“Content is king”. This phrase has been the mantra of communications experts for over two years now. Has anything changed? It has, and it hasn’t. Quality content remains a priority in both internal and external communications. But, when it comes to tools, the image claims first place on the podium. Without a photograph or a film, the notion of “content” is stripped of all power. Is there anything else that counts other than the visual?
Communication is being revolutionized; its once clear-cut distinctions between content senders and recipients being quickly abolished. Traditional advertisements no longer hold the power to compel consumers. Rigid marketing descriptions and messages have fallen into oblivion. Opinion-making journalists face stiff competition from bloggers. For some time now, we have no longer been compelled to stick to a single method. Whether seen as a tool for creating the corporate image, or as a way to build bonds in a company, today’s marketing communication forms a patchwork of messages, content and channels.
How to survive in the communication jungle
Existing communications hierarchies have lost their significance. A few twitter posts today can do more for a company’s market perception than a report that discloses its financial standing. Expert articles, tips from popular bloggers, customer opinions on social media, and online debates going viral can all have a critical impact in today’s world of communications. In a sense, communications have become a “no-holds-barred” contest. This multitude of communication options is a challenge, as well as a huge opportunity. It can make your head spin, especially if your field is corporate communications. How do you get across to busy workers? How do you respond to online critique from service and product users? How do you stay in touch with loyal brand observers? How do you build the commitment of increasingly demanding clients?
Look for signposts
Are there any fixed rules and patterns in all this uproar? I certainly think so, with the caveat that things may well change completely in a year or two, forcing us to juggle very different buzzwords and concepts, as delivered with the help of infographics. Let us nevertheless attempt to identify the key laws and principles that govern content for effective internal and external communication and that are both valid today and appear to be poised to remain so in the near future. What makes some content an instant hit and other harmful despite our good intentions?
History comes first
One concept that has made a stellar career in the world of communication is storytelling. While some experts consider it overrated, I think a good story is crucial for both internal and external communication. Storytellers need to be imaginative – they must carefully define their target groups and learn about their woes and expectations. You need to be able to fill your message with compelling images that can capture people’s imaginations. Both the content and the style matter – an overbearing, stilted style peppered with marketing jargon won’t cut it. On the other hand, a great story will engage the target group and evoke an emotional response. Beware of boring and tiring your audience. Your message will have to compete against many other spontaneous and informal stories out there created by bloggers, and others. A well-balanced style with a good measure of informality and genuineness added to your professional message is worth its weight in gold. A perfect example of a business in which today’s marketers rely on storytelling is banking. Instead of bland announcements of competing interest rates on loans and deposits, customers get a story about life, a defining moment, a fascinating biography or an incredible adventure. Engaging stories will forge positive associations with a brand and prompt consumers to visit your website for a more specific message.
We are visual creatures
In a sense, little has changed since the times when traditional media would live by the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. Today, the principle is more relevant than ever. Numerous studies and infographics, which summarize the latest communications trends, clearly support one fundamental rule: today’s viewers want images, preferably moving ones. Therefore, make sure to back up your verbal message with an appealing photo, and preferably also a video. A well-chosen photograph can go a long way toward strengthening your message and its reach by tens of percentage points. Rather than dwelling on this point, I would like to recommend an excellent study on the role of the visual messages in communications. The article is a brief compendium of all the basic information you need to know about the topic.
Send your workers to the kitchen!
Are videos universally effective? Are they as powerful in internal communications as they are in media campaigns? Absolutely. Budget constraints aside (internal communications budgets tend to be considerably smaller than those allocated to external campaigns), a good video can safely be expected to achieve several aims: it can build your team, bring business units up to date on company developments, boost the organization’s image as an employer and evoke positive emotions in your workers. Imagine a food industry company. One potentially great idea is to get the workers to prepare meals using the company’s products. In an age of highly popular cooking shows, this form of communication may turn out to be a huge success. The filming of workers preparing food in a kitchen, competing to produce the best dish from a prescribed recipe and then tasting the food and judging it together can be great fun and ultimately make your team grow stronger. There is even a chance that the video will go viral and do wonders to your brand and company image, as perceived by your customers and prospective hires.
Virtual reality is coming
I have limited myself to two examples, which of course do not cover the whole topic of the role of content in contemporary communications. I will close with an observation on what to expect going forward. Many publications on future trends in content marketing predict a steady rise in the popularity of visual messages. A number of other forecasts speak of the growing importance of virtual and augmented reality. The topic warrants a whole separate article. All I’ll say for now is that the near future is likely to rely on technologies that support a variety of visual content. Modern communication strategies will thus turn away from the real world and favor a virtual space that assaults people’s senses with an onslaught of powerful images.
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