Did you see that?
The movie hero is slashing his way through an epic sword-fight with a sword in his left hand and blood and dirt on his jacket.
Suddenly, the camera cuts to the bad guy and then comes back to the hero. But now, the hero is clean and the sword is in his other hand. We cut to yet another angle and now the hero is dirty, bloody, and left-handed again.
In film, they call these “continuity errors.” The overwhelming majority of viewers never see them because they tend to go by very quickly. But a few eagle-eyed movie-goers make a hobby of spotting these visual gaffes and pointing them out online. IMDb.com designates a “Goofs” page on every single movie and TV show listing.
Continuity errors in a film are amusing at best, distracting and annoying at worst. In marketing, continuity errors can hurt your business.
As marketing strategies get more complex, spanning more channels and modes, consistency and continuity are more important than ever.
The Ripple Effect
For years, I worked for a publishing company that developed sales training materials. We made workbooks for the training participants, facilitator guides for the trainers, PowerPoint presentations, posters, reminder cards, and a dozen other types of materials.
Every page in the workbook had a corresponding PowerPoint slide and corresponding pages in the facilitator kit. Some of the graphics in the book were reproduced on the posters. If we changed the color of part of a graphic, we had to find every slide, poster, and facilitator page where that graphic appeared and changed it accordingly. (Thankfully, Adobe products like InDesign, Photoshop, and Premier allow auto-updating of linked media, so a change in one area is auto-updated everywhere, but that wasn’t the case back then). If we added a page to the workbook, it affected all of the other materials, as well as other pages in the workbook (everywhere we had a “continued on page #” reference, it changed).
This is the ripple effect: a change in one area causes changes in other areas.
If you’ve ever changed your e-mail address, you find out very quickly how many different ways it creates problems:
- You need to create new business cards.
- You need to update your website and social media.
- You need to notify everyone who contacts you at your current e-mail address.
- You may need to notify your bank, online services like DropBox or Spotify, or any website where your e-mail address is your username.
How does this play out in your business?
Changing An Event
Let’s say you are promoting an upcoming event at your business and you have to change the event start time because of a conflict. Think about all the different ways you are promoting the event:
- Do you have posters around town?
- Do you have an ad in the local paper?
- Did you do a mailing piece?
- Do you have radio and TV ads rotating?
- Do you have billboards?
- Have you posted it on your website?
- Is it on your social media?
- Do you have a phone marketing team in place promoting the event?
Each of these media channels needs to be changed. If you forget one, you will confuse people and could hurt attendance at the event.
Granted, not every event has this much coverage, but the principle plays out in small ways. Consider how changes in these areas could cause confusion for your customers, your prospects, or even your employees.
Changing File Names
It seems like a small thing, but people count on file names to find stuff, especially in offices with deep labyrinthine file servers. Years ago, when Windows filenames were limited to eight characters, companies had to come up with clever filenames to keep project files together. Today, filenames (including the file path) can be up to 256 characters. While that creates more room for detail, it can also create room for error. When establishing file naming conventions within an office, it’s important to have buy-in from the whole team. If one team member isn’t on board, it can create havoc.
As a team, decide if your file names need to include:
- Client Names
- Project Names
- Iteration or Version Number
- Creation Date (and date format: 2016/05/20 or 5-20-16 or 05202016)
- Author Name
There also needs to be agreement on what order the information needs to appear, which depends on business priorities. If one document has versions for different clients, then the client name might need to appear first, or the team might want it to appear after the document name.
Moving To A New Address
There’s nothing like that new office smell. Fresh, clean carpet. New executive chairs, still in their plastic wrap. IKEA desks in a million pieces on the floor. Great fun. But do your customers and prospects know where to find you?
- Did you leave a notice at the old address?
- Did you update your Google listing? How about Facebook? Your website?
- Do you need to update your letterhead? Brochures? Business cards?
- Do you have a seasonal ad, like a sponsorship ad in the local theater program? A sign at the high school stadium? An ad at the bowling alley?
- Do all your customers/clients know? How about subcontractors and vendors in other cities?
- Should you spend on an ad in the paper?
Changing Your Office Hours
Most small businesses have pretty stable business hours, but sometimes things change. Doctors add an extra day for appointments or switch their day off. Restaurants add breakfast hours. How do you let your customers know?
- Did you update your Google listing? How about Facebook? Your website?
- Do you have a marquee sign on the highway? How about the lettering on your door?
- Do you have brochures in your lobby with your hours on them?
- Do you have your hours on your letterhead or appointment reminder cards?
Updating Your Corporate Branding
Any time you change the color, shape, or font of your logo, it has the same effect as creating a new business from scratch in the mind of your customers. In our media-overwhelmed culture, people are looking for things they recognize within a second of seeing or hearing. The same word in a different color or font looks like a whole new company.
The same is true to a lesser degree any time you change your marketing slogans or pitch, or when you change your spokesperson or voice talent.
Does the logo appear on:
- Print promotions? Brochures?
- Order forms?
- Office documents?
- Online ads?
- TV ads?
- Social media posts?
It would be nice if all social media channels used the same image specifications (height, width, safe space, etc.), but they don’t. Often, organizations have to create several different forms of the same image to optimize all the different channels. If you share videos, it creates a whole other set of issues. I once worked at an organization where we had to up eight different size images for different types of print, online, e-mail, and video outlets. It created several hours of work each week reformatting each marketing image.
Launching A New Sales Promotion
Sales promotions take several forms, from posters around town to web landing pages. There are several questions to ask:
- Do you need to build linkages to the new landing page on existing web pages?
- Do you have product pages that need links to the new promotions?
- What colors, fonts, and images did you use on the new promotion?
- How do they need to appear on your website and social media?
- Should it appear on your homepage – or should it just be a new menu item?
- Does this replace your cover photo on Facebook?
- Does it change your cover on every social media channel?
Designing New Staff Name Tags
Some companies with several customer-facing teams create name tags that help differentiate the teams. Apple Stores have Specialists, Geniuses, and several other teams. Churches have greeters, ushers, children’s area workers, and on and on. One way to help people quickly find the people they need is to color-code or shape-code name tags. Here are some questions to ask when doing this:
- What colors appeal to your guests? Muted, dark, or neon bright?
- Do you want colors that coordinate with your uniforms?
- Does each team need a unique design, or should they be the same except for color?
- Do you need signs around the guest area that provide a guide for understanding the name tags? Do you need a video?
- How often do the name tags need to change?
- Can you print them in-house or do you need to outsource them?
- Do you need to add your logo or other branding to the name tags? If so, do you need to stick to the corporate color scheme?
- Do you need to match the look to other signage around the guest area?
- Does your culture require strict adherence to naming standards or can people have fun with personalizing their name tags?
- Do you need to reference the name tags in the new hire training?
The easiest way to ensure that your branding and messaging are consistent, clear, and not confusing is to assign one person with a good eye for detail to oversee all your communication channels, both internal and external. Another solution is to establish checklists.
Of course, not all ripples start in the marketing department. Sometimes, things change in the front office, and those changes ripple out to other areas of the business.
Changing Corporate Policy
As companies grow (or shrink), things change. Daily company meetings become weekly team meetings. Job descriptions become more specific. Approved vendors come and go. Free lunch and coffee become free water. Dress codes come and go.
Some questions to ask:
- Does this change affect everyone equally, or is it really just for certain groups of people?
- Is this policy a knee-jerk reaction to an event, or is there a long-term plan for this change?
- Will there be an additional cost to uphold this policy? Where will that come from?
- Will this policy make it difficult for people to do their jobs?
- Will this policy create an atmosphere of safety and trust, or of competition and paranoia?
Introducing A New Project Manager
Your project manager has moved on to start his own business and Sara, a talented young member of the team has been promoted to project manager. You send an e-mail to the current project team and invite the entire home office team to the break room to make the announcement. What else do you have to think about?
- Does HR need to know about the change to Sara’s title?
- Does this promotion move her into a new payroll and benefits bracket?
- Does Sara need to have authority to hire or fire? Can she build a team?
- Does she need keys to areas of the building she didn’t have before?
- Do team members know to direct their project-related questions to Sara?
- Does she need new business cards or a new page on the website?
- Do clients and outside vendors know Sara? Do you need to make introductions?
- Does Sara need an expense account or access to bank accounts or credit cards?
Adding Bullets To A List
Let’s say you’ve started writing an article about the Ripple Effect and an idea comes to you while you’re laying in bed. You need to add a section to the article, but the idea for a subhead doesn’t exactly fit with the other subheads – verb tenses or word structure or some such thing. Should you keep trying to make this new idea fit, or should you change the format of the other subheads so this one fits as it is?
Will this article be published as part of a series? If so, do the subheads need to fit with the subheads from the other articles in the series?
Some Basic Ripple Questions To Ask
Obviously, change takes many forms in business, and each type of change comes with its own types of ripples. But there are a few high-level questions you can ask yourself any time you have to make a decision to make a change in any aspect of your business:
- What part of the operation of my business will be affected by this change?
- Who needs to know about this change?
- What are all the channels I will need to use to communicate this change to customers, prospects, or employees?