#403  from Innovative Leader Volume 8, Number 5          May 1999

New Communication Skills For the Millennium
by G. A. ďAndyĒ Marken

Mr. Marken is President of Marken Communications, Inc. in Santa Clara, California (phone 408-986-0100; email marken@cerf.net).

In the computer industry, there have been thousands of articles written about what will happen when computers tick off the first minute of January 1, 2000.  Often called the Year 2000 (Y2K) problem, the horror story goes that if billions of lines of computer code arenít rewritten in time, systems around the globe will come to a screeching halt bringing virtually everything to its knees. All because of a date on the calendar and a few lines of code.

But most industry analysts feel disaster will be averted.  Companies and governmental agencies around the globe are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into taking corrective actions so they can function in the 21st century.

Are We Ready?

But will todayís promotional and communications skills, programs and activities function satisfactorily in the next century?

Today, most firms and individuals practice very strong centralized control over their communications activities.  Most of a company's public relations and advertising efforts have been used to support the sales force and distribution channels.  They've been directed outwardly to generate leads and build interest among customers and prospects.  The goal was to sell products and services.  Directly or indirectly, communications success has been measured by the ability to generate customers and sales.

But organizational requirements are changing.  Management is beginning to understand that itís more important to find, service and support existing customers rather than focusing so much on getting new customers.

Global Business Climate

This is especially true as companies deal more on a global basis, moving seamlessly across country borders.  They are finding that global customers want global service and global communications.  Increasingly, they are dealing with the entire organization, not just pieces and parts of the organization. 

The same is true in advertising and public relations.  Management wants clear, concise, global messages.  They want global programs and information dissemination, not efforts that are cobbled together according to geography, business units or divisions on a market-by-market basis. 

But will this marketing and sales support be sufficient in the new millennium?  I don't think so. 

Successful individuals and organizations are developing new tools and skills.  In a number of instances, they are actually taking the lead in defining contact points--where and how customers and prospects want to be contacted.  They are helping management determine what means or media should be used and, perhaps increasingly, which customers should be pursued...and why.

Outbound, Inbound Communications

Most of our attention and efforts have been focused on external communications, getting the message out from the organization to the customer and prospect.  Few of us have really been concerned about the in-bound traffic from customers and prospects.  Internal communications--making certain everyone in the organization understands the company's goals and objectives--have generally been slotted under human resources or treated as the training ground to prepare people for the "real work" of communicating with the marketplace.

Increasingly, though, management is beginning to realize that communications is one of their most important assets and one of their most effective tools.  Farsighted managers are no longer simply asking for an ad to be produced/placed, a data sheet to be designed and printed, a release to be pumped out, an interview to be arranged or a press event staged to promote a product or service.

Management wants communications efforts, activities and programs that surround, enhance and lead individual products, brands and the organization.  They want communications efforts and activities to become the driving force for the entire organization to increase mindshare, marketshare, sales and profits.

Shifting Market Demands

This shift is relatively easy to understand if you analyze today's fast-moving markets.  Notebook and desktop computers are on a 3-2-3 schedule.  Three months to design and produce, two months to get into the market and three months to flush the products out of the channel so the cycle can begin again.  Increasingly, computer systems are being produced one-at-a-time, based on a customer's individual specifications and requirements.  Cars that were historically redesigned and reintroduced annually are now on a six-month cycle.  Even here customers have greater freedom in individualizing their purchases.  New men's and women's clothing designs are introduced quarterly rather than twice a year. 

In every market, companies begin developing their replacement products even before the present units are available in the marketplace.

In this rapidly changing environment, product differentiation is becoming impossible.  With the increasing use of the Internet and Web, conventional distribution channels are being challenged as individuals and organizations move from Web site to Web site and company to company to find appropriate product or solution features, availability and price. 

In this anyone-anywhere environment; organizations have to add value to their name, their products and their services.  They need to develop special one-on-one relationships with customers and prospects, whether they are across town, across the country or half way around the globe.  Communications now isn't simply a support activity, it's a strategic lead function.

21st Century Shift

The 21st century problem/challenge for communicators is how narrowly or broadly they define their efforts and activities for the company and their responsibilities to management. This doesn't mean they have to--or should--control and/or manage everything that goes between the organization, its customers and prospects, industry influences and decision-makers. 

However, they do have a responsibility to the firm's management and its employees to do everything possible to ensure the image and brand message is well understood and consistently communicated internally and externally.

Communicators can no longer focus strictly on what the organization sends out.  Rather they need to focus on what the customer or prospect receives.  This is a major shift because these individuals and organizations often initiate the contacts directly with employees at all levels.  They also get inputs from industry advocates, the financial community, governmental agencies, the media and other customers/prospects that share similar wants, needs and objectives.

Status Quo Is Failing

Communicators are no longer simply responsible for the tactical details--the releases, the ads, the direct mail pieces, the literature, the articles, the reviews, the event details and interview scheduling.  They must shift from only concerning themselves with inside-out planning.  They must increasingly take on the added responsibility of understanding the outside-in activities.  They have to develop recommendations and solutions for management to make certain the image and brand message goes both ways.

It's simple in concept, but far-reaching in terms of the organization's success or failure.

Without a full understanding of the responsibilities, and without constant attention to every aspect of the strategic role communications must play for today's global organization, it could be as disastrous as January 1, 2000 will be for some computer systems. 

In the Y2K situation, computers without the fix will show their symptoms immediately.  However, without fixing an organizationís communications system, it could be slow and painful...painful to watch, painful to experience. 

Unfortunately, too many organizations will continue to rely on their tactically driven activities.  They won't stretch themselves to focus on their strategic responsibilities.

1-50  51-100  101-150  151-200  201-250  251-300
301-350  351-400  401-450  451-500 501-550  551-600

©2006 Winston J. Brill & Associates. All rights reserved.