When the Prime Minister announced a snap election on 18th April, it was not a political party, or a think tank, or a broadcaster that had the most memorable thing to say, but Brenda from Bristol.
It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since the untimely death of Prince. Last year’s news was a shock that hit close to home. I’m from Minneapolis, where it seems like everyone who loves music has some personal connection to the musical genius of his generation. I have friends and acquaintances from back home who played on his tracks, danced in his videos or were in the loop for invites to the many late-night impromptu concerts at Paisley Park.
My personal connection was a little more oblique. My dad taught Prince in junior high school, and founded and coached his basketball team. I grew up hearing many times the story of how my dad provided his star point guard with the sensible but thankfully unheeded advice to focus on school, because a career in music was a long shot.
I was twelve years old when Purple Rain came out, and the soundtrack of my adolescence was in large part a long string of Prince hits, made all the more personal because this superstar grew up a mile from my house, and never seemed to leave town for long. The Minneapolis Sound, the funk genre Prince pioneered, dominated the airwaves in the ‘80s, not just in the work of local artists, but woven into hits by Janet Jackson, Sheena Easton and many others. It made my hometown feel like the middle of the world, not the middle of nowhere—no small feat.
This is all a way of saying that a coincidence of geography and timing made it so that I probably paid more attention to the arc of Prince’s career than that of any other artist, and I noticed many things that set him apart that went beyond music. Reflecting on that career through the lens of communications, it’s clear that as much as music, Prince was a master of brand. After all, how many people in human history can be immediately recognized by an unpronounceable symbol?
The conservative world of professional services is about as far as you can get from rock stardom, but there’s plenty that professionals can learn from Prince when it comes to branding:
Nearly seven in ten large UK businesses experienced a data breach or cyber attack in the past year, according to data released by the government this week. For those running businesses in the UK, breaches are no longer a case of if, but rather of when.
With the average annual cost per company of cyber breaches put at £20,000 – and in some cases running into millions – firms are understandably investing more in security measures to counter the risks. What is less tangible is the reputational damage. Firms are strongly recommended to prepare for both the direct impact of cyber breach and its reputational consequences.
Consider this 10-point checklist for cyber crisis communications preparedness:
When the next history of communications and marketing gaffes is written, the past couple of weeks will deserve its own chapter. First there was Pepsi’s instantly notorious Kendall Jenner ad. Then came an astonishingly tone-deaf initial response from United Airlines to the violent extraction of a seated customer to make space for a company employee. Last Monday, Cosmopolitan magazine issued a teaser tweet on “How This Woman Lost 44 Pounds Without *ANY* Exercise.” (The diet secret? Cancer!) To top it off, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer inexplicably referenced Hitler in a bizarre comparison to Syria’s Assad — during Passover, no less.
While these gaffes are fresh in mind it’s worth unpacking how their messages failed so spectacularly. Each incident presented a separate communications challenge, resulted in a different type of mistake and offers a distinct case study. Or cautionary tale.
No one likes to be told they’re wrong. And in the age of “alternative facts,” it seems no one has to.
Bring your assumptions on the topic du jour to the internet and you will find whatever you need to maintain your beliefs and to discount anything that may challenge them.
Confirmation bias — the idea that we are prone to seek out information that conforms with our preexisting beliefs and actively dismiss contradictory evidence — has long been part of the human condition. Indeed, as recently reported in the New Yorker, it is linked to our survival as a species. Since the hunter-gatherer days of our ancestors, we’ve been more motivated by winning arguments than thinking logically.
But today we are arguably more susceptible to confirmation bias than ever because of the vast array of information sources available to us. This obviously has enormous implications for our politics. For most of us, our Facebook and Twitter feeds show us only what we want to see, which is usually anything that confirms what we already believe. If we don’t actively seek out alternative views, we likely won’t get them. And let’s be honest, most of us don’t.
But confirmation bias is not just relevant to politics. It’s relevant to anyone or any company seeking to change somebody’s mind. Research shows that many communications professionals need to change their approach.
When confronted with a crisis, the default response by many companies is to overload the public with a laundry list of facts. But research shows that approach can hurt more than help.
The “backfire effect,” as summarized by Ogilvy Center for Behavioral Science President Christopher Graves, describes the response that people have when presented with facts that contradict their previous understanding. Instead of accepting the new information, many people are apt to double down on their previous views and reject the new facts.
This is intuitive. Who hasn’t been in an argument that results in each side digging in deeper? With so much information available to us — and so much of it shared in a cocoon of like-minded people — it’s that much easier to hold onto our beliefs.
The fact is avoiding confirmation bias is hard. It requires thinking logically and scrutinizing information and adjusting our views. It’s cognitively taxing. Most of us want to avoid that kind of hard work.
Feeling, on the other hand — much easier. And that’s why research suggests that in order to convince someone they’re wrong, appealing to their emotions may be the most effective strategy. And the best way to activate their emotions? Tell them a story.
Anyone who makes a living raising money for charities and social causes knows it’s more effective to tell potential donors a story about an individual who will benefit rather than offer an explanation about the scope of the ill that the organization is seeking to alleviate.
This is not necessarily something to celebrate. We should all wish to live in a world where logic and facts win the day. But alas, that’s not always the case. And if you don’t believe that, well, let me tell you a story…
Last week at the LFMP, we had the pleasure of hearing from Tony Aarons, Legal Team Leader at Bloomberg News, who talked us through the good, the bad and the ugly of legal news. Here are our top 5 take-aways from everything he had to say after 20 years’ experience with lawyers and legal PRs.