you can’t help but think, on some level:

Will we be able to sustain such a hurtling jewel?

What if we looked at communications in that context?

Sometimes communications are used in less-than-best practice.

Infographics are great. They convey information quickly. They’re on everybody’s lips.

But infographics can mislead. When infographics are over-tasked with carrying the thrust of a message alone, they fail.

Communications is about integration: a unification of channels. It’s about sustaining brilliance, about sustaining best practice.

Shaping a story

Some creatives can do graphics with great impact and shape a great story. It depends on the strategy behind the message. Infographics are brilliant tools, but success is in how infographics are used.

Words have built empires. There is no escaping our need for information. As we move into any subject, we want deeper information.

We live in a world where our communications race forward into space. Connectivity. Speed. Data blasting forward. It’s all tough to process.

Infographics are everywhere. They provide snapshots of almost anything you can imagine. Done well, they are useful, but …

How deep are some really?

The shallow end: Don’t use audiences when using data

Go out and search. You will doubtless find an infographic on what you’re looking for. Now, look for the source.

Where did the information come from?

Some infographics don’t reference where the research for the data comes from. They tell a story, but if the story’s fiction, consider its value.

Organizations have objectives. If data and infographics are used to mislead, you risk credibility.

In our race to process information, to relay information, to demonstrate concepts to people more easily, more accessibly, without demanding too much of the beleaguered audience or public, we sometimes forget to look into where the research for the data comes from.

Who did the research? If we don’t know … Are we setting up our audience, and so, ourselves for disappointment?

In these days of content curation, we still have to be conscious of where data comes from, and its interpretation. That can be difficult. Speed is of the essence.

Even the research process itself has come under repeated analysis. There have been a number of papers criticizing peer review. Often, the conclusion is, peer review may be imperfect, but it’s still the best thing we’ve got.

Questions, questions: Ask some questions

At the very least, we should ask questions about what research seems to demonstrate. We live in a time of rapid change.

Since Einstein, and beyond, we’ve learned that things are relative. We may like slow cooking, but we still have priorities related to “getting things done”. In a historical context, Einstein did pretty well without all the technology we have at our disposal today.

Take research on phones. As one of the largest manufacturers of phones used to advise us: Think different. A recent study suggested a few things about different phone manufacturers. One idea was that the wealthy / intelligent buy a certain model of phone.

What’s being suggested here? That the phone makes you wealthy or intelligent?

Let’s ask some questions: What types of phones are we talking about? Does one brand sell a greater variety of phones across a broader spectrum within a broader price range? (For example, if wealth determines intelligence, then obviously Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are smarter than Steve Jobs was.)

Which company focuses on the high-end? If a product costs more, it doesn’t take Einstein to figure out that the wealthy might buy that product.

Sheep or deep?

Questions can start to reveal bias or data manipulation. There’s a difference between interpretation and distortion of data. Insights have to be as deep as the data.

None of us are perfect, but If we use data with less-than-best-practice, doesn’t it reflect our opinion of our target audience? Our publics?

Is there an element of danger in such a strategy? How do people feel when there’s a massive pullback in a company’s stock? When IPOs and exchanges are held up as parlayers of bad practice?

Researching media reports after such errors in judgement – more often labelled as “debacles” in the media – provide clear evidence. No management team wants to see its name lit up in a reputational example of bad practice.

Need more evidence? Take a look at questions asked about the U.S. government’s reputation following the Merkel phone-tapping.

The complications involved in communicating, and various organizational debacles, are bound to affect brand and reputation. Do consumers want to know we’re burying poor references to our brands in cyberspace, or, that:

  • We’re addressing issues from stakeholders
  • Opening a channel of dialogue
  • Working hard to improve our organizations

and,

  • Willing to listen to feedback that provides insight?

Daniel Libeskind and David Chipperfield discuss why architecture is collaborative and is a form of communication. Any new building is bound to cause controversy like any great new idea. The discussion is the thing.

Flip the agenda on its head

Some believe that in a world where our communications burn across media at a faster and faster pace, the potential for backlash is vastly accelerated. But isn’t it important to consider that people are also getting more discerning? Aren’t people looking for something to believe in?

Aren’t we building a form of architecture when we reach out to talk to publics and audiences? Aren’t we better off building a foundation that lasts?

Isn’t there opportunity here? And if you’re not involved in the discussion, not seated at the table, digitally, with your publics, then, who is?

If you’re not dealing with stakeholders’ trust issues, then who is?

Won’t integrity stand out?

Peter Lynch and Warren Buffett have been cited for discussing how a company’s focus on how to spend its money (read: not spending outlandish amounts on offices, furniture, etc.) shows a competitive edge in these companies, especially for the shareholder. Does this frugality on the part of management mean that the managements of these companies aren’t intelligent?

Warren Buffett still lives in a modest house. Is he less intelligent for doing this?

Meanwhile, some companies spend a great deal on their employees including training and R&D to help stimulate creativity, engagement and innovation.

Is there more than one way to get to an outcome? In fact, is the construction of outcomes liquid? In constant flux?

A river flows out to the sea, but the way the water gets to the sea is epic. It’s a story of flow, of perpetual change. It’s the story of nature’s architecture.

A discerning audience is able to deconstruct what it sees. New York has taken steps to protect consumers from fake reviews. Is it really sound to imagine that there are no customers that have ever considered that these kinds of bad practices are going on?

Smart competitors will create smart campaigns centred around companies’ branding. Clever advertising is full of examples of a brand’s position being reframed – even if you’re reframing the idea that consumers of that brand are “creative”.

If an infographic misleads, does it take your audience where you want to go ultimately?

Information in infographics absent best practice, can mislead. What can it do to a brand?

Data can be used in a self-perpetuating, self-aggrandizing way to rationalize, what? That a product makes us look smarter? Makes us superior to others because we spend more on it?

Publics are going to change as fast as the media that bombard them. Appealing to customers will be an act of ultimate creativity. Some will do it brilliantly. Others are going to be remembered for compromising their ethics.

Customers, more than ever, want organizations that walk the talk.

Even if an organization mounts a comeback related to a major stumble, followed by negative media coverage, wouldn’t it have been better to follow a sustainable path of best practice in the first place? Wouldn’t it have been better not to suffer the reputational damage – to have more consistent growth?

Isn’t this why business schools hold ethics classes? Why reputation and trust factor large in polls? Why the Warren Buffetts of the world focus on the long-term rather than the short-term?

Are we telling stakeholders that all of this is mere lip service? Do we want to build our communications architecture like a house of cards?

Consider smartphone advertising, public relations and marketing. Just this sector is full of (depending on your opinion and metrics) winners, winners who became losers, organizational wrestling with public perception of privacy issues, the rapid pace of technological change, intense competition, shrinking margins, hype, hubris and successes that are hard to maintain.

Looking for a bullet-proof suit? It exists in best practice. The structure that sustains is the structure than can be built on.

Privacy, hacktivists and change giving birth to change

What of privacy? How much are people willing to give away? With social media, many of us are more visible, willingly, but there’s still constant debate about what amount of social media exposure is healthy. We do that regarding television, and electronics generally, too.

Hacktivists seem to be playing a major role in our public perception of networks, our personal, societal and corporate treatment of information.

Doubtless, security plays in the minds of our publics even as they increasingly give more of their information away. Security issues could impact dramatically on collaboration and information exchange, but innovation depends on such exchange.

Multiple security issues can change perception about services. New perceptions create new realities.

Many in the media and related professions and organizations are trying to appeal to their audiences. We could go on and on asking questions: The pace of change is making us move from what we are, are becoming and will be. It’s a never-ending cycle of change.

Change begets change.

Audiences and publics are undergoing ferocious transformation, and they will undergo all manner of metamorphoses as they absorb their new universes.

The portals are everywhere

In our hands. In our pockets. On our desks.

Portals. Everywhere.

Our world has become worlds. Some of us are spending as much time in virtual worlds as in real ones. Since the advent of screens and all their permutations, we’ve gained new devices offering  portable portals.

Some won’t care. Others will constantly jump on the “new”, but the reality is, sustainability of anything, idea, product, service, depends on growth. But what kind of growth?

Integration and ethics: The song that remains, sustains

Infographics work best in an integrated communications plan. They are a great tool when used wisely. Today, the way you reach out has to have a long-term focus. There may be short-term tactics, but they have to rationalize with a long-term vision. Content is everywhere, so, creators of content need to work together to move mountains.

Eventually, you have to bring people somewhere where they access deep, meaningful research or information. While short pieces are the rage for grabbing views, leading audiences to deep information increases credibility. That, in itself, is the message.

Fluff eventually blows away. Substance is permanent. A well-built foundation upholds a structure.

Unethical manipulation of public trust, of audiences, can only end badly. Look at the U.S. and world stock markets as an example. It’s only this year that retail investors have come back.  If people hold great and enduring mistrust against the stock markets, what will the impact be on innovation, societal development and wealth creation?

The great thing about asking questions is it can help you formulate long-term strategy. In a world where you want to be aware of weaknesses and threats against your organization, your society on a small and large scale, you have to focus on ways to create opportunity that resonate for the long-term. (This should be in our DNA. It’s the double helix of a virtual spiral.)

We’ve all heard pop songs that are one-hit wonders, but there are some songs that sustain us, and in turn, we sustain them.  Quality endures. We make sure of it.

In a world of change, where there are so many one-hit wonders, songs that remain sustain.

Image source: Flickr/Ted Kendell

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N.B.: When it comes to integrated communications, here are three excellent key messages:

canada digital in sync

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This work and all work on this blog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Images: Flickr, Daily Dividend.

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