Normally, Communications and Marketing are closely aligned in external communications. The latest research from our CEB sister programs dedicated to Marketing and Market Research suggest some interesting lessons for internal communicators.
It’s become trite to point out that the amount of information available – to consumers, policymakers, employees, the general public, or any other stakeholder group we care about – has exploded over the last ten years. IDC has actually quantified this – all the information created in 2005 amounted to 5 exabytes. It’s nearly impossible to fathom how much information that is, but it’s equivalent to 250,000 years of DVD-quality video. By 2015, we will create nearly 8,000 exabytes!
In the marketing space, it’s not trite. It’s painful reality. As recently as 5-10 years ago, most marketers relied on just a handful of sources of information to make customer-related decisions: sales data, industry-specific syndicated reports, a few databases they might manage (e.g., direct mail lists), and their own market research studies. All those sources remain relevant; marketers are also awash in social media, web analytics, ever-more-granular data on every customer or consumer touch point, and even data generated by the use of their company’s products and services. A CEB survey of 250 decision makers suggests that most customer-related decisions are informed by eight or more distinct sources!
This volume of data quite literally exceeds the human brain’s ability to process it. We humans (whether consumers at the store or managers at the office) are wired to look at any and all information we perceive as relevant, but relatively few are good at making sense of the contradictions or discrepancies that inevitably emerge. So what do we do? We use mental shortcut: instead of reconciling conflicting information, we choose whatever seems most credible or resonant, or whatever reinforces prior instincts or hypotheses. Given this response, more information can actually make decisions worse, not better. And it makes us less confident in our decisions.
So what does this have to do with internal communications? The latest study from CEB’s Market Research Executive Board has uncovered a technique that prevents 54% of the bad decisions caused by conflicting information: they call it “synthesis,” which essentially means explaining how different sources fit together. Synthesis works because it effectively simplifies an otherwise-complex set of information resources.
Communications can likely play a helpful role in spotting (and helping correct) excessive complexity in information used within Marketing (have you checked out your organization’s marketing or market research portal?). Moreover, this idea surely has application beyond the customer and consumer data used by marketers – anywhere you see interrelated information resources made available to managers and employees, you can bet that creates real decision-making risk. Communicators can be unwitting accomplices to this complexity as we do our job helping business partners get relevant information disseminated. Can we instead prompt business partners to explain how these resources fit together and ensure that “synthesis” is available along with the resources and written in employee-friendly language?
One way Communications can help synthesize information for employees and make it relevant to their daily work is to ask business partners a series of targeted questions from the employees’ perspective. ConAgra Foods uses this technique to figure out and share only the information that will most help employees perform a specific task, rather than share broadly about the business goal underlying it.
On a day to day basis, we can make information more readily accessible through the intranet, by following some principles for designing a user-centric intranet. Use this intranet strategy tool to focus your approach and figure out what elements of your company’s strategy are relevant to share with employees.
Finally, as common sense as it sounds, we must remind ourselves that not all information needs to be shared with everyone in the company – timing and prioritization are important. For example, a simple mapping exercise of all messages that hit employees can be an eye opener in prioritizing which pieces of information are essential to filter through.
These are only some of the potential ways of synthesizing information for employees. I’m curious what other tactics have you found useful? How are you working with Marketing or Strategy colleagues to make information more accessible and actionable for company staff?
For more information on the underlying research referenced in this blog, check out of these links: