What’s important to get right in a marketing communications transformation? In this interview, we look at a case study of a successful marketing communications transformation led by our Senior Consultant, Gianluca Bregoli.
Gianluca highlights what you need to focus on during a marketing communications transformation and offers some advice on how to do it as he shares his experience about an initiative he led at an international law firm, formerly known as Salans prior to a merger, now Dentons.
First of all, can you briefly set the scene? What was happening at Salans and how did you get involved in the marketing communications transformation?
Gianluca: I was appointed to lead the definition of a new approach to marketing communications, amongst other projects. This initiative was run in parallel with a brand refresh. There were many points in common, including tone of voice, style preferences and the look and feel of the marketing materials.
What were your objectives?
Firstly, to improve the quality of the marketing materials, creating message consistency and compliance with the brand guidelines. To introduce a writing style that was more client-centric and aligned with the desired brand positioning as an entrepreneurial, dynamic and insightful law firm. Also to provide the marketing team with the necessary tools to produce more effective communications.
Can you give me some examples of how you got started?
I carried out a very thorough audit of all the marketing collateral and went through literally hundreds of materials to identify what had been produced. I identified content, style and format issues and compared it to the marketing materials that other law firms were producing.
Next, I articulated a vision for marketing communications at Salans and established what actions were needed to put that vision in place.
Alongside this, I worked with a brand agency to develop a set of marketing templates with a look and feel that could be perceived as inspiring, innovative, fresh, and modern.
Another key area that I worked on was the definition of a new tone of voice. I also worked closely with a training communications consultant to develop the writing style and communications best practices. This was followed by training for all of the marketing team.
What were the best practices and writing style you focused on?
It was about the principles of good writing. For example, knowing the difference between writing about clients’ benefits versus a company’s features. They say that “features tell, but benefits sell”.
Also, understanding your readers, and this is a key point. You really need to understand who your readers are. What they want to know, what they already know about you and why they are reading your materials. This has to be balanced with what the organisation wants the audience to know, think and do.
It’s about knowing how to develop and structure your marketing materials with language and content that is relevant to your audience. Creating a story with a logical flow, using the inverted pyramid, breaking down the copy. Using things such as headings and subheadings, paragraphs, bullet points, etc. but also supporting your statements with facts and figures.
The tone of voice is important because it expresses the brand identity and who you are and sets your company apart from others. It’s about expressing personality in a competitive market.
Finally, not forgetting the importance of editing and proof reading! Quality is important to develop trust.
What else did you work on?
I guided marketers through the transformation program itself. Taking employees from the initial stage of awareness-raising of the initiative through to the consolidation of new ways of working. This included internal communications, training and developing processes.
Change is never easy for people and I imagine you had some difficulties along the way. What sorts of things did you come up against? How did you overcome the challenges?
Definitely. There were a lot of challenges and some of a different nature. Some of the challenges were, I would say very practical – operational. For example, when I carried out the audit, I found it very difficult to locate the various pieces of collateral because they were saved everywhere.
There was a very ‘traditional’ approach to marketing communications. What I mean by traditional is that the copy produced was often very heavy on text, but quite light on substance. Materials were characterised by technical jargon, long sentences, redundancy, and content was grounded in no tangible facts and figures. The focus was not on the reader but on the company’s features.
So, as you can imagine, shifting to writing for the client’s benefits and advantages was not an easy task because it was about creating a new mindset grounded on producing communications that are business-friendly, easy to read, relevant, concise and engaging.
Last but not least, Salans was a de-centralised organisation where best practices, processes, and training for the global marketing team were either underdeveloped or missing. As a result, the marketing collateral had historically been inconsistent and it appeared to come from different organisations.
So, what solutions did you put in place?
I started with putting in place a marketing collateral system because you don’t produce marketing collateral randomly, or just for the sake of it. The system was designed to target which pieces of collateral should be produced and to focus their production on the company’s priorities, but also to have a set of materials that complemented each other.
The system was also implemented to produce consistent collateral to ensure that Salans was perceived as one firm by the various stakeholders, regardless of where they were based.
Then, I created processes. I developed a sort of checklist for the production of brochures outlining the different steps. From conception to printing and also identifying roles and responsibilities. Included was a step to review collateral to check its compliance with the new visual identity, tone of voice and writing style.
The next best practice that I put in place was a set of guidelines that explained what each collateral was called, what it was for, when and how to use it. So, for example, brochures, office/practice/sector descriptions, one-pagers, sponsorship, and advertising are more useful for raising awareness. Whereas client alerts, newsletters and client reports sit at the next level, which is demonstrating expertise.
I also covered the specifics of how to write strong marketing materials and things to avoid.
Can you share some examples of good writing and things not to do?
Choosing words with concrete and specific meaning and using personal pronouns like “we” and “you” to build a connection with the reader and create engagement are all good. Whereas writing in the third person or using the passive voice should be avoided.
What else did you do to support the changes you were making?
I educated the marketing teams on the tone of voice, writing style, communications best practices and on how to use the marketing templates. All this was also reflected in the induction for new joiners. Training is fundamental and went hand in hand with internal communications.
We were very proactive in taking the marketing team through the change journey, explaining what we were doing and why. We wanted to ensure that the marketing team was fully engaged in the initiative.
So, what was the overall end result once all of the marketing communications elements of the transformation were completed?
There was some structure in place, more brand consistency and content was more customer-centric and relevant to the needs and expectations of the target audiences. It was more factual with a dynamic style that was engaging and personal, and less aloof, dry and technical.
Excellent. Do you have any final pieces of advice on marketing communications in general?
Frist of all, marketing communications is only one component of a full marketing mix. It is important, but I feel that sometimes it is overly emphasised, especially in certain sectors. As a result, you see the proliferation of collateral that nobody reads. The production of collateral should be targeted and to do so you need to understand your readers, their needs and expectations.
The second piece of advice is about message consistency, especially alignment with company-wide and brand messages. The message architecture that you deploy should be consistent across the communication mix so that the message in a brochure is the same as what you’re communicating in your advertising or sponsorship. Obviously, you may need to articulate your messages in a different way but the core essence of the messaging should remain the same to achieve consistency. Make sure you’re not developing your messages in isolation and that they are aligned with your marketing objectives, crafted when you develop your marketing strategy.
Finally, sometimes I come across collateral that looks really dry. Just a page full of text with no images, or the quality of the image is very poor. My personal opinion is that the look and feel shouldn’t be overlooked when producing your marketing communications materials.
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