In case you haven’t noticed, it’s presidential primary
season. There are any number of reasons to pay attention to primaries, one of
which is you can learn a lot about leadership communications strategies and
tactics by watching how the candidates do what they do. The most successful
ones tend to go both broad and deep with their communications. They send
messages to very large groups of people while at the same time try to establish
personal connections with individuals.

Sometimes it’s a coffee klatch for a small group and other
times it’s a rally for thousands. Sometimes it’s standing for hours taking
selfies with a line of supporters and other times it’s giving a big speech to
mark out their positions and platform. Sometimes it’s a text message or phone
call and sometimes it’s a 30 second television ad on what seems like every
commercial break.

Successful candidates are masters of both retail
communications (the coffee klatches and selfies) and wholesale communications
(the rallies and ad campaigns). Retail and wholesale communications have
applications far beyond politics. The distinction definitely has importance for
leaders of any kind of movement or large organization.

Here’s a rundown of the similarities and differences between
retail and wholesale communications and some ideas to consider as you work out
your leadership communications game plan.

Many Channels, One Strategy:  Choosing a retail or a wholesale
communications channel depends on the need, the reach and the moment.  Either way, the channels and the approaches
within them need to be tied to an overarching strategy. A simple framework for
building a communications strategy can rest on three questions that you keep
coming back to:

What? – What are you trying to
accomplish?So What? – Why does it matter and why
should people care? (And, by the way, what do they already care about?)Now What? – What do you want people to do
next? What do you want them to know or think? How do you want them to feel?

Narrowcasting or Broadcasting? Narrowcasting is
another way to think about retail communications. It allows you a lot of
opportunity to tailor your “So what?” to individuals or small groups of people
with common interests. It gives you the chance to be more nuanced in your
messaging. Broadcasting is a wholesale communications approach. It’s delivered
through online and offline channels that can reach a lot of people at once.
It’s best used for establishing themes and value propositions that can fit on
the proverbial bumper sticker. Highly effective communications campaigns use a
combination of narrowcasting with key influencers and broadcasting to the
larger group.

Simplicity vs. Complexity – Building off the
narrowcasting and broadcasting distinction is the need to hit the sweet spot on
the spectrum of simplicity vs. complexity in your messaging. As a general rule,
simple messaging (again, think bumper stickers) is the way to go when you need
to wholesale your communications. You can definitely be more nuanced and
complex in your retail communications but be careful not to make the messaging
too complex. The human brain can only process a limited amount of ideas at any
one time. Make your points for sure, but keep them short and memorable. Simple
and familiar analogies help a lot on that last point.

Adjust Your Energy Dial – As a general rule, the
bigger the room, the bigger your energy needs to be. This point was driven home
to me years ago by a client. My natural energy setting is friendly but low key.
I’m not usually going to be the loudest voice in the room. When I was getting
started in my career as a speaker 15 years ago, I had a client organization
where I spoke to 40 or 50 high potential leaders three or four times a year.
Sometimes those sessions went great and other times they were kind of flat and
I never really understood why it went one way or the other. After watching me
in action a few times over the course of a year, my client contact gave me some
incredibly valuable feedback. She said, “I notice that when the group has a lot
of energy, you have a lot of energy. And, when the group starts out kind of
flat, you’re flat. I need you to lead the energy of the room, not be led by the
energy of the room.” That’s something I worked on for several years and I’ve since
learned to adjust my energy to lead the people in the room toward a particular
outcome. That lesson has a lot of application to effectively using both retail
and wholesale communications. The more intimate channels of retail
communication usually call for a level of energy projection that is appropriate
to the room. You want to hit the sweet spot and not overdo it. In the wholesale
communication scenario of much bigger rooms where you can’t make eye contact
with everybody there, you almost always need to dial up your energy. The goal in
big rooms is not an inauthentic version of you; it’s a bigger version of you.

CTA’s Beat FYI’s – One thing we know for sure about
communications in 2020 is that people aren’t going to stay with you very long
if you don’t keep them engaged. CTA’s (calls to action) almost always beat
FYI’s (you know what that means). Whether you’re using a retail or wholesale
communications channel, your messaging needs to be delivered in a way that
encourages interaction and/or action between you and the audience, within the
audience, from the primary audience to other audiences and especially within
the minds of individual audience members. No matter what communications channel
you’re using, always be thinking about the Now What? What do you want the
audience to know, think, do, feel or believe? What’s your CTA both during and
after the communications event?

So, that’s a recap of some my experiences and observations
on the ways successful leaders use both retail and wholesale communications.
What have I missed? What do you agree or disagree with? What’s one takeaway
that you intend to act on?

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