End ambiguity - Prelude

End ambiguity

I was at Jazz on the Green in Parson’s Green in the summer of 1998 when the founders of what became Innocent Drinks tested their product asking customers whether they should give up their daytime jobs by dispensing with their finished cartons in one of two bins labelled Yes or No. The Yes bin was filled, and Innocent was launched.

Of recent high growth successes, Innocent is a great example of a company that got their communication spot on and congruent from the start. Everything from their name to the quirky use of “enjoy by” instead of “use by” on all of their juice bottles. This takes time and effort but pays dividends down the track.

The most successful businesses aim to end ambiguity in everything they do. They communicate clearly and concisely in a way that is understood consistently by all their stakeholders. In my experience there are three rules to remember:

1.       Less is more

The message should be concise. Advertising copy is short for a reason. The three most-remembered slogans in one recent study were “Just do it!” “I’m lovin’ it,” and “Have it your way” (Nike, McDonalds, and Burger King respectively). Just 3 or 4 considered words, repeated consistently across marketing materials and media, beats everything else.

That doesn’t only apply to slogans of course, but all of your internal and external messages. But the shorter the message, the longer it takes to get it right, because precision is key.

Our strapline (incorporated in to the Prelude logo for good measure) is “entrepreneur driven” with the dual meaning: by entrepreneurs and for entrepreneurs!

2.       Avoid Chinese whispers

We all remember the children’s game of Chinese whispers, and the garbled nonsense that emerges when a message goes through several iterations. This happens all too often in businesses as communication cascades down through hierarchies or through teams. The resulting actions can be a long way from the original intention!

Having regular, well defined lines of communications can overcome this: perhaps a monthly newsletter for company-wide news, weekly team meetings, and well-structured management processes.

Equally, if you’re driving the business strategy, remember your management team aren’t mind-readers. As the entrepreneur you have an additional responsibility to ensure your team “get” what you’re saying. Commit yourself, don’t beat about the bush, and never assume that anything is obvious. I still make this mistake far too often!

3.       Communication is a two-way street

Communications don’t just go down the chain of command, or emanate outwards from the business. A business ignores feedback from its staff, customers, and other stakeholders at its peril. Create opportunities for dialogue to learn from your customers and team. However carefully crafted your message, if it’s badly pitched, no amount of repetition will stop it falling on deaf ears (or even doing your brand damage).

Clear communication is key in winning customers, motivating teams, enthusing investors and managing suppliers. Whether written or verbal, without clarity in your communication, all your hard work in sales, strategy, and staffing can so easily go awry. If the wrong message gets out, or the necessary guidance isn’t provided, the best laid plans can be undone in a moment.

As Arthur Schopenhauer put it “One should use common words to say uncommon things.”


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