Persuasion: A novel theme for 2017

Getting other people to do what you want is a critical part of any digital manager’s job. David Bowen suggests who to persuade, and how.

In the overworked world of three-letter titles, I would like to suggest another: Chief Persuasion Officer. I would also like to propose that anyone now called digital comms manager, or something similar, should automatically be appointed CPO. That this would put them straight into Star Wars is no bad thing – they need to be noticed more.

Much of a digital manager’s job comes under the broad theme of persuasion. We are using it as a theme for our conference this year, not because it is new, but because it is just so important. As many people as ever need to be persuaded of this or that. It is, after all, a much better way of getting things done than insisting, demanding or ordering.

Here are the targets, the problems and some suggested solutions.

CPOs needs to persuade:

·      Their bosses. Problem: An alarming number of senior managers don’t see the internet as anything more than a selling tool. Or, in corporate headquarters, as inferior to print (a glossy annual report is still what it’s all about for some people). Solution: We have seen some good success with ‘upward education’: if you can persuade your boss – maybe the head of corporate comms – of what needs to be done, he will then persuade his boss; maybe the CEO. And once a CEO is happy, things tend to start happening.

·      Bosses around the company. By which I mean country heads, divisional heads, and such like. Problem: Not a general lack of interest, but great variation. At one end there are people who think digital comms is either baffling or a waste of time, and won’t let their staff spend the time or resources they need. At the other are bosses who think they know best, and prefer to use local agencies and their own ideas. It is difficult for anyone at the centre to persuade either of these groups, unless through an edict from the CEO. Difficult but not impossible. Solution: Gentle education, constant communication and – if they are in the second category – getting local digital managers to do the upward education.

·      Digital managers around the company. Problem: If they have a lack of interest, they are in the wrong job. But the other problem – allergy to central control – is widespread. Most country or business sites have a dual marketing and corporate role, and marketing people just can’t see the point of relying on the centre for anything. Solution: Good governance combined with a central team that really can do things better than local agencies – if you are reducing their workload and giving local managers what they want fast, why wouldn’t they want to work with you? Of course ‘good governance’ raises a whole new set of questions, and there is no one structure that suits all organizations. I will just point you to a piece with, I hope, some helpful pointers.

·      Your marketing colleagues. Problem and solution: This is more a matter of getting a concept across, rather than getting specific things agreed to. We have been peddling the idea that corporate communications would be better called group or enterprise level marketing. More sexy and, more importantly, true: increasingly people are buying not just the product but the company (they like its image, ethics etc); while jobseekers, investors, journalists etc are customers in a different sense. Few corporate websites are marketing products or services direct, but they are very much marketing the overall brand. This in turn has a halo effect on all the things your marketing people are trying to shift (the halo may be more about protecting an uncertain reputation, but it is still a halo). If they understand that, they will see why corporate comms is a powerful partner, not an irrelevance. A matter of education as well as persuasion: this piece we wrote on the role of the corporate site in serving customers may give you some ideas. 

·      All your other colleagues. Problem: You want them to contribute to your lovely website or social media channels, and they can think of better things to do with their time. Solution: One CPO we know said her main tool here was ‘charm’, and you can’t do much better than that. Flattery works well too.

If you are really skilful you will get these different groups persuading each other, and you can go off for a well-earned rest in the Bahamas.

- David Bowen

If you’d like to pick up a host of persuasive ideas at our conference in June, do come along

Tiptoeing across the cultural minefield

Being 'culturally sensitive' is crucial to most of us. If we're not, we can easily get close to the box labelled racist. And yet if we don't acknowledge the difference between cultures, can we really serve everyone around the world equally well? People who work on the World Wide Web (read the words carefully) need to be more aware of that than most.

An e-consultancy piece headed 'Why do Chinese websites look so busy' trod the line well. It produced many practical reasons why this undoubted truth was so - most to do with the way the Chinese is written. But where he gets onto asking why there is so much animation, the author says, with a small apology, 'it seems that the Chinese are simply less bothered by flashing graphics that Westerners are, so what seems busy to us seems normal to them'.

I'd be interested to get informed comment (ideally from Chinese people) about this, but it would be odd if there weren't culturally-specific things that give websites national characteristics. 

When we advise international organizations on their look, we suggest they avoid a one that is too 'country-specific'. Jumping feet first into the stereotypical minefield, here are some ways we can tell what country gave birth to a site:

  • Germany: A preponderance of dark blue and white - rather austere.
  • France: Pastel colours - often pretty, but why do so many of them look the same?
  • US: Bold primary colours, people with wide grins and perfect teeth. Lots of capital letters.
  • China: Very busy ...

It is of course perfectly reasonably to say that we are proud of our country and its values, so we are very happy if people know immediately where we come from. But let's take Germany, with its rather austere blue and white look: Volkswagen corporate or Linde for example. Apart from the VW problems, there will be those (for example in pastel-coloured France), who find the look a bit, well, cold. And there are probably Germans who find the French look a bit, um, frivolous (try Engie or Danone).

I'm not going to be dogmatic - that would be culturally inappropriate - but it seems to be that a good starting point is to work out what the stereotypes are for your country, and see if you can avoid them. To do this, ask a foreigner. I'm British - the one sort of website I can't recognise is a British one. But I bet if I asked my friends round the world, they would come up with a handy list of things for me to avoid. 

- David Bowen