Monthly Archives: August 2014

Playing Games With My Team, And What I Learned Along The Way

It is bloody hot out and our workload like many agencies is light in the summer. This gives us time to do a few things. As a business owner this means I can organize files, accounts, the office, and our working processes. As a leader building a culture, I took the time today to play a few games with my team.

Let me first say that I am nowhere in this post discounting the time it takes to get good at anything. That is assumed.

Here is what I learned from this afternoon:

  • Competition can be born more than one way
  • Positive play breeds competition
  • Positive competition is formed from a game first being perfectly communicated to all participants. This levels the playing field.
  • While positive competition is great, after a while if nothing changes, it can become stale. Remember being a kid and playing keep away with a younger sibling or smaller friend when they thought it was going to be a game of catch. It stays interesting longer. This is not a positive form of play. The information was not communicated to each participant so they had an equal opportunity for action.
  • So we get to positive competition, and it’s something like playing catch. Both parties agree on a format of catch (throw to them, or through somewhere else agreed to, etc) If the game stays in that format for a while, it can really become repetitive, predictable, and uninteresting. What solves this is changing the game, making things more challenging and allowing all participants to understand the new rules before having to act.
  • We do this by teaching first, so we catch the ball a different way, behind your back, your other hand, etc. Everyone sees this and can choose to adopt that new option in the game.
  • This breeds a culture of positive competition. Learning and improving and challenging ourselves in collaboration.
  • To counter this we take the other form of competition. This is negative competition. It is about giving the other participants little to no time to learn the new facets of the game. The game changes but it creates an environment that supports a negative form of growth and in a large amount of cases it just stunts it completely. Corporate cultures where people are afraid to lead a culture of growth. We have to teach to make this happen in a positive format. And teaching is really hard.
  • So we choose to change the rules unbeknownst to our fellow participants. This is negative competition. This is where the term cutthroat was originally developed.

But in a business, and in our case an environment where creativity IS our product in everything we do, I don’t choose to let “cutthroat” negative competition thrive, or worse, no competitive spirit at all. I choose to build an environment where positive competition is what will actually keep us surviving. Sit with that for a moment. Positive competition as a survival strategy.

Let’s go back to the games.

We sat and first played a very structured game of RISK. The rules are very simple, we all understood them, and even though the learning curve can be steep and it take years to get great at the game, it is very predictable to a point and can get boring very quickly.

Once emails were checked and clients satiated, we moved outside to the park across from the office. Throw a football, catch a football. Easy peasy. This is where things became very cool to witness. As we played and things became consistent, we each would try to catch or throw the ball differently after a while, with everyone else watching and acknowledging these new opportunities to build upon.

There is the same opportunity to build this culture of positive competition within a work environment. But you have to set the tone:

  1. Everyone (EVERYONE) understands the rules, dynamics, goal, limitations, and opportunities
  2. Everyone engaged pays attention to everyone else that is engaged
  3. New rules, technique, challenges, and goals are introduced in the form of teaching. The instigator shows the rest of the group what they are trying, and everyone has the opportunity to build upon this.

Where this gets challenging is when a person who has created something is seeking a disproportionate amount of credit or praise for a contribution. It would be like naming a style of catch and then not wanting anyone else to modify it. This is how companies end up with powerpoint presentations from 2008 still in use.

Take what you want from this. There are very cool things that can come out of fostering a culture of positive competition and putting in measures to avoid the pitfalls from negative competition. I believe this happens when we put the time into effective communication to everyone engaged.

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Chris Gostling is an award winning Creative Director & CEO of Momentum Visual Inc., a Toronto based strategic marketing firm.
Chris & Momentum Visual have driven creative marketing strategy and execution for client’s such as Shoppers Drug Mart, Aeroplan, Parmalat Canada, Hain Celestial Canada, Apotex, General Mills, Canadian Tire, and RBC. Beyond being an accredited graphic designer by trade, Chris is a public speaker on topics ranging from strategic thinking, creative presentation coaching, and how to build a successful and well-rounded design portfolio.
In 2009 Chris founded Small Change 4 Big Change. This charitable foundation facilitates dignified food experiences for Toronto’s at-risk and homeless youth. 

The Cup Runneth Over And We Are Screwed

Consumer Engagement Threshold

Yes this sounds jargony, much like all of the terms we are trying to avoid through non-selfish communication. The reason why I like this term, and ultimately take the time to explain to people what this means, is that it is a relevant way of looking at our communication.

Information takes up space. “Out of Memory” is a common thing I am seeing these days on people’s smartphones as we document EVERY BLOODY THING WE DO.

As marketers we are guilty of the same thing. We all push so much content at consumers, 24 hours a day, in every channel we can find, make, or troll.

Add the social content being pushed at this audience (friends, family, coworkers, and people we don’t know well)

Then add instructions, directions, warnings, way finding systems, news, and blog posts like this one.

Now take into consideration how much this consumer understands about what you are presenting them, their interest level, and the other things that are distracting them.

Things are looking bleak now to get a word in edge wise with these people.

Let’s get back to the term Consumer Engagement Threshold and break it down into parts:

  1. Consumer – The reason why I want you to consider the people we are speaking to, as consumers, is to understand their mindset. The definition of consumers is “a person who purchases goods and services for personal use. So never lose sight that they are ultimately out to get something. Or else they are not consumers. So this need is a two way street for both you and your audience.
  2. Engagement – This is the active word in this term. We are actively engaging with this consumer, whether it is speaking to them in person, presenting information in a 30 second youtube ad spot, through social media, or on physical packaging. This is important to acknowledge because our format of engagement plays a critical role in getting our messages across. Does this communication channel allow for the consumer to absorb the information at their own pace? Will they be able to read or see it more than once? Will they be engaged at the relevant time for the intended action? I think of the surveys attempted in Union Station at 9am or 5pm. Yes these are the highest traffic times, but they are also the least likely time to find an open and engageable audience.
  3. Threshold – This is all about limits. How much we can cram into people’s heads. This is probably the most ignored part of communication today. We make assumptions about the audience we are speaking with, from comprehension to interest level, and we try to jam as much info into them as we can. Think of the legal disclaimers at the end of a 15 second beer ad, they have a motormouthed voice actor spew lines of legal disclaimers in the last 3 seconds of an ad to make it compliant. It may technically be compliant, but do the listeners actually retain any of it? Or do you want them to remember that you beer is always ice cold, or available in 3 sizes, or that it comes with a free towel while supplies last, or that this towel promotion is only available from June 1st until September 31st, and, and, and…

And now we are back to the image of the overfilling cup.

Your audience has a limit to what they can take in, from all sources of communication, even yours. So be mindful of this before starting any out reach campaign.

Check out the previous parts to this series:

We Are Selfish Communicators

Understanding What Our Audience Knows

Taking Distractions Into Account

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Chris Gostling is an award winning Creative Director & CEO of Momentum Visual Inc., a Toronto based strategic marketing firm.
Chris & Momentum Visual have driven creative marketing strategy and execution for client’s such as Shoppers Drug Mart, Aeroplan, Parmalat Canada, Hain Celestial Canada, Apotex, General Mills, Canadian Tire, and RBC. Beyond being an accredited graphic designer by trade, Chris is a public speaker on topics ranging from strategic thinking, creative presentation coaching, and how to build a successful and well-rounded design portfolio.
In 2009 Chris founded Small Change 4 Big Change. This charitable foundation facilitates dignified food experiences for Toronto’s at-risk and homeless youth. 

Taking Distractions Into Account

I went through a massive communication detox a while back. All of the push notifications on my phone had been reset, and for a couple weeks I was shaken by the consistency and sheer amount of interruptions there were.

Breaking down the list of distractions that affected my train of thought over the course of the day went as followed (and each one had a beep, buzz, ding, or on screen message)

  • Google daily agenda at 5am
  • Text from early rising friends
  • Morning Facebook posts
  • Morning Instagram posts
  • Morning emails
  • CP24 news alert
  • CBC news alert of cp24 news
  • Twitter posts about cp24 news
  • LinkedIn alerts
  • Midday social
  • Email alerts
  • Text messages
  • Gchat messages
  • Skype messages
  • iMessages
  • Afternoon recap on morning news
  • Tweets about recap
  • Repeat

It never really ended.

These are just the notifications on my phone from things that I have chosen to receive. Add in-person conversations, external media, other people’s devices, social responsibilities, family responsibilities, and professional responsibilities, it’s amazing we bother trying to add more influence to a person’s day.

This is the reality though. I am a pretty normal example of a connected person and I have little to no room for anymore noise. I can’t imagine what a person with young children has time for.

But these are often the “target audience” when we are crafting communication plans. We speak about the “overworked parent” or “busy professional” , but we still try to cram our message, slogan, offer, or jingle down their throat.

Effective non-selfish communication planning takes a few things into consideration:

  • How much free time does my audience have for what I want to share with them?
  • In knowing that they probably don’t have free time, what time/task in their day can I replace with what I want them to know and care about?
  • Knowing that I am probably asking them to give something up in order to make time for my communication, is what I am sharing compelling or “worth it” for this audience?

The presence of distractions will change the value of your messaging. We are interrupting people and we should treat the situation accordingly.

In my next post I will be talking about “engagement threshold” or how much we can ram in a person’s head before they stop taking information in, or worse, forget something critical we originally told them.

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Chris Gostling is an award winning Creative Director & CEO of Momentum Visual Inc., a Toronto based strategic marketing firm.
Chris & Momentum Visual have driven creative marketing strategy and execution for client’s such as Shoppers Drug Mart, Aeroplan, Parmalat Canada, Hain Celestial Canada, Apotex, General Mills, Canadian Tire, and RBC. Beyond being an accredited graphic designer by trade, Chris is a public speaker on topics ranging from strategic thinking, creative presentation coaching, and how to build a successful and well-rounded design portfolio.
In 2009 Chris founded Small Change 4 Big Change. This charitable foundation facilitates dignified food experiences for Toronto’s at-risk and homeless youth. 

Understanding What Our Audience Knows

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The old adage that gets used when someone doesn’t know something is “well you are not born knowing how to…”. We use this in defence of a lack of understanding.

This is true. We are not born knowing much other than pretty limited survival skills. This means there is a possibility that the group of people you really want to buy your product may not have any clue how and if it works, why they would need it, or what happens if they don’t get on board with what you are communicating with them.

This means that if your goal is to explain to a group of people or groups of people, the merits of your product or service, you need to understand what they know, before you can plan your communication strategy. Can you imagine the sales people for the telephone when it came out?

The challenge is how do we know what our audience knows?

One of the best ways to get to know someone is to listen to their questions. You can learn everything from comprehension to interest level in a specific area.

If you end up with a large group of people with different levels of comprehension, then your message will need to be delivered in multiple iterations so you are as inclusive as possible.

The problem is a lot of companies start with a limited understanding of their own message (which we will address in a later post), combined with a blanket message to either the lowest common denominator, or a message that only appeals to the most ideal consumer. Either way this will detract potential connection and relevancy with the original group.

This is just to acknowledge where the starting point is. If you have a large group of people that would really value from your communication, but set lacking a significant amount of base understanding, you will need to factor in the time and resources to get them up to speed first.

In the next post we discuss the other distractions that are impacting the attention span of a target audience.

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Chris Gostling is an award winning Creative Director & CEO of Momentum Visual Inc., a Toronto based strategic marketing firm.
Chris & Momentum Visual have driven creative marketing strategy and execution for client’s such as Shoppers Drug Mart, Aeroplan, Parmalat Canada, Hain Celestial Canada, Apotex, General Mills, Canadian Tire, and RBC. Beyond being an accredited graphic designer by trade, Chris is a public speaker on topics ranging from strategic thinking, creative presentation coaching, and how to build a successful and well-rounded design portfolio.
In 2009 Chris founded Small Change 4 Big Change. This charitable foundation facilitates dignified food experiences for Toronto’s at-risk and homeless youth.