Recently I've been working with the Connected Digital Economy Catapult CDEC on their business plan and I’ve been looking at how they might develop their marketing and communications strategy. It’s been particularly challenging for me as I normally approach this kind of work in an entirely intuitive way (I have a particular aversion to grids, schema or strategies) probably because I’ve believed for a long time that if you do things with honesty, integrity and passion then you usually don’t have to do much talking about you or your products (because others do that for you).
In other words if you’re relevant and have standing in the conversation, then things like press releases become pretty irrelevant. I recently asked Charles Arthur the Guardian's Technology Editor how many press releases he received daily and how many he actually used (as opposed to content sourced online and through social)? Traditional communicators should take note of his response:
“On average over the past five years I have received 200 press releases a day. On average I use one of those a day in a story, whereas Twitter and Blogs are constant streams of stories and sources”.
People like David Armano was writing and visualizing this approach in 2008 as what he termed unconventional marketing. Chris Brogan added to the debate in his 2010 book Trust Agents (Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation and Earn Trust) arguing that today’s influencers are web natives who trade in trust, reputation and relationships, using social media to accrue the influence that builds up or brings down business.
When working in my last job in Government Digital Services this was something that was implicit in the communications and branding strategy (and I use the word branding with caution here) most particularly in the work of Russell Davies who was responsible for so much of our voice in GDS. In his blog post The Unit of Delivery Russell sets out some of this thinking (and the challenges inherent in this approach for a lot of brands) arguing in a nutshell that “the product is the service is the marketing” or, put another way, build things that are so good people will want to use them and then you really don’t need to do much talking about them.
This is how we approached the creation of a single domain for government (GOV.UK) and it’s worth noting that GDS shipped a nation’s website catering for 30 million users a month without spending a single penny on marketing, communications or advertising. So it was never about hiring an agency to come up with an approved strategy with “key messages” for us to “land” but rather keeping focussed on our users who approved our decisions by using or not using the services we offered.
Harvard Business Review contributes a further iteration here describing three ways of approaching effective communications;
· Purpose (Why)
· Platforms (What)
· Partners (How)
Which seems to be a pretty neat update to the Who, What, Where, When and How of the traditional press release (invented in 1906 and which has hardly changed in structure since then).
The HBR approach is baked into the current version of the CDEC business plan so in deference to the requirements of a formal document I’ve drawn this diagram (badly I might add) which sets out how CDEC will be approaching communications and engagement (I’m glad to say CDEC have already engaged @Ellessonand @Mattrfox two talented design graduates from Ravensbourne to turn all our graphs and drawings into something a lot prettier which I will publish once they have completed them)
The diagram attempts to set out an agnostic approach to channels (whatever suits is whatever suits best) but three streams that run at the same time with different channels shifting in importance depending on context so our approach is broadly;
Establish the proposition and seek views from the wider digital community about the value that digital platforms and capabilities can bring (we’ve already commissioned some guest blogs on subjects like the Digital Copyright Exchange, Government as Platform, Open Health Data, views from the private sector etc. so watch this space in the coming weeks).
Embed those conversations by demonstrating value (CDEC should have some interesting outputs from their quick start projects that should demonstrate exactly what they are working on and what they and their partners have achieved).
Provide an opportunity to experience the work of CDEC collaborators and partners when the open theirr physical building in London early in the new year.
You might call it trust agent marketing (we do we do what it says on the tin) or you might just call it the product is the service is the marketing, but whatever you call it, if you like the approach and think you’d enjoy being part of the conversation why not take a look at the role of CDEC’s Digital, Media and Social Editor here currently being recruited.
And if you need a quick test of whether or not you are what CDEC are looking for, if you agree with the picture below, then the answer is probably not.