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Digital financial communications

What do you do with the annual reports, product disclosure statements and other disclosure materials you’re sent by banks, super funds and similar organisations?

Hard copy rubbish

If you’re like many people, you put them in the recycling (or normal) bin – possibly without even reading it first.

This is annoying because

  1. it is a waste of paper and thus a burden on the environment
  2.  it is a waste of money to print and mail the documents – and guess who pays for that waste?

Going digital

communications_choicesA few years ago, legislation changed so that financial instructions can send some disclosure information electronically. That could be as an email attachment, an email linking to an online resource or even an SMS containing a link.

However, the super funds and banks could only do this if you consented to getting it electronically.

New digital rules

Under a new ASIC guidance, financial organisations in Australia can send disclosure materials to their customers/members by default.

That is, they will need to notify customers/members that “certain information will be provided by {explain electronic method} unless you opt out within 7 days of this notice.”

So once such organisations set up this notification and opt out system, we can all expect to receive such notices and then get fewer hard copy disclosure materials.

Going back to my first question – do you keep hard copies of such materials? If so, will you opt out of electronic communications now there is a clear choice?

If you were a financial organisation, would you swap to sending digital communications instead of hard copies?

Correct details in tests are critical

I came across another example of errors in details being an issue.

Our daughter’s school sent out an email including ‘(1 of 2)’ in the subject. The attached pdf explained they were testing the communications system for parents so we should expect two emails – if only one arrives, contact the school.

Testing communications seems like a good plan and the test seemed simple enough.

Then I got a second email which referred to being the first email of two and had the same attachment. Was it an error to get this email twice or did they accidentally send it twice? Should I reply to say I got it twice, possibly like hundreds of other parents, or give them a chance to explain the duplication first?

Flurry of envelopes flying into a laptop to represent incoming emails

Responding to a mistake can lead to a flurry of emails – avoiding that is one good reason to check details before hitting send!

Then, I got a third email asking me to log into the school’s site to read a letter. The letter was the same attachment as in the original email (which clearly states ‘this is the first email and please contact us if you don’t get a second one’).

Which detail is wrong – the letter stating a second letter was coming or the sending of the same letter twice?

Where does that put their test?

On one hand, I got both types of email so the systems are working and my contact details are correct.

Do they have my email address in the system twice so I will get two versions of every group email they send?

Was it human error to get the same attachment in the second email type or is that a failure of the system?

I can not reply as I got both emails or I can reply and explain I got three emails and the same attachment.

Which do you think will help their testing process more? What would you do?

 

Communications can win or lose votes

I don’t watch politics for fun. In fact, I don’t like politics very much at all and I often find their behaviour childish. Childish in a way I wouldn’t tolerate from any actual children…

Yet I am going to write a blog post inspired by a politician and Saturday’s election. It is mainly about their communications so no need to hide from another political statement!

Checking my options

Boat allowed to enter Australia

I am proud of Australia and am willing to welcome refugees.

Earlier this week, I went to a number of websites to find out more about the smaller parties. Namely because I can’t bring myself to vote for either major party this year – blocking refugees asking for help is simply wrong.

On each site, I looked at their policy ideas and details on their candidate in my area.

Learning from their websites

Based on reviewing a few sites covering the same basic idea (ie what the political party stands for and why we should vote for them), here are some useful website tips for us all:

  1. Summaries and simplicity are good.
    A short summary of each policy area with a link to greater details made one site much easier to read and quickly gave me an overview of the party. The lists of actual policies were also brief and to the point. It was therefore easy to decide whether or not I liked them.
    Other sites waffled on or gave me a long list of policies to choose from which was more intimidating than  a single-page summary.
  2. Dead links are frustrating and reduce your credibility.
    One site had my local candidate listed but every link on his name took me to an error page. Given I found the rest of the site a bit vague, I really wanted an impression of him to make a decision. Instead, I was frustrated and didn’t feel the party was very professional or reliable.
  3. Explain who you are fast.
    One site (and I spent very little time on their site once I started reading their offensive nonsense, so maybe there’s a reason for their web design!) had a huge banner and blog posts on the home page. It gave me no idea of who they were (not even that they are in fact a political party) which is what I wanted to know – their latest news is in the realm of politics I don’t care about!
    A clear tagline, an introduction or useful imagery can give information to site visitors quickly and makes life easier for people.
  4. Show information, or don’t – changing is annoying.
    I clicked through to an inner page which was basically a list of questions. Initially, I saw questions and answers but as I was part way through reading the start of one answer, it disappeared to show me a list of questions. Obviously, their software is set to narrow the content to just the questions but the loading time was so slow it showed answers first. Very frustrating to deal with as a site visitor.
    Have you checked how your clever settings actually work for site visitors? Often a simple solution works consistently so is better than a fancier option.
Choices about who to vote for - clarity, trust, briefness and more

What characteristics are important in choosing where to vote or spend your money?

Learning from the candidates

Remember how I couldn’t find information about my local candidate above? I found a media release about him and some others in his party which my local candidate had replied to in the comments.

There is both good and bad to be learned from those comments…

His first comment was long. Maybe a third of a page without paragraph breaks long (lack of structure may be due to the software, which is on the party not him, so I’ll give him a pass there!) It started with a lot of impressive words strung into a sentence or two that made absolutely no sense. Instantly I had no faith in him and no desire to vote for him.

The lesson – make sure anyone representing your business online can write reasonably well or do it for them. A genuine message is better than trying to impress readers.

However, I will give him credit for answering multiple people’s questions to the media release. Responding to comments and questions showed enthusiasm and passion, and listening to people is a precious commodity when it comes to politicians.

Yes, some of those answers were long winded and were nice ways of fobbing off hard questions but he was trying.

The lesson – respond to people online to build rapport, show your personality and gain another opportunity to explain your purpose or skills. Remember, people may see this rather than your carefully crafted profile – especially if a link is faulty!

What have you learned from this election?

Have you come across examples where a politician or political party has communicated well or poorly?

Maybe some of the above examples have inspired you to check your own website with a different perspective. If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below…

While I am not going to vote for a party just because they did the best job with their website, being able to easily understand the party does influence my choices.

Just like as a business owner or consumer I am not going to buy something just because you have the prettiest website, but I am more likely to trust you (and thus give you my money!) if your site is professional, simple to use and inoffensive.

But based purely on my descriptions of their websites, who would you vote for from the above examples?

Personally the first site I mentioned would get my vote – their summaries and easy-to-navigate site made it easy.

Clear communications can impact lives

Earlier in the week, I posted about aviation communications needing to be clear, especially in relation to homonyms such as defined via my Monday Meanings.

Further reading of the Flight Safety Australia article discusses other examples of technical conversations needing clarity including the Black Saturday fires in Victoria in February 2009.

Clear fire warnings

If you were in a fire affected (or threatened) area, would you want to hear

“A major wind event has occurred near anytown and there is fire activity with the potential to impact homes in the sometown area”

or would you prefer to be told

“Strong winds are pushing uncontrollable fires towards anytown and sometown. These areas are dangerous and we advice you get out now”

When lives are at stake, no one has time to think about the meaning of a message – they need to hear it and act accordingly straight away.

Concrete language

Clarity comes from using language easily understood and with no room for ambiguity.

Compare ‘potential to impact’ with ‘deadly, unpredictable’, and ‘messaging people in the area’ with ‘tell locals to …’

Concrete language has a specific meaning that is easily understood.

Concrete terms refer to things we can physically connect with and that stay fairly constant over time (for example pen is a concrete term as we know what it means and it hasn’t changed – there are different colours and types, but if I ask for a pen you could pass me one. If I asked for a writing tool, you would probably have to think about what I meant before passing something to me; and if I asked for a writing idea you couldn’t pass me anything!)

Instructions, procedures and critical information is more effective when written with concrete terms.

concrete language quote from Dale Carnegie

Avoid managerial language

In the words of Don Watson, “telling people requires language whose meaning is plain and simple. Managerial language is never this.”

Personally, I find ‘managerial language’ pompous a lot of the time and it makes me suspicious – why are you writing this so obscurely instead of saying it simply? Are you trying to trick me or hide something in the complexity?

A term like ‘populating the document’* is ridiculous! I interpret it as ‘filling the space’ or ‘adding fluff’ to make the document longer – remember those school essays with a minimum word count? it does nothing to promote your message and wastes everyone’s time so where’s the point?

 

* ‘populating the document’ was apparently used in a Black Saturday hearing by someone who had been ‘value adding’, ‘messaging’ and ‘communicating the likely impact’ to the people of Victoria.

Top six skills in a communications consultant or manager

I was recently asked to name a skill that has really helped me as a communications manager/consultant and for running my business.

The conversation got me thinking about the skills and abilities that help make a good communications person, and this is a list of the top six traits I came up with.

  1. ability to write well
    quill on paper by candle

    Writing basics are a good start in communications

    It sounds obvious, but you need to be able to write documents as required or at least recognise quality and issues  for provided documents and materials.

  2. coordination
    I spend a lot of time collating and implementing feedback, communicating client ideas and needs to designers, pulling together information from various sources and so on – if you can’t coordinate multiple people and tasks, managing communications projects will be a tough call.
  3. understand various tasks and roles
    I think it’s easier to work with designers, printers, marketers, programmers and the like if you have an understanding of what they do. It gives you common ground when discussing a project and a better idea of how long is required to get something done. That doesn’t mean I think I could do their jobs (I know I couldn’t!) but at least have an understanding of their expertise helps.
  4. confidence to take feedback professionally, not personally
    Not all clients will be nice about changes to work you’ve done, and sometimes criticism is harder to take than others, so you need to be able to work with feedback rather than get offended. You also need to know when to disagree with feedback
  5. good communication skills
    Being able to manage a communications program, maintaining website content, preparing reports and so on are the duties of a comms person BUT they must also be able to communicate with clients and suppliers to get the job done. Clear communication saves making errors and builds goodwill which you sometimes need to call on for urgent or difficult jobs
  6. be versatile and creative
    Different clients like to work in different ways, projects require various amounts of work and different tasks, some projects will develop in unexpected ways – there are many times that flexibility and creative problem solving come in handy.

    connecting jiqsaw pieces

    Finding how things fit together is a valuable skill

 

What other traits would you look for in a communications person to work with?

Have you come across a successful comms manager who doesn’t have all these skills and abilities?

Planning future communications

It’s the last day of the month and almost the end of a financial year so it seems an appropriate time to think about planning. In particular, planning your communications efforts for the next six to twelve months.

Last June, I wrote a newsletter article about some of the advantages of preparing a communications calendar. (Yes, this is the promised reference to old content!)

For people who like to be impulsive and don’t like plans, a communications schedule may seem a little restrictive – I mean, if you have rigid rules in place, you can’t decide on a new spring campaign just because the smell of flowers inspires you, can you?

I disagree (and I personally am not fond of too many rules and structures either!) as a comms calendar should be a plan, not a hard and fast schedule. So if inspiration strikes, you do a spring campaign instead of whatever you had planned for September. Or if a major event or industry changes occur, you adjust your approach to suit. You still have control. And get to be creative.

planning year of dragon communications

Grab the Dragon's power by planning

For the routine comms items, though, having them prepared ahead of time actually frees up more time and mental energy to be creative and proactive.

Have you avoided something like a comms plan because you prefer to be creative and ‘go with the flow’? I’d love to hear your experiences when you do (or did) try planning your comms ahead of time.

Accountable communications

What are accountable communications?

It simply means giving a message that is justified and that you are willing to stand by.

For many jaded consumers, the marketing message in many ads and business materials is not trusted because there have been too many hyped up, false promises in the past. And people understand that marketing companies use many techniques to support their message .

To make sure your message is seen as trustworthy and is accountable

  • avoid exaggerations (the occasional obvious one may work)
  • justify any claims
  • only give it in appropriate ways (i.e. don’t spam or annoy people)
  • check the details
  • use an appropriate look – colours, layouts, font sizes and so on all influence how your message is perceived. For example, the long letter with yellow highlights style of webpage doesn’t build trust in Australians as much as it appears to in the USA

What messages have you seen that didn’t come across as accountable or reliable?

Clear and repeated communications

Again, I am continuing on with a discussion of the Edelman Trust Barometer from February this year. (You can read the business trust and blog trust posts for background.)

Their media release states “Swift and accountable communications: Respondents said they need to hear information 3-5 times before they believe it. Companies should inform conversations among the new influencers on blogs, in forums, and bulletin boards. Australians under 34 are twice as likely to share both positive and negative information about a company online as their older counterparts – this trend will only grow. ”

The repetition of a clear message is important in getting people to trust you (your business) and accept that message. For example, any good presenter/teacher will summarise key points at the end of a topic as that helps others absorb that information.

When planning some marketing, remembering that people like to hear a message 3 – 5 times (and many have long said 7 times) before buying it means:

  • you may not get great results from your first attempt at marketing
  • consider how you can present your message in multiple ways rather than spending your budget on one ad
  • use images and layout to enhance your message – a stronger message may need less repetition than a hidden or weak message
  • every interaction you have with people in your demographic (and beyond) can reinforce or damage that message so make sure all ads, blogs, your website, your business card and so on are consistent, professional and appropriate for the purpose

Prompt communication is important in this information age – discussing an event well afterwards must be managed carefully so it doesn’t appear you are out of date. For instance, I could write that people affected by the February 7 bushfires are rebuilding and still need support all year but just writing ‘donate to the bushfires’ now looks very old.

Blogs, emails and social media are obviously key ways to making communications immediate and relevant – which is why I find it hard to believe they aren’t trusted forms of communication.

The value of clear communications!

I have recently being working through a training book (as a student, not a writer) and found various bits hard to understand. Luckily, I have a group of people around me who have been able to help interpret some of the questions – and I have interpreted other bits for them! I would hate to be struggling through it alone!

One question I thought I understood and prepared an answer for – it took me half an hour or so to get it finished and involved someone else getting some restricted information for me.

At the training course itself, my tutor read through my bookwork and pointed out that the question above was not correctly answered – it was asking for something else entirely. With that knowledge, I could just see what the question meant but it was a struggle! So I rewrote my answer – taking another two hours to do so.

A simpler example from the same training weekend was “Collect the names, titles and contact details for everyone in the training team.” I therefore wrote a list of names, titles and email addresses for the other  members of my team on the course (we worked in teams throughout the course.) I then realised what they really wanted was a list of the names, titles and contact details for the trainers themselves – THE training team, rather than my training team!

Clearer questions would have saved me the stress of worrying I knew what to answer, the confusion of having no clue what to answer at times and the time of having to rewrite some answers. So a very concrete example of how useful clear communications are!

Clear Communications

Anybody reading my blog or newsletter knows that I am passionate about helping people write clearly for their business purposes. Which I assume is why the Business Mums Network has invited me to speak at their next morning tea workshop.

The details are as follows:

Confident Communications

Who are you talking to?  The key to clear communications is keeping a focus on who you are communicating with.

This workshop will start by identifying the groups of people we may need to communicate with as a business and appreciate how each group is different and how information can be presented in different ways for best results with each group.

Monday, 26 May 2008 9:30 AM to 11:30 AM

Monash Incubator Centre, 5a Hartnett Close, Mulgrave

To register phone 03 9018 8947 or email events@businessmums.com

Click here to find out more.