When dealing with complex products and services, clear communication is important if you want to avoid putting people to sleep (…unless you work in the mattress industry).
Being able to articulate a complex concept is a must if you work in a technical field like we do – many of the partners and stakeholders we speak with don’t have (or indeed need) the same level of technical savvy that we do. They could be a C-suite executive of an ASX-listed enterprise, or an owner/founder of an SME selling widgets.
As someone who talks to people like this every week, I’ve had to come up with a wide repertoire of plain-English explanations and analogies in my day-to-day, without which I’d find it a lot harder to quickly, efficiently and accurately communicate what it is we do.
We all crave clear communication, which is why, I believe, it’s not uncommon to find large-scale tenders and RFPs to be front-weighted with communication and collaboration requirements, before any discussions around performance or service delivery are even mentioned.
In my years of working with clients, I’ve collected some great analogies, and I’m sharing my favourite one with you today. I’ve found that it effectively explains our different services, ways of working, and methods of problem solving.
And so without further ado, I present to you: The Baker, Mechanic and Nurse.
Factors: Method, Measurement Accuracy, Timing, Feedback.
Some activities in the digital media environment are much like those of a Baker.
They collect all of the ingredients, follow the recipe and put it into the oven into at the required temperature. If the recipe was for bread, bread is coming out (unless something goes wrong). Ingredients in, finished product out.
I most often use this when discussing our approach to Google Ads with new clients.
This is because mature accounts have the benefit of historical data, so we have an idea of what the output should look like; we can be fairly confident about how our “bread” will turn out. Often, only minor adjustments to the recipe will result in significant improvement, although sometimes a complete rebuild is…. kneaded. (Sorry.)
With brand-new accounts, it’s often quite the opposite. Whether a freshly created Google ads account or just-installed Facebook pixel, if we have no historical information to compare against and no previous recipe to inspect, what comes out the other end is harder to predict.
Factors: Diagnosis, Briefing, Method.
Some of what we do at our agency is more akin to a mechanic looking at a car: we need to open up the hood to work out what the problem is.
This simile works quite well to articulate the process of a technical SEO/Experience audit. The back end of even the simplest ten-page WordPress site can be widely varied based on the theme, structure and plugins. For example, Shopify, Magento and WooCommerce are three completely different solutions to the same problem.
Until the mechanic (or in our case, the SEO Manager) peers behind the curtains, the problems, limitations, recommendations and solutions have to be tempered with a reasonable degree of uncertainty.
In keeping with the simile, just because a mechanic may have worked extensively on your vehicle’s make and model before, doesn’t mean they’ve worked on your vehicle. There’s no substitute to getting the spanner out and having a dig around.
Factors: Diagnosis, Allocation of Resources, Collaboration & Communication.
My role as a Business Developer and strategy setter is much like that of a triage nurse working an emergency room on a Saturday night. Thankfully, the car crashes and drunken injuries are only figurative. Mostly.
Businesses come to us in various states of injury, disrepair or delirium, and it is up to us to get them to the right people within our hospital to ensure they’re looked after.
Just like patients, the requirements of each business are always very different and sometimes call for collaboration between multiple departments, and it’s the way that these different disciplines and departments work together that dictates when the patient can be given a new bill of health.
Cool story… but what use is this to me?
An all-too-common occurrence in agency-land is when a communication breakdown jeopardises a relationship, whether related to transparency of hours and spend, or an inability to guarantee performance.
While it’s widely accepted that anyone who makes performance guarantees is likely taking you for a ride, it’s perfectly reasonable for clients to ask for projections and expect to see the results that were promised.
That’s why I believe that finding ways to improve our ability to communicate with one another – using some of the techniques above, if they work for you – is the key to removing ambiguity and misunderstandings.
So next time you’re stuck for a way to convey a complex or technical concept, try putting on a baker’s hat, some mechanic’s overalls or a stethoscope.