Awakening the Force with Infographics

Visual messaging, be it a video or infographic has found a special place in our everyday existence. Good visual design should be part of the the holy grail of interaction with the consumer, yet few companies consistently deliver. Apple probably is one of the few large companies to hit the sweet spot more often than not. With this backdrop, it is no surprise infographics have become a key messaging platform within a marketing campaign. Not only does it convey a consistent message in miliseconds it allows the viewer to focus on specific products or service components while having access to a bigger picture the company is trying to convey.

Crucially a good infographic should include the following considerations:

  • Simplicity: An overly complex infographic with many paths is confusing and will result in viewer frustration and a lost opportunity for positive brand engagement.
  • Consistent messaging: A golden messaging thread should be weaved through the infographic as a whole and be part of well structured campaign not an isolated element. All to often an inforgraphic appears to be an after thought.
  • Visually engaging: Viewers should feel incentivised to read the infographic not cringe as they follow the content trail. Being on Brand is key but infographics allow for brand extension with clever visual elements and the use of COLOUR.
  • A BIG ASS Call To Action: CTAs are sometimes overlooked when designing an infographic. The infographic is not a CTA, it only visually portrays existing product or service information differently.

Infographics are a powerful marketing tool and should not be relegated to being viewed as a graphic heavy document with words slapped on it. A well thought through and executed infographic can be the start of a long fruitful conversation.

Happy to hear your thoughts?

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Avoiding spin: Corporate Culture

Recently I had the privilege of attending a culture workshop at work co-facilitated by the brilliant Trevor Hough.

Culture

Culture workshops are generally a binary experience for employees. Either you like it or view it as a waste of time. I’m inherently overly optimistic and generally a glass half full type of guy and thoroughly enjoy culture workshops. If attendees are fully immersed and honest it’s a magical experience, but in most cases employees grind through the actual sessions as a chore. This in all likelihood stems from the view employee opinions are overlooked and the true cynic will argue it’s a witch hunt to unpack what employees think about management. I was however suitably impressed by Trevor’s pragmatic approach, clearly sculptured over years of experience as an Organisational Development specialist.

Subsequent to our workshop Trevor has written a rather interesting post which he has kindly allowed me to reproduce below. Not to be confused with Christina Aguilera’s 1999 hit song Genie in a Bottle, Trevor’s analogies work really well in conveying the power of the genie.

Genie in the bottle – Corporate culture

Having just finished reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, I was left thinking about the fairy tale of the genie in the bottle. Sapiens looks at the possible reasons why we as a species have come to rule the planet. He hypothesizes that it is our unique ability to organise in large social groups that has allowed us to do so. No other species is able to organise in large groups in complex ways, as far as we know.

If we pitted 5 humans against 5 chimps, Yuval’s money and mine would be on the chimps. However if we increased that number to 500, humans would win hands down. Harari, with substantial research data, postulates that what allows us to organise in this way is our ability to imagine. We are a species of meaning makers, of storytellers and believers. Unlike other species, we as Homo sapiens believe in myths.

We believe in gods, we believe in companies, we believe in human rights, and probably our biggest  belief is the money. None of these exist in objective reality. However they bring thousands, even millions of people together under a single belief system. You could not get a chimp to hand over his bunch of bananas on the promise that the piece of paper you just gave him would buy him many more bananas in the future.

It is because we take these belief systems as “truths” that allows us to organise in large complex groups. We are coded to join together with others who believe in the same “truths” by complex neuro-chemical discharges. It is this that (that) allows us to flourish as large complex groups.

Culture functions in the same way. Cultures are belief systems that allow groups of people to function together and feel a sense of community; they could be viewed as the glue that binds us. So long as the majority of the group believes in the same things, they are bound together.

Corporate culture is no different. Corporations are a very new phenomenon in the evolutionary life span of humans. They, like so much else we believe in, are imaginal entities. Take Apple: you cannot see it as an objective entity. Yes you can see its products, you can see its advertising campaigns and you can see the people who work for it, however you cannot see it. Companies are a construction made up by legal minds to create limited liability for people who started them. Companies are in fact legally seen as fictitious people.

The people who join these companies buy into the powerful belief of its existence, as we all do. Buying into the belief of the organisation existing we bring our own interpretations and desires of what that organisation will give us in return. These can include remuneration, career development, security and respect. We might refer to this as the psychological contract. It happens in all organisations. Take religions: in return for our belief, prayers and specific behaviors we are promised eternal life.

This might sound quite depressing, however we need to remember that it is exactly because of our belief systems that we have come to dominate the other species on the planet. Chimps or baboons don’t use iPhones or congregate in their millions to celebrate Independence Day.

So what does this mean for us in terms of corporate culture, and what use does understanding it have?

In order for any belief system to have power it needs to be believed by the majority of that group. In other words for the belief system to have power the genie needs to remain in the bottle. There will always be outliers, however it is the majority that hold the group together. So if we take it as a given that corporate culture is a belief system, we then need to ensure that how we articulate the culture is believed by the majority of employees.

Too often in my work as an Organisational Development consultant I have come across companies and consultancies that undertake work on culture as an exercise in describing aspirations or creating spin. What is aspirational is not always what the majority of employees experience on a day-to-day basis. So when the culture slides or glossy pamphlets are rolled out everyone nods their heads, then have a good chuckle around the water fountain. They silently collude with what is said for numerous reasons. Often out of fear of being ejected from the group. The old story of the emperor without clothes comes to mind. Whatever the reason, the story has lost its power and people no longer believe it.The genie is out the bottle.

 In organisations that thrive, what is said about culture and what is believed, match pretty accurately. People literally have drunk the kool aid. The power of the belief is that people pull together and feel a personal connection to the organization. As happens in nations and armies, buying into a belief produces amazing collaborative results. It is what makes us human. It can also be what allows us to commit atrocities.

Milgram in his 1960s experiments showed us the dark side of such believing, and it is something we have seen repeatedly over history. We have seen it in Nazi Germany in the belief of the Aryan race, in South Africa with white supremacy and it happened with bankers in the sub-prime crisis. In all these cases the majority bought into a belief and committed heinous acts in its name.

This therefore makes the process of culture articulation and culture assessment a complex and serious business that I don’t believe should be sentimental or smell of spin. The role of those that attempt to articulate such important beliefs is very similar to that of anthropologists. Experts in building trust, observing and understanding context, but importantly have enough personal distance from the belief system. Organizational consultants real value add is in understanding the power that resides in culture, both in driving performance and increasing engagement, but also in the destructive shadow side.

It is an interesting question whether it is the role of these “anthropologists” to speak another “truth” to those in power, and it is also interesting what the consequences of revealing might be. It is a complex position in that by revealing the different aspects of belief systems, as consultants we bash up against personal and social defenses of members of the system. We then place ourselves in the position of being ejected by the system.

I believe that whatever road we take is paradoxically grounded in our own personal beliefs of values and ethics. This is further complicated by those consulting in the financial services sector where the regulator is beginning to take a stronger interest in corporate culture.

Whatever road we take as organizational consultants, we should understand the power of the genie.

Thinking #TFSA?

After years of monitoring the success of the UK’s Individual Saving Accounts. SA has finally launched it’s version of the ISA, the Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA). Simplistically the product is a tax-free savings vehicle not a retirement plan. In its bid to encourage more saving after the less than exciting roll-out of the SA Retail Savings Bonds, the SA Government has allowed approved financial services product providers to include a myriad of investment options like unit trusts (UT) and exchange traded funds (ETF) within a TFSA offering. Importantly it has allowed investors to invest in UTs which if managed appropriately should increase in value over time while an ETF will have its value determined by the index it is tracking.This is where the TFSA comes into its own. Any increase in the unit price the investor receives will not be liable for the dreaded Capital Gains Tax it would have, in other types of investments. This alone should be a significant incentive for any long-term investor! Tax on any interest earned is also avoided. It’s not often a free lunch is so easily available.

Product providers are however prohibited from including investments attracting any performance fees. This has limited the number of approved UTs from the larger and recently more successful asset managers being included in TFSA products. In addition an investor is only allowed investing a maximum of R30,000 per tax year and a lifetime contribution of R500,000 across all TFSA products irrespective of the number of withdrawals concluded per tax year. Also remember no benefit rollovers are allowed, thus if you don’t use it you lose it. Where possible each family member should have an account opened for them to achieve the maximum lifetime benefit. Based on the UK experience I’m sure the maximum allowable investment per tax year will increase over time and this announcement should be made during the yearly Budget speech of the Minister of Finance.

When selecting a TFSA product amongst other considerations, the following are important clearly not the most important:

  • What is the TFSA product cost: what is the service provider charging for the product?
  • Selecting an appropriate investment for your specific savings goal: This will inform how much potential losses you can stomach over time.
  • What is the underlying investment cost be it a UT or ETF like Satrix: If not specified, who is paying for it and where is it charged?

If the right investment choices are made within a TFSA, significant long term benefits should accrue.

The Undercover Economist Strikes Back

Recently managed to finally complete reading The Undercover Economist Strikes Back by Tim Harford. An excellent read for those who have any mild interest in economics irrespective of how basic that interest or understanding is. Fortunately i’m able to interact daily with a number of the concepts Tim discusses making my reader journey really pleasurable. The rich history and insight Tim adds to economic ideas and theories have rekindled my inherent interest in the complex systems which economics tries to massage into theory. The story behind the MONIAC colloquially referred to as ‘The Phillips Machine’ was of particular interest and an example of Tim’s extraordinary storytelling ability.

The Question and Answer style of the narrative I initially found distracting but after page 20 it grew on me and is possibly the best format to engage readers who have little or no understanding of economics. The style puts the reader in the driver seat and diligently leads us on a journey of discovery. Although Tim is sometimes compared to my favourite author Malcolm Gladwell, I think the comparison does an injustice to both of them. Their styles are inherently unique and I clearly enjoy both of their works.

Tim’s focus on making economic theory real and practical ensured I was continually engage with the material which is written in a conversational style. Had I read the book during my last year of high school and even my first year at varisty my understanding of economics and how it permeates our lives would have been better entrenched and led to better exam and assignment results.

The book is a treat to read and has made it onto my advise others to read list.

UX≠CX

Although the difference between User Experience (UX) and Customer Experience (CX) appears marginal they are in fact substantial.

Simplistically UX focuses on how somebody be it an employee or customer interacts with a thing. In most instances this will be a digital interface like a website (consumer focused) or a call center interface (employee focused). CX on the other hand looks at the customers total experience with the organisation not only its website and includes the often variable yet personal interaction between a customer and an employee. This also extends to the physical space in which this interaction occurs. As CX evolves and matures, large and or forward thinking organisations will increasingly add this capability to its skill set and area of focus. CX like an organisation’s Brand is everybody’s responsibility but does need a champion with sufficient gravitas and authority to tweak multiple team’s interactions across the company to positively impact CX. Often processes which impact customers are silo-ed within teams who will fiercely protect their turf!customer-service-skills-cloud

If you subscribe to the formula ∑Brand = sum of experiences, the notation that CX straddles across the organisation intuitively and realistically makes sense. Tom Bottorf provides an interesting perspective when highlighting the difference between UX & CX. He describes the outcome of great UX as answering the the question: “How can I leverage this device to create the best overall experience for my customer?” while for CX: “What can we do to build the best possible relationship between customers and our company?”. The difference in outcomes are massive when trying to answer those questions although they appear subtle when reading it the first time.

When incorporating great CX in the organisation’s DNA, incremental changes to processes and interactions probably will lead to more sustainable results over time rather than a slash and burn approach with the hope that a big bang implementation will kickstart and ensure employees think about customers differently. Here being bold and using elements of Scrum through trailing different short sprints of prototyped processes and allowing employees the freedom to deviate from standardised decision trees depending on the customer should allow the organisation to find an optimal service model in a shorter space of time while ensuring the journey to great CX is embraced across the organisation.

 Happy hunting.

My Design Indaba

I recently had the privilege of attending my first Design Indaba (DI). After years of hearing different opinions about the conference which is staged before the Design Indaba Expo where designers creations are displayed and available for purchase in the biggest hall the CTICC has to offer. I must say I was blown away and definitely will attend next year.

Source: Design Indaba

Source: Design Indaba

The conference offers a glimpse of truly creative people who do not work, they live their passion and it permeates every aspect of what and how they do everything. Creativity be it designing an orchard that is receptive to female hormones by changing stem colours or producing a multi-faceted international marketing campaign lives in each of the presenters. One has to step back and congratulate Ravi for having the vision and fortitude to grind through the struggles he must have faced while sculpting the DI into the collective energy of like-minded people it is today.

My favourite sessions were:

Robbie Brozin the founder of Nandos. I’ve seen him present/discuss the birth and continued success of Nandos probably 3 or 4 times and am always amazed at his dedication, ability to remain relevant and positive perspective of our South Africa.

Yoni Bloch who created the amazingly interactive platform Interlude. Story telling with this platform has taken a very unexpected trajectory and remains a marvel to engage with.

Dominic Wilcox seems to straddle the multiple worlds of tech, art and design simultaeuosly. Easily enhancing simple products we use daily into works of beauty which are practical. His blog is worth spending some time on and should get the creative juices flowing before you know it.

Joe Public shared their story, rising from absolutely nowhere to being one of the most innovative and creative agencies in South Africa. Another truly inspirational story highlighting hard work in the right direction with the right people on board are absolutely key to achieving sustainable success.

Quote to remember:

“If your’re not doing what you love then I think you are crazy” Stanley Hainsworth

YOUR 10 COMMANDMENTS

This list is by no means complete. Its a summary of key considerations when creating and implementing a social media campaign within a wider marketing strategy.

Focus on people not tech

Technology is a hygiene factor, a ticket to the game everybody can buy. Connecting with people’s hearts and leaving them emotionally positively disposed to you is the only sustainable currency. It seems intuitive and very obvious but for most brands it remains elusive. Apple have repeatedly made a success of launching products that are people centric hence the sustainability of its success and its ever increasing share price and market valuation.

Build conversations, not campaigns

Campaigns have a finite timeline be it weeks, months and even days, but conversations linger. They push, prod and permeate your thoughts.

Content is an enabler

Content should not be the objective. Ultimately it’s a means to an end, it’s the firelighter sparking a call to action and hopefully the beginning of a lingering conversation.

Add value

Make a difference! Sometimes its tangible but most often its an intangible a feel good factor which over time is reinforced into a hallow effect for you and your brand.

Listen

Campaigns are perceived as communication in one direction whereas a conversation requires a speaker and a listener. Listening is inherently complicated, as missing messaging nuances can easily derail a positive experience. Listening requires patience, a willingness to understand and add value.

Spread the word

Positive reinforcement and remaining relevant requires action and persistency. Across multiple social media platforms this can easily be achieved without making the messaging redundant, stale or appearing repetitive. Get family and friends to share your content, remember sharing is caring.

Be prepared (Alert, Assess, Act)

Given the always on nature of social media engagement, remaining connected at all times is essential. Using an aggregator like Hootsuite allows for easy and timeous reviews of timelines without flipping through a number of web pages.

Measure progress

For a defined objective set up key metrics to measure the success of the engagement. Set benchmarks for specific milestones and never stop measuring. There is never too little data.

Continual optimisation

Tweaking and finessing interactions as they unfold is one of the key benefits of using social media platforms. Social media can be highly interactive or as dreary as a newspaper, the greater the investment in generating a positive conversation the greater the long-term engagement.

Be in it for the long-term (relationships take time to build)

Much like beneficial offline personal relationships which are developed over time through consistency of interactions, online relationships are no different. The same principles apply but are often forgotten given the perceived anonymity. Focus on remaining relevant.

 Until next time, please send your comments and thoughts.