By Thornton May
Futurist, Senior Advisor with GP, Executive Director & Dean - IT Leadership Academy
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell upon hearing Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn’s powerful speech in parliament commented, “I’m always anxious that the greatest oratory is going to lead us to the greatest mistakes.” He compared Benn’s remarks to those of Tony Blair in 2003 preceding the invasion of Iraq. In the digital sphere I am concerned about the exact opposite: how the lack of powerful oratory materially reduces an organization’s ability to harvest the full value of the digital wonders surrounding us.
Billions of dollars are spent by thousands of supply side companies on marketing messages, media and meetings that for the most part do nothing to advance the cause of producing measurable advance on the path to digital mastery. In the ~ $6 billion subsection of the information technology ecosystem called “Enterprise Content Management” executives describe the state of current discourse as “gibberish.” The meta-narrative about this space from various subscription research firms is widely criticized as being “worse than worthless.”
Before the Message, Focus on the Audience
In our quantified and geo-spatially located world it is finally possible to know your audience. There is no excuse for not knowing to whom you are talking to. Individuals have become adept at setting their own filters. Before crafting any message one needs to understand what problem the audience is trying to solve.
What is said, what is heard and what is acted on are knowable facts. Executives in advertising agencies are coalescing around a 1-9-90 model of modern communications:
1% create content
9% share content
90% lurk and learn
With analytics we can know the various personas we are communicating with. With analytics we can A/B test the efficacy of various delivery formats.
If your message was about two star basketball players facing off in a game of Horse, one could survey who the audience thought will win. On the website, viewers could watch the game take place. On the tablet app, viewers have access to all the images from the photo shoot. There are lots of ways to deliver messages.
Adding Numbers to Our Messages
Nobody sets out to make a bad business graphic. Yet we are inundated with them. In Storytelling with Data: a date visualization guide for business professionals Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic tells us, “We aren’t naturally good at storytelling with data. In school we learn a lot about language and how to create stories with our words; and we learn a lot about math and how to make sense of numbers. But it’s rare that these two sides are paired: No one teaches us how to tell stories with numbers.”
It is surprising that in a world where it costs nothing to distribute new ideas that so much of what passes for communication in the IT industry is a re-hash of conventional messages. When was the last time you saw anything truly new or unique about “the cloud” or “mobility”?
Orators – those who craft and deliver messages need to be aware what behavior they want to induce in those who listen to them. My good friend Stefan Chase, VP of Customer Knowledge and brilliant student of classics at Dartmouth College reminded me that “when Cicero spoke, people wept. When Caesar spoke, men marched.” What do you want your audience to know?
ROI of Storytelling
The German language press recently became fixated on an advert for a 1997 OPEL Tigra. Objectively, the car was worth ~ $350 - $1150. Instead of listing the condition of the automobile the seller wrote a story. The car sold for $64,300. This equates to an ROI of almost $20 per word.
What kinds of stories are you telling? What kinds of stories are you being told? What kind of stories do you want to be told about you and your organization?