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It’s All About Relationships

Our recent posts have been about cultural intelligence; today we’re going to toggle over to the other half of what Five Directions offers: help to design clear, powerful, and effective communications with your constituents or customers. Though qualitative research and strategic communications may seem unconnected, they actually go together quite well, like yin and yang, like peanut butter and chocolate.

In a word, it’s all about Relationships. (And how fitting, for Valentine’s Day!)

Whether you are a solo entrepreneur building your own business, a nonprofit staff or director, or a part of a corporation, one of your most important goals is to build a good relationship with your audience and to inspire them to become engaged and invested in your mission. To do this, you need to understand where your audience is coming from and what’s important to them (this is where cultural intelligence and qualitative research comes in), and then to communicate in a way that really resonates with them. The keys to a good relationship are deep listening and observation skills, in tandem with mindful communication.

To work with the second half of the equation, we like to use an approach called Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC). Simply put, what holistic medicine is to health care, IMC is to marketing. It is relationship-based rather than formula-based, and it places a high value on the characteristics and needs of the customer (or in the case of a nonprofit, the member or supporter).

IMC draws on a wide variety of “channels” to reach people, including print, radio, television, and web advertising; direct mail; press releases; promotions and event; and of course the more interactive Web 2.0 social media, like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs like this one.  Just like a DJ strives for the right mix that will move her audience to dance, IMC is all about finding the combination that will click for your particular business or nonprofit.

How can you begin to create an integrated marketing and communication plan? Here are three questions that can help you in the early stage. They are deceptively simple – you may think you know the answer to each right away, but thinking more deeply and getting feedback from others will raise the quality and accuracy of your answers and consequently of your plan.

1. What are your goals?
Are you trying to build a new audience? Encourage more participation from a current audience? Spread an idea? Sell a product? (If so, at what volume?) To build an effective marketing and communications plan, it’s essential to be clear on what your desired outcome is. Your goals should be as specific and observable as possible.

A special note if you are in a nonprofit – a marketing/communications plan should always be created in conjunction with your strategic plan (or after its completion), and it should serve the overall goals of the organization. It’s easy to get excited about the idea of getting more supporters or members and dive right into a message campaign, but don’t get caught in a position where your marketing is driving your mission rather than the other way around.

2. Who is your audience?
Who is your target audience? Who is the most influential or effective group that will help you to meet this goal? This is important – you’re not trying to reach anyone and everyone, otherwise you’ll have no idea how to most effectively work with limited resources (such as time and money) to meet your goals.

For example, if your nonprofit is membership-based and most of your members are over 50 years old, you may decide that it’s important to gain more younger members. So your target audience for a marketing and communications campaign might be people younger than 30. This group tends to be much more involved with social media like Twitter and Facebook, so your marketing mix will probably contain more of this. Conversely, if you were trying to reach people over 60, a better bet would be to advertise in magazines such as the AARP.

3. What is your message?
The message is designed to achieve the goals chosen in step one, and takes into account what will be most compelling to the target audience specified in step two. It should be clear, simple, and concise.

Just because a message is simple doesn’t mean that it isn’t packed with meaning. For example, one of the most effective messages in the field of cultural change organizations is “Buy Nothing Day,” created by Adbusters/Culture Jammers. This gets right to the point, and it’s been very effective at raising awareness of the harmful consequences of consumerism, which was the desired outcome of the creators. In the 20 years since its inception, Buy Nothing Day has gone from a fringe idea to gaining widespread recognition.

Fenton Communications is one of the nation’s leading advertising and communication firms. They offer this guidance:

“The target audience is the most important critic of your message and approach. It is essential to go with what is most effective in reaching your key audience, not what most appeals to those within your organization.”

This is where you may want to use some qualitative research methodologies to better understand your audience and test your messages. Some of the ways you can do this include individual interviews, focus groups, and online surveys.

To learn more about how to set up a Relationship-Based Marketing and Communications plan for your small nonprofit or business, check out our free “Field Guide for Connecting Your Wonderful Thing to the World.”

Cultural Intelligence: How Do We Develop It?

In an earlier post, I introduced the concept of Cultural Intelligence, or CI. Briefly stated, CI is the ability to understand that we are always operating from our own, particular cultural lens, and to learn how to skillfully interface with people from other cultural perspectives.

Remember – “culture” in this context means more than an ethnic background. It includes any set of beliefs, values, and practices in which we are embedded, and of which we are often not aware.

On one level, CI is an important attribute because it helps us to more effectively and skillfully navigate in business settings. On a deeper level, CI can enrich our lives and relationships as we enter into situations with more wonder and openness. Often, our most transformative learning experiences and deepest relationships take place when we understand and learn from different perspectives rather than staying ignorant or fearful of them.

So, how do we develop our CI? As I’ve been thinking about this, I’ve discerned three steps. I’ll summarize them here, and then go into more detail in future posts.

  1. We need to recognize that we don’t know everything.
  2. We can develop our capacity to be comfortable with not knowing.
  3. We can develop our capacity to problematize a situation or a statement, and learn to ask good questions about it.

The book CQ: Developing Cultural Intelligence at Work, by P. Christopher Earley, Soon Ang, and Joo-Seng Tan is also an excellent resource on this subject.

Finally, I’ll end with a story.

I’ll never forget a trek I took many years ago through the Swiss Alps and countryside. After one very hard day of hiking up and down steep inclines with a heavy backpack, my knees were killing me, and my friend and I were on the verge of collapse.

We came into a village and began looking for an inn mentioned in our guidebook. An older woman who looked as though she lived in the village passed us on our right. I greeted her with a “Hello,” and then, before waiting for her response, asked her if she could tell us where the inn was located. She stared at me and didn’t say anything. I wasn’t sure if she spoke English, so I tried my request again, saying it slower this time. The woman continued to stare at me. She didn’t walk away or indicate that she couldn’t understand, so I thought I’d try one last time. After my third request, worded nearly the same way as the first, she finally responded to me in perfect English (with a slight German accent). She was livid, and shouted, “You Americans, so rude. Don’t you know how to say ‘please’?” She walked off in a huff, refusing to help us.

I was devastated by this woman’s response, and nearly in tears. I had no idea that one omitted word could make such a difference in how I was presenting myself.

CI may or may not have made this a smoother interaction, as I had no way of knowing that “please” was so essential to the social glue for this particular woman. But if my CI had been a bit more developed, I might have been more adept in asking my question with different phrasing and by chance hit upon the word “please.” Or, at the very least, I would not have been so devastated and would have understood from the start that we were coming from very different backgrounds and I did not know what was important in her world.

Ideas Worth Spreading

Last month, I attended TEDxTamaya, a locally organized version of the popular TED events that have helped to spread interesting ideas to hundreds of thousands of people since 1984. In fact, that’s TED’s motto: “Ideas worth spreading.” (By the way, TED stands for “Technology, Entertainment, and Design.)

The format is simple — each presenter has 18 minutes to convey their story and their idea. This short time frame seems to help people to pack the most into their presentation and to distill the essence of their idea in a powerful way. The presenters come from diverse fields — engineering, art, politics, and more — so it’s kind of like sitting in a fascinating salon and receiving a liberal education, in the tradition of lively gatherings like the ones that Mabel Dodge held in Greenwich Village nearly a century ago.

I loved the TEDx event that I went to, which was held near the Santa Clara Pueblo near Albuquerque. Most of the speakers were ‘live,’ but a few of the all-time-great TED talks from other locales were shown on video, including “My Stroke of Insight” by Jill Bolte Tayler.

In the spirit of going to essence, here are some of the ideas I took away from the day that I thought were worth sharing:

Jill Bolte Taylor, neuroanatomist (via video) “The more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner peace circuitry of our right [brain] hemispheres, the more peace we will project into the world and the more peaceful our planet will be.”

Phil Klein, software developer: The chances that we’ll be in a plane crash are much smaller than that we will get cancer (4 out of 10 of us will). Shouldn’t we be as emotionally and physically prepared for getting cancer as we are for knowing what to do in the event of a plane crash? (Phil is a cancer survivor which made this an especially moving presentation.)

Dr. Gerry Yonas of the Mind Research Network: Today’s most pressing problems are ‘wicked’ problems – that is, they change while we’re working on them. We can use neurosystems engineering to start solving some of the the wicked problems in neuroscience, such as PTSD.

Naomi Natale, artist and activist, founder of The Cradle Project and One Million Bones: We need to be visual in our messages so that people can understand their part in a movement and engage in it.

Michael Reynolds, creator of Earthship houses: The technology is here for carbon-free living, but codes and regulations are inhibiting it.

Cathy McGill, singer and songwriter: Music is for everybody – we can all have access to its healing power, no matter what we think of our ‘talent’ for music.

George Martinez, founder of the Global Block Foundation: We need to re-define Free Trade – we can apply this concept to ourselves as individuals, and not limit it to corporations.

Alice Hopkins Loy, founder of the Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship: Cultural entrepreneurs draw on the traditions of a community to create and produce a product. The beauty of this model is that it generates revenue for that community and allows for self-determination as well as expression of place and values.

Dark Times: A Solstice Reflection

On the occasion of the Winter Solstice, I’m going to take this opportunity to steal from myself… this is an entry I posted a few days ago on my other blog, The Jizo Chronicles. As you read it, it might help to know a bit about Buddhism, but even if you don’t I hope you’ll find the article interesting. It occurs to me that the six principles listed below could be applied to many areas of our lives, not just activism.

Moon over Santa Fe

In just a couple of days, it will be the Winter Solstice – the longest night of the year. The other day, I was wondering what it must have been like to be one of the early humans, before there was a body of cultural and scientific knowledge built up to assure us that the light would, indeed, return as we turned the corner on this day and headed once again toward Spring. It must have been terrifying to see the sun drop lower and lower in the sky each day and the night grow longer and longer without really knowing if that trajectory would reverse.

So this is a dark time. And it feels like it, not only astronomically but also the world right now. Health care reform, at least in what I would consider any meaningful form, is for all purposes dead. It seems as though the insurance companies stand to gain the most if the current version of the Senate bill is to pass. The climate summit talks at Copenhagen have stumbled along, revealing just how much the richer nations of the world are determined to not step up to the plate and take needed actions to effectively address global warming. The economy is still in the toilet, and at least 15 million people are without jobs this holiday season (source: US Dept of Labor )

Fortunately, if you try to work with principles of socially engaged Buddhism, all this does not, necessarily, have to feel devastating. Even though it kind of is.

A number of years ago, I was the scribe at a meeting of representatives from Buddhist Peace Fellowship chapters from around the U.S. I took notes as they each described what kinds of actions and events they were organizing in their local chapters, and even more importantly, how they were doing these things.

A whole Mandala came out of this exercise that I’ll share in another post. For the moment, I just want to pull out the six qualities, informed by Buddhist practice, which emerged as ways that these folks perceived and practiced their activism in a unique way.

  1. Looking at an issue through the lens of dharma, questioning the notion of “self” in relation to activism
  2. Recognizing the truth of interconnection
  3. Offering a calming presence
  4. Having patience, being willing to slow down, recognizing the long arc of change
  5. “Being with not knowing,” non-attachment to views and goals
  6. Infusing our activism with bodhicitta, joy

Right now, those last three qualities might be especially helpful for us to remember. I don’t intend to be Pollyanna here, and breathing and smiling will not make the bad situations go away. But to truly be of use and to be effective as we try to nourish a more just and sustainable world, it can be helpful to ground ourselves in these principles. And remember that light and dark are always part of each other.

In the light there is darkness,
but don’t take it as darkness;
In the dark there is light,
but don’t see it as light.
Light and dark oppose one another
like the front and back foot in walking.

~From the Sandokai (Harmony of Difference and Sameness)

Cultural Intelligence

Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

We hear a lot about Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence, concepts coined by Daniel Goleman, but I’d like to propose that there is also Cultural Intelligence – let’s call it CI for short. What is this, and why is it important to you?

I’m not the first to think of this concept (though I wish I was). There are a number of references to CI on the web. The interesting thing is that there doesn’t seem to be a standard definition, and everybody comes at it from a different angle. Here are a couple:

The Business Section of the Times Online from London talks about it this way:

In a global economy, truly effective communication takes more than fluency in several languages. It’s no longer enough to have read the do’s and don’ts of business etiquette abroad; to succeed you have to have advanced powers of perception, also known as cultural intelligence, or CQ.

Elisabeth Plum, a consultant based in Denmark, defines it this way:

Cultural Intelligence (CI) is the ability to bridge and benefit from the cultural complexity of people with different nationalities, work areas, professional backgrounds, personalities and organizational cultures.  Cultural Intelligence (CI) combines the emotional, the cognitive and the practical dimensions of cross cultural encounters and provides a more effective and fulfilling cross-cultural collaboration.

The piece of the definition that I want to highlight is that “culture” doesn’t always mean those who come from a different ethnic background than you. That’s one dimension of culture, but there are plenty of others. To put it succinctly, “culture” is a set of beliefs and values about the way the world works, about how to treat each other, and so much more. These beliefs and values evolve in a group over time, and are often held unconsciously or just beneath consciousness.

There are cultural beliefs, values, and practices that go along with being a man or a woman, coming from a lower-class family or an upper-class one, growing up in the city or in a rural area, living life with a physical disability versus being able-bodied – just to name a few. That’s not to say that everybody in a given group is exactly alike, just that there is an invisible fabric that often binds people of a group together even when they don’t know it’s there.

I’ll write more about CI in coming posts, but here’s just one example of why it’s an important concept in the work setting. Let’s take the scenario of hiring a new member for your team, or a leader such as a CEO or executive director for a nonprofit organization. In your search process, you may well come across very skilled candidates, people who seem to fit all the criteria you’re looking for. You hire one of them, and a few months later you realize it’s a disaster. It just doesn’t seem to be a “fit” in the way you thought it would be, and either you let the person go or he quits.

What is very likely going on is a couple of things. As part of the search process, it’s important to define what your organizational culture is – those explicit and implicit beliefs and values — and who might or might not feel comfortable within it. If you didn’t do this, you missed screening candidates for some important factors that would impact on their ability to thrive in your organization. The other possibility is that the new employee might not have had a very high CI quotient and therefore was not able to successfully perceive and adapt to the culture. Either way, it really helps to develop your own CI so that you can create the conditions for success for new employees (and current employees as well).

More on CI soon… in the meantime, please let me know what you think about this concept and how you’ve worked with it.

Five Directions: Where We’re Coming From

This blog complements my business, Five Directions Consulting. I’ll share cultural insights and tips on skillful communications that can help you understand and connect with your audience — whether you run your own business, direct a nonprofit, or are simply interested in the everyday impact of culture and communication.

I hope that this blog will offer thought-provoking and useful information to support your efforts, and that you’ll feel inspired to jump in and add your ideas as well.

First, a little about the name “Five Directions.” Perhaps the most important thing to know about me is that I am a big fan of paradox. According to the dictionary, a paradox is a “seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true.” Oscar Wilde was one of the masters of paradox… some of my favorite quotes come from Mr. Wilde:

  • “I can resist anything except temptation”
  • “A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.”
  • “Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.”

The name “Five Directions” is meant to be a kind of paradox as well, to give you a brain hiccup and help you think of things in a new way.

We usually think in terms of four directions, so what is this fifth direction? As it turns out, a number of cultures use the framework of five directions rather than four – the fifth direction is the center. This makes sense, when you think about it. How can we really know what direction we’re looking at, what’s going on around us, unless we first know where we’re coming from?

The other reason for “Five Directions” is to point to the many sources that we draw on for our work. A few of the streams that flow into my river:

  • Mindfulness practice as the foundation for all I do. I’ve been practicing Buddhist meditation since 1993, and I can’t begin to tell you all the ways that my life has changed and improved because of that. I’ve also learned that coming at work situations from a mindful perspective can transform the process and outcome of our efforts.
  • A respect for different ways of being in the world. Academic and field training as a cultural anthropologist, as well as many years working in the mental health field, have made me appreciate the diversity of different ways of knowing.
  • The power of words to connect people and convey ideas. As a writer and an editor, I am always tuning into language.  I believe in an integrated communications and marketing approach, and I’m especially interested in the potential of  social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook to maximize opportunities for connection and messaging.

My colleague Lisa Faithorn will also contribute to this blog on occasion. We look forward to getting to know you better and continuing the conversation!