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How Effectively Do You Communicate With Stakeholders?

Tell me something I don’t already know. Or if you do, tell me in a new way that makes the message relevant to me and useful in my life – both professional and private. More to the point, tell me what it means and why it matters.

Digital communications have proliferated and most of them are near misses, or even worse, totally inconsequential to their audiences. Spray and pray is an anachronism in a digital marketplace. Customized communications are now table stakes. Think context when you think content. And think empathy when you think messaging.

Also think telling a story that is relevant to recipients. Storytelling remains “king” and is even more important than ever in achieving organizational goals of immersing, engaging and retaining customers, subscribers and members.

After making it through the worst of the pandemic over the past 16 months, there are three true things: People are cynical, needy and cautious. The opportunity for effective communications with your members, customers, subscribers, stakeholders is to rethink your legacy best practices and reinvent your touchpoints with stakeholders to make your organization personal, relevant and targeted.

Communications Considerations

At 2040, we advise our clients to consider communication strategies from the stakeholder’s perspective, not the organization’s. It is so tempting to fall back on the tried-and-true approach of telling them what you want to tell them irrespective of their interests or needs. Your organization now exists in an omnichannel world, made more complex by the most diverse and multi-generational marketplace in history, a market in which that one customer, subscriber or member can interact with you across all channels and mediums.

Customers want digital products, services and interactions along with traditional physical world products, services and interactions. And they expect everything you offer to be delivered with consistency across each and every touchpoint and channel. Communications must be coordinated across all channels, language must be relevant and mindful of your audience’s expectations, nuanced to resonate with distinct groups and classes of people and messaging must always be customer centric.

How to Communicate With Stakeholders

Fundamentally, we believe we are effective as communicators when what we write and say makes perfect sense to the recipient. The choices are crucial. We choose the words to use, information to include and information and even data to omit. Each of our choices comes from our base of knowledge, values and experiences. But the pitfall is that our communications choices are not necessarily always aligned with those of others.

  • All of us understand things based on our exposure to a concept, thought process or a way to solve a problem somewhere along the way in our lives.
  • We typically make assumptions that those we are speaking to have our same basis of understanding.
  • Outside of our direct families and immediate social circles, it is unlikely that a communicator and those that receive the communication have shared knowledge and experience.
  • Organizational staff are generally not also customers, members or subscribers. Therefore staff members are often challenged to “see” what the customer sees, understand what the customer understands and create communications correlated to stakeholders’ needs and wants.

Organizations historically have valued those in an organization who have legacy knowledge and perspective, which informs what the organization is about, what it offers and how it provides what it offers to customers. But the opposite is actually more valuable: Our perceptions should be informed by what customers want and why they want it. Yet, our perception rarely really connects to a customer’s life knowledge and experience — and a fatal disconnect takes shape.

We reaffirm here how critical thinking creates an understanding of how the many parts of a system work together. Each part is highly important to how communications take shape and requires stepping back and putting oneself in the role of customer, subscriber or member. Critical thinking is even more relevant in developing communications that are focused on an individual’s life stage, career stage or place in an industry or sector.

We find far too often that a task mentality and personal perception take center stage of the thought and communication creation process – not a true understanding of others. If a communication regardless of whether it is transaction-, marketing- or information-based is framed by the context of who customers are, it will resonate and result in greater connection and contextualization to who your organization is and what it has to offer. This also relates to all channels and especially applies to how an organization’s customer service department communicates via phone and email as they assist customers. One size does not fit all and the message should always be consistent and contextual.

We’ve identified key communications factors that can help spark understanding, deliver relevance and build context.

Unconscious Bias

The Achilles Heel of many communicators is their inability to recognize that not everyone thinks the way they do. Internal performance pressures on the marketing and communication team often result in ready tactics, quick execution and fuzzy measurement. Has your communications strategy evolved with the changes in your target market(s)? In consideration of diversity and inclusion, transformative-focused communications need to look like today’s customers and evolve to tomorrow’s.

To be clear, bias exists in anything and everything. Humans are a sum of their parts including their life experiences, values and views of people and the world. Humans experience unconscious (and conscious) bias most distinctly when they want to communicate with others.

  • A sender (the communicator) wants to send a message and chooses the terms to use and the gestures and facial expressions to best emphasize the words and various points he or she wants to make.
  • This bundle of communications skills is used with the intent of having the receiver understand word for word, the direct meaning they are trying to get across.
  • As humans we want to believe we have a wide range of shared knowledge and experiences — we do not.
  • Senders who seek to send messages surrounding change must recognize that the receivers will be interpreting and applying everything that is shared, said and communicated, written or verbally, with their own filters and perceptions.

So, take a closer look your communications. Are you applying critical thinking and reflecting the diversity of thoughts and values of those whom you need to message effectively? Are you manifesting and incorporating that type of thinking and recognition into how you communicate? Are you recognizing how what you are saying is being received and interpreted? Are you aware you may be communicating with up to five different generations in your audience, all with different outlooks, needs – and vocabulary!

Narrative Storytelling

How deeply do you consider the content you create? Do you take a neutral, professional expository approach? Is it factual and comprehensive? Is it written in the third person? Is it customer-centric or your organization’s party line? Are you tempted to just dial it in? The key guiding principle in communications that matter is to show respect for your stakeholders and engage them where, when and how they want to be connected. Honestly, it takes hard work to get it right.

In today’s dynamic, digital marketplace, there are so many options to communicate with your stakeholders based on their interests, history with your products and services, and professional positions. We recommend that above all, your content be informed by creating compelling connections. What do we mean by that? Use narrative and storytelling to make your brand accessible and engaging. Grabbing attention through anecdotes, experiences and stories is effective in drawing your stakeholders into your community and tapping into their curiosity.

Storytelling is an ancient art and powerful tool. According to Vanessa and Lani Peterson, Psy.D., a psychologist, professional storyteller and executive coach in the Harvard Business Review, “Telling stories is one of the most powerful means that leaders have to influence, teach, and inspire. What makes storytelling so effective? For starters, storytelling forges connections among people, and between people and ideas. Stories convey the culture, history, and values that unite people. When it comes to our countries, our communities, and our families, we understand intuitively that the stories we hold in common are an important part of the ties that bind. This understanding also holds true in the business world, where an organization’s stories, and the stories its leaders tell, help solidify relationships in a way that factual statements encapsulated in bullet points or numbers don’t.”

Kendall Haven, author of “Story Proof and Story Smart,” considers storytelling serious business for business. He has written, “Your goal in every communication is to influence your target audience (change their current attitudes, belief, knowledge, and behavior). Information alone rarely changes any of these. Research confirms that well-designed stories are the most effective vehicle for exerting influence. Because people identify so closely with stories, imagining how they would have acted in similar circumstances, they’re able to work through situations in a way that’s risk-free. The extra benefit for leaders: with a simple personal story they’ve conveyed underlying values, offered insight into the evolution of their own experience and knowledge, presented themselves as more approachable, and most likely inspired others to want to know more. Connection. Engagement. It’s no wonder that more and more organizations are embracing storytelling as an effective way for their leaders to influence, inspire, and teach.”

Science demonstrates that storytelling is a measurable tactic.  Liz Neeley, director of  The Story Collider spoke on NPR, “On functional MRI scans, many different areas of the brain light up when someone is listening to a narrative, Neeley says — not only the networks involved in language processing, but other neural circuits, too. One study of listeners found that the brain networks that process emotions arising from sounds — along with areas involved in movement — were activated, especially during the emotional parts of the story. As you hear a story unfold, your brain waves actually start to synchronize with those of the storyteller, says Uri Hasson, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Princeton University. When he and his research team recorded the brain activity in two people as one person told a story and the other listened, they found that the greater the listener’s comprehension, the more closely the brain wave patterns mirrored those of the storyteller.”

How does this relate to your communications strategy? Think podcasts, e-video messaging, livestreaming, video snaps on social media and e-content that draws an audience into your narrative. And revisit your website to reframe the content into a series of compelling narratives written in an engaging, accessible voice.

The Medium Is Often the Message

At 2040, we work with organizations of all sizes to help them achieve high performance in engagement and trust with their stakeholders. Today, with a portfolio of media choices to use to connect with current and prospective customers, communications need to be appropriate in tone, language and content for each platform. Added to that, stakeholders have made it clear they want to be connected with when, where and how they prefer. The role of a communicator is to engage stakeholders without personal bias about the content and how it is delivered. We are in uncharted waters with a multigenerational audience that has discrete needs. Get in touch with us to assess, analyze and actualize a communications strategy that delivers compelling content to strengthen your brand and grow your business.

Get in touch with us!

2040 helps organizations navigate the sea changes of finding their new normal. We offer actionable expertise in the strategy and operations of digital growth and engagement, empowering an empathetic workplace culture, strengthening your value proposition and driving revenues.  We’ve been in your shoes and we know what impedes transformation … and what unlocks it.

Onward and upward from the 2040 Team

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