(Originally appeared in Ad Age Collective)
Advertising, marketing, corporate communications and internal communications often get isolated from one another. While they are distinct disciplines, in many ways, they are shades of gray, desperate for someone to unify them. It is particularly critical to align and harness these functions now, when nearly every company is going through a technology or business transformation to deliver on a connected future.
When you go in search of the bigger, better story for a company or product, most people start with the customer. This typically includes customer research, focus groups, experiential testing and so on. This type of discovery is key to knowing you have a story that people will buy into but is not the key to activating that story in the field or the market.
Before you can get to the customer, or bring them to you, you have to work through a cross-section of teams to bring the new product or story to life. Those teams include sales, customer service, product development, IT, engineering and a host of others.
In advertising (or marketing or communications of any sort), it is essential to ensure those internal teams have a seat at the story table. They may not all have to tell the story, but they absolutely have a role in making the story real and building belief among customers.
Bring internal teams to the table, and ask them to tell you about the complicated, ugly realities of getting from point A to point B in product design, deployment and the customer experience. Ask them to simplify the story. While that’s typically your job, there are often geniuses who can articulate the essence of a vision if they’re only asked.
As more of the world transforms from being a “thing” (product/tangibles) company to a “technology or experience” (intangibles) company, you need to understand the story beyond the “things.” You must tell the story of how experience is (or was) created and why the customer and, often more importantly, your team believe something better has been created.
When an alignment exercise is done well, the bigger story that emerges does more than push units this quarter. It helps position the company (and you, as the agency that knows how to do this) as visionaries who can activate new realities.
I never thought Steve Jobs was selling iPads; I believed he was changing the world. The belief is what carries us through bumpy rollouts, early releases with bugs and products that have to be exchanged for a different model.
For years, we’ve been trying to get clients to produce cleaner Apple-like packaging and simplify their story, but we haven’t been making them sell their vision for the future — or show us why we should believe them. We may have asked for the meeting, but we haven’t ensured that the visionaries (wherever they are in the organization) were at the story table when we began our work.
We can keep reading stories about the death of advertising and the rise of (fill in discipline here), or we can understand that great, lasting advertising has always been about showing the way to a future (inside and outside of the organization) that people can’t wait to get their hands on.