This story originally appeared on Forbes.com on February 4, 2021.
Over the last few months, we’ve been on a journey through a process that we believe is essential to anyone leading any kind of transformation in any company. We call it change marketing. We’ve explored the important role that insight plays in revealing what employees really need from any change, as well as the power of stories to move people to believe and behave differently. This third and final installment brings all this together around the stuff we actually need to create to make any of this work. And just like our ability to listen and tell stories, the process of creation draws from something timeless and innate: craft.
There are a thousand definitions of the word “craft,” so rather than select one, I’ll offer my own: Craft is the compulsion to do what matters, not just what is necessary. It’s the work of making something meaningful, not just functional. Follow that through, and maybe doing “just enough” is the enemy that craft seeks to slay.
We can also look at it more practically: Craft is what separates good from great and what is memorable from what is forgotten.
Craft is why two chefs can cook the same meal with the same ingredients but only one wins the Michelin star. It’s why a celebrated book becomes a mediocre movie, and why the same joke told by two comedians gets different laughs.
So what does craft look like in communications? There are many highly talented creative craftswomen and men across the marketing industry, and each will have their proud perspective. Here’s ours as internal communications specialists:
Craft in our work is the distillation of a lot of listening, tinkering and dreaming into something that will leave our employee audience changed. It’s how a tired presentation becomes a heartfelt personal story, how an email starts a conversation across the company and how something that matters in the boardroom actually ends up mattering just as much on the shop floor. Craft is the difference between apathy and action.
We also believe that today, communications craft is no longer a nice-to-have.
Put yourself in your employees’ shoes for a moment. When they walk out of your building (or log off Zoom at least), they get on with the important work of living and enjoying their vibrant, interesting lives. And in those lives, every one of them is a highly cultured consumer targeted by the world’s best and most powerful brands.
Every day, they experience the most powerful, beautiful stories made by the world’s best creatives. They navigate seamlessly between channels and content formats. They give or deny their attention instinctively, and every time they do, they exercise their power over the corporations and brands vying for a moment in their lives. How do you think your boring announcement email survives in the midst of all that?
Many companies approach internal communications as if their audience is starving — and that anything resembling food will be enough. The truth is they are not starved. Likely, they are ambivalent or at best frustrated by the lack of care, clarity and service. They are not waiting patiently to be fed. They are the restaurant critics of craft.
How Can You Recognize Craft At Work?
Always start by looking at a piece of communication from the audience’s perspective. From their point of view, you should be able to see five simple elements:
1. Empathy: Creating an emotional connection with the audience. Does it make them feel involved, welcomed and included? Never prey on fear or uncertainty or tell people what to do without telling them why.
2. Recognition: Finding an identifiable spirit or perspective. Is this a voice they know that displays recognizable values? For a piece of communication to be memorable, your audience needs to know who is speaking, not just what is being said.
3. Precision: Using the right words. Can you see clearly that what is being said is what’s being heard?
4. Levity: Having a light touch. Creativity should literally be light work. It’s like making pie dough: If you overwork it, or there are too many hands involved, it becomes dry and flavorless.
5. Brevity: Not wasting people’s time.
How Do I Apply Craft To My Work?
If you’re thinking about the next thing you want to communicate, consider these three tips to help you find craft:
1. Know your audience. Listen to your audience and picture whom you are talking to. Make sure you know them. Give them a name, a face, a life. Know what matters to them, and it will guide you in making your communication something they actually want to see, read or hear.
2. Slow down. Is one great thing worth more than five fast things? We live in a society where speed is often expected and valued, but is it more important than a well-thought-out idea? Take time to honor every detail and to ensure that you are doing the right thing in the right way before executing. You will be more impactful in the long run.
3. Be confident. You are a smart human, and you made it this far in your career for a reason. Be confident in yourself and the work you present. Trust me, people can sense confidence in any deliverable. Trust your gut — it’s usually right.
Before You Get Back To Work
Remember that craft matters in everything we do. It’s why you and your colleague can both write a similar email and get a different response. It’s why that next presentation will draw admiration or ambivalence. Craft is the difference between meaningful change and mediocre interest. This adage has never been more true: It’s not what you say, but how you say it.