Express Yourself? How KFC creatively took ownership, the way so many before them haven’t.
It’s the phrase – the four-letter word – that has been uttered under the breath (and sometimes aloud) of every CEO witnessing a calamity hit their business.
It is a simple expression of frustration, if not something we should say in polite company . . .
So we won’t say it here either.
But KFC effectively did when stores in the UK ran dry of supplies of their most basic ingredient: chicken.
Through a stark advertisement, they conveyed a perfectly human response to the situation – one that would have been common from the CEO to the store manager, and yes, to their customers.
The decision to invoke their own brand and logo in doing so gave the apology greater cut through and credence. Beyond the tweaked ‘KFC’ logo, the message that followed in the ad was simple, contrite and real.
They showed the power of words and that authenticity is an essential part of the toolkit.
Corporates too often revert to habit or orthodoxy in moments of pressure.
We know what follows: the gratuitous apology – vanilla in its form and stocked with clichés. A promise to ‘clients’ to make things better. Acknowledgement of the ‘pain and suffering we have caused’. A ‘pledge to do better going forward’.
And it is rightly met with eye-rolling cynicism from a public that has heard it all before.
There is a clear need to break free from the dead language that rules so much of the public narrative. It assumes insider knowledge, conveys ‘we-know-best’ authority and treats the needs of people as a secondary consideration.
No wonder trust in public and private institutions has reached subterranean lows.
People are screaming and pleading for something different.
So no matter the scenario – a crisis, a launch or a simple bit of communications – think about three things:
· What do you want to say: resist the temptation to randomly thread together the 10 things you believe you’re expected to say. Or those that you think will ‘boost engagement’ (Spare me!). People are more likely to give you a hearing if they believe you are sincere.
· Tell a story: construct an argument that is relatable to the audience. Explain the ‘why’. The circumstances might require you to do so in 15 or 5000 words, but never forget to articulate the good faith motivation that binds you and them.
· Read it out loud: the written form can be downright clunky when badly handled. So say it aloud. Would you speak like that if you were engaged in a casual conversation with friends? Of course not. Convert jargon and platitudes to language that normal people use.
Get these right and who knows – you might have a little less profanity in your life.
Glenn Byres is the MD of Headland Advisory and has two decades of executive-level experience in advocacy, public policy and communications in the corporate and political arenas. We are also pleased to have him as one of our fantastic Commtractors.