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Communications in the Time of Corona

April 2, 2020

off to the sunNews that both MSNBC and CNN are no longer airing the full White House briefings on the COVID-19 pandemic is gobsmacking – given the alarming escalation of the virus in the USA right now.

One of the MSNBC hosts made a telling observation:

“we know these briefings have a tendency to veer in a lot of directions. Not all of them are informative or relevant in the midst of this crisis.”

At times of crisis, people are looking for clear, concise and factual information and advice – and also an expression of empathy for the emotional distress and anxiety we are all going through.

While I can’t speak for the veracity of the information, the clear, concise and empathetic way this executive responds to the situation regarding the Ruby Princess is a good example on how to communicate in a crisis.

Here are some quick pieces of communications advice for organisations right now:

  • Make sure that you are communicating regularly with your customer base and with your partners. They will want to know what you are doing to respond to the pandemic, and how any changes you are making will affect them. They will also want to know if they can continue to receive products and services from you during this time, and maybe other ways in which you can help them deal with the crisis.
  • Don’t be afraid to promote your products or services, as long as they are relevant during this time. Organisations and individuals are looking for ways to help them get through this crisis – whether that’s IT solutions to set up remote networks or support their employees working from home, personal protective equipment, supermarket opening hours or home grocery delivery services.
  • If you are providing advice or sharing information, limit this to areas in which you are a subject matter expert. Stick to known facts. At times like this, don’t waste people’s time with your personal theories or irrelevant information. They will already be looking to their own trusted sources of information and experts for this advice.
  • Get to the point quickly. People are dealing with an overload of information with regards to COVID-19, but they do want to hear from you if it is going to have a material impact on them. If you aren’t succinct or providing them with important information quickly, people will switch off and that’s the worst thing that could happen. You want to set the expectation that when they hear from you, your message is relevant and useful.
  • Don’t forget this is personal. While keeping things simple and to the point, be aware that this pandemic is affecting everyone and express that in your communications. Be empathetic throughout, and acknowledge the difficulties and distress we are all going through at the moment.

I hope everyone stays safe and healthy through this pandemic, and gets the information, makes the services and connections they need to keep on top of everything that is going on right now.

Pictured above: off to the sun, by Predi, shared under an Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) licence.


Seven Attributes of a Great Endorsement

December 10, 2019


unfinishedbusiness_croppedEndorsements from companies and people that have used your services or bought your products are a great way to illustrate the value and quality of your business and your brand. Here are the seven attributes you should always factor in when making a decision on which ones to use.

1. Authentic. Whenever possible, use the endorsement exactly the way your customer expressed it. All of the examples I’ve included below are taken from emails received by Explore Communications. There’s nothing more authentic than direct praise that has been freely given, and there is nothing worse than a quote that looks like it has been written and reviewed by a committee! If you get a nice email or survey feedback from a customer, it’s also going to be a whole lot easier to get approval on the exact words that they wrote. If you do have to rewrite the quote (say, to stand alone as a specific quote), keep it as minimal as possible so you don’t lose the tone and expression of the original words.

“… you once again have impressed me with your general awesomeness!”

Changed to:

“Once again you have impressed me with your general awesomeness!”

– Martin Reidy, Operations Manager, Waterman Business Centres

2. Aligned. The endorsements you use should align with your company’s brand identity and persona, and with the services or products that you provide. If you are a B2B services provider, that’s going to feature quite different language and expression to a youth-focused consumer brand.

“Absolutely wonderful PR partnership and great results!”
– Mariana Kosturos, Senior Director, PR & Social Media, RingCentral

3. Personal. If you are a B2B organisation, always attribute the endorsement to a person, not just a company. It’s a quote, and companies don’t speak! If you are a B2C business, try to give a little more context to the person you are quoting: their photo, age, location, or maybe the product they bought or the service they used. Potential customers who are reading the endorsement need to be able to identify with some element of commonality – working in a similar role or in the same industry, living in the same area or in the same age bracket.

“You have done an amazingly fantastic job! Such a great read, well done. Congratulations on pulling together a great report.”
– Kerri Buttery, Director, VETNexus

4. Weighty. For a business endorsement, the more senior the person you are quoting, the better. It’ll carry more weight, and it will probably be easier to get it published, because it won’t have to go through as many levels of approval. For consumer brands, nothing beats a positive media review or unpaid, spontaneous feedback from a famous or well-respected person.

“Thanks for the awesome case study. I’ve just read it in detail, and gosh you could make even God blush!”
– Angelo Giuffrida, CEO, VentraIP

5. Short. It’s an endorsement, not a case study! Endorsements should be short and sweet – don’t try and cram in too much detail or description, or you will limit how you can use the content. Also, the longer the quote, the more difficult it will be to get it approved.

“You are spectacular to work with!”
– Sarah Hanel, Director of Global Corporate Communications, OneSpan

6. Approved. Make sure that any endorsement you use is approved explicitly by the individual quoted. It’s even a good idea to ask for their express permission if you have received the endorsement via social media or some other public channel. Keep a record of that approval, in case you need to rely on it in the future to prove that you received it at the time – but be prepared to stop using the endorsement if the company or individual withdraws their consent. You can use an endorsement that doesn’t identify the company or person, but that is not going to have anywhere near the same impact.

“You are a STAR!”
– APAC Marketing Manager, Global Networking Vendor

7. Reusable. Re-use endorsements as ‘nuggets’ where-ever you can. An endorsement is a positive, subjective view on your company in the words of your customers, so include them where relevant in your press releases, case studies, website, and promotional materials. You can even include them in your blog posts, just like I’ve done here 😊

Photo above taken from free stock images released to promote the movie “Unfinished Business” back in 2015: see further

From digital SLR to AR

September 12, 2019

Bridgewalk_inside_archTwelve years ago, the Sydney Harbour Bridge celebrated its 75th anniversary by closing the bridge to traffic for the festivities. Walking across the bridge that Sunday I was taking lots of photos on my digital camera – as were thousands of other people. I remember wondering at the time how many terabytes of data were being generated just by this one big event, but there was no way of ever knowing.

That was March 2007. The first iPhone was still to arrive later that year. YouTube was only a couple of years old, Facebook had not long been open to general users and Myspace was still the dominant web player.

Fast forward to now, and the iPhone 11 has just been launched. Multiple cameras, Dolby Atmos and a raft of other features. Most people are now permanently connected via their smartphones and crazy amounts of data are being generated and consumed daily by users on the Internet – largely via mobile and through social media channels.

We’ve just witnessed a new record for Wi-Fi usage at any in-venue event in sports history – with a peak data transfer rate of 23.24 gigabits per second when the New England Patriots NFL team unveiled their Super Bowl LIII banner before the game, surpassing the previous record at a sports event of 13.38 Gbps. According to figures from Extreme Networks, 44,906 of fans at the stadium connected to the Wi-Fi network at some point, 34,982 concurrent number of users at the peak. While the total amount of data transferred over Wi-Fi during the game was only 11.58 TB (only!), well short of the 24.05 TB at last year’s Super Bowl, this sort of activity is now becoming the norm.

The amount of insight we are getting now is on user engagement and behaviour is incredible – but what’s really cool is the way connectivity is opening up opportunities for a range of applications like an enhanced fan experience. Fans who can’t be there on the day can experience the event vicariously by following the event hashtag and inside the stadium, we are just starting to see some of the ways Wi-Fi and 5G can be used for AR and VR experiences – like this very cool ‘Pose with the Pros’ AR activation at the Dallas Cowboys’ first home game.

I think we’ve got a long way to go here in Australia before we have the same level of connectivity infrastructure in place in our local venues, but it will happen! Then it’s just a question of how imaginative we can be in putting it to use.

The next big Sydney Harbour Bridge event is coming up very soon: #BridgeClimb21 on 1 October, BridgeClimb’s 21st birthday. It’ll be interesting to follow the hashtag on social media and see how far we’ve come in just 12 years.

Pictured top: Bridgewalk inside arch by Saberwyn from Wikimedia Commons.

Pulling the plug on quality

May 31, 2019

cordWhen it comes to discussing technology, the focus today is usually on innovation – but that wasn’t always the case. The worrying thing about this is that we seem to have forgotten about quality, longevity and reliability.

That said, given that most tech we buy will be superseded in 12 months, does it really matter? Based on recent experience, I’d say yes. More on the cut cord (pictured) later!

Thirty years ago, I was working as a sales assistant in the ‘TV and Sound’ section of a department store (yes, when we still had VHS video recorders and 21″ – yes, 51cm – CRT televisions at around the $900 price point were the biggest sellers). Invariably customers would ask me which brand or product was the most reliable, which one had the longest warranty, and where was it made (Japan then being the preferred country of manufacture for quality consumer electronics).

People didn’t seem so hung up on features back than, or that they might be missing out on some new technology just around the corner. Most people wanted to know how well it was made and how long it would last. In fact, the first amp (NAD) and speakers (Richter) I ever bought are still going strong, and sound just as good as the year I bought them (1989).

Fast forward to this year, and I’ve just received my third multi-function cooker in three months after the previous two were faulty. We did have a ‘quality brand’ cooker originally, which lasted about two years before packing it in. So, instead of paying a couple of hundred dollars for the replacement, we went for the ’16-in-1 Multifunction Pressure Cooker’ for around $70 from a budget online retailer. My thoughts were, why bother paying a premium if it’s only going to last two years anyway? Also, how amazing to have a single device that has 16 different cooking functions! I think the old one we had only had four …

The first 16-in-1 cooker we received was faulty on arrival, and the second one developed the same fault after a month or so of use. At least the retailer had a pretty slick returns process (I guess they do a lot of them). First, I had to send them a video of the fault, then a picture of the cut electrical cord before they sent the replacement. The cut cord was to prove that I was no longer able to use the device – they didn’t want me to return the whole device – shipping fees would have ended up costing more that the product itself!

So what happens with all these faulty products? They just go into landfill. What a colossal waste of our finite resources in a time when we are facing the biggest threat to our environment we have ever seen.

Really, should I care about having 16 cooking functions? In the time I’ve had a working device, I’ve only used three.

I was given a Wi-Fi extender purchased from the same online retailer, and it was so bad that I stopped using it almost immediately and reinstalled my trusty Apple Airport Express, which is well over ten years old and still going strong.

What worries me is not just all the people who are buying this cheap, nasty technology – or the number of budget retailers out there selling this crap. The biggest worry is the pressure that this price-driven race to the bottom is putting on the ‘so-called’ quality brands to cut manufacturing corners to stay competitive. We are getting to the point where we will no longer have a quality option for tech. The sheer scale of the problem needs to be addressed before it becomes unsustainable (if it isn’t already).

And don’t get me started on other industries. Poor clothing quality, thanks to fast fashion,  is costing Australian charitable recycling organisations a staggering $13 million per year sending unusable donations to landfill. That’s also spilling over into the quality brands. Have you noticed that your new sheet sets barely fit your mattress any more? That’s because manchester manufacturers have realised they can save a few dollars on material by making every standard sizing a little bit smaller.

I could go on, but I won’t. I love innovation, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of our planet. We need to make manufacturers more accountable for the products that they are selling; if not by introducing longer mandatory warranties for technology, then maybe we need to force manufacturers more generally to take responsibility for their product over its entire lifetime. That way, it will force them to think more carefully about the overall quality and longevity of the product, the sustainability of the materials they are using and the ability to recycle or the product at end-of-life. That will also put a real cost on this cheap, throw-away tech that everyone seems so happy to buy.

App overload?

April 17, 2019

comms appsAs a consultant working with a range of different technology companies, it’s a matter of course that you have to become familiar with a bunch of different communications applications, because everyone has their own set of collaboration tools that they use. The picture left gives you an idea of the number of comms apps I’m using on a day-to-day basis.

While it’s unavoidable for consultants like Explore Communications, for employees in a large corporation collaboration should be a lot simpler. However, a RingCentral survey last year found that workers use an average of four communications apps at work, and almost seven out of 10 waste up to an hour of work daily simply navigating between them.

Of course, it shouldn’t be like that, but there are any number of reasons as to why organisations are yet to consolidate onto a common unified communications (UC) platform. That said, even if every organisation did manage to consolidate, they are not all going to be using the same UC vendor! That still makes inter-organisational collaboration a challenge.

VidyoRemember that feeling of panic as you wait for five minutes for the conferencing application to download and install on your PC before you can join the meeting? I still haven’t gotten around to uninstalling the Vidyo app that fires up every time I reboot my PC – an app I had to download for a couple of meetings I had two years ago, but haven’t needed since.

The good news is that things seem to have got a lot easier. Now, most of the conferencing providers I use have developed a mobile app that by and large works beautifully. Click on the link from your calendar invitation, the app launches and generally automatically connects you to the meeting by voice, video, chat and screen sharing. And if you don’t have the app yet, it’s a pretty quick and simple process to install it. Sure, if you are on a smart phone, it’s not a great screen to view a shared PowerPoint deck, but in most cases it does the job perfectly. And you can still use the PC version of the application if you need the larger screen.

Features, functions and performance are obviously important, but ultimately it’s the UC vendors that focus on the end user experience that will be successful in the long run.





Keeping up the innovation

March 11, 2019

flowhive6After the incredible initial success of the Flow Hive, it’s great to see further, more subtle innovation has been taking place to give the product ongoing commercial viability.

When it was released on Indiegogo around this time four years ago, Flow Hive became one of the most successful crowdfunding campaigns in history – but the Flow Hive team struggled to cope with the unexpected flood in demand.

Last week I put together my first Flow Hive 2 and, while the core invention – the Flow Frame – has remained unchanged, the updates are a really good illustration of what innovators need to do to keep ahead and be responsive to customer feedback.

Since getting one of the original crowdfunded hives, even the unboxing experience and packaging has been refined. A lot of thought has been put into minimising the overall box size to keep storage and shipping costs down, despite the Flow Hive 2 having a more complex design than the original hive. And they have used environmentally-friendly materials and incorporated information onto the packaging, as well as in the instruction manual.


Also, since the launch of the original product Flow Hive has switched to a local manufacturer for the timber components, and you can really see this in the quality of the parts and precision of the laser cuts. They have also thought through the customer’s flat pack build experience, not just with the detailed steps in the manual, but also in marking each of the pieces of timber very clearly, so you don’t use a wrong part during construction (which happened to me on one of my earlier hives!).


Finally, all the functional improvements made to the hive design are more than just cosmetic. They address usability issues on the original design: including an additional viewing panel, better and more durable base and fittings, adjustable legs and a harvesting shelf.

The thing is, that despite the time that the Flow Hive has been in the market and the amount of attention it has received, there is still a lot of work to do to promote beekeeping and sell the product. There was intense interest in the Flow Hive at last weekend’s Canberra Region Beekeepers Field Day, but hobby and small-scale beekeepers currently still represent a tiny proportion of the world’s population.

Hopefully, the team at Flow Hive continues to innovate, continues to respond to customer feedback and ultimately continues to encourage more people to take up beekeeping.

Broken digital: the frustrating, the costly and the funny

November 13, 2018

old_broken_chainAlready before lunchtime today, I’d experienced three examples of broken digital processes in banking, insurance and retail – one frustrating, one costly and one funny – and in that order too! Digital transformation is great, but it only takes one broken link in the process and it all comes undone.

First up, I was trying to complete a credit card transaction over the phone, and my payment was declined. I followed up with a call to the bank, who let me know that a block had been placed on my card owing to suspicious activity (a very small amount paid to a US-based charity – called credit card testing).

Well done to the bank for having automated systems in place to pick up on the fraud and stop it before it caused any serious damage! However, when I asked why I hadn’t been notified about the blockage, the bank’s security guy told me that a message had been sent to my mobile number – which turned out to be a number I had changed a few years ago.

I was sure I had updated my number with the bank at the time. My online banking contact details showed that I had, so I called the bank to find out why this old number was still floating around in their systems. After some time searching for it, they couldn’t find any trace of it and could only assure me that they have ‘put a note on my file’ so that it wouldn’t happen again. There is obviously some sort of broken link in the chain where the change I made to my online record isn’t flowing through the entire system. The sum effect? Frustration and an hour of wasted time, first in trying to process a transaction that wouldn’t go through, then on the phone twice to the bank to sort out the issue.

Second and somewhat connected, as it was in relation to the credit card payment I was trying to make, I found out that I would have been paying too much to renew my car insurance. Why? Because a premium costs more when you have a car with finance attached to it. However, I had finished paying off the car early in 2018 and, even though I was insuring the car through the same finance company, the price of the policy renewal wasn’t automatically updated to reflect that change in status. I only discovered this because I was on the phone with the company trying to make the unsuccessful credit card payment to renew the policy.

While this could be an inadvertent error from the finance company in its automated processes, the cynic in me thinks otherwise. The end result? A difference of $200 on my premium. If you calculate that across all the companies and people with car insurance where the finance has ended during the previous 12 months, that’s a lot of money.

The final broken digital process came in a “Because you purchased … we also recommend these” email I received from an online retailer. I purchased some Tiles – finder devices – the day before, but I think the retailer’s keyword-matching AI algorithms might need a little bit of fine tuning.

The recommended product? A steam mop.

(Pictured top: “Old Broken Chain” by Jaysin Trevino via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) licence.)