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How to Communicate the Unknown

How to Communicate the Unknown
Visionary ideas are at the core of business growth. It’s not just Google or Tesla, either. It is business critical to continuously ask the question: what is possible?

With that, comes the unknown. It plays a major part in the vision of any company. Executives must be able to show value from an uncertain outcome. In a world of facts, figures and risk assessments, many communicators and executives choose to avoid the unknown and focus messaging on certainty.

There is a balance to be had, for sure. When done right, business communications and public relations initiatives can help educate people, and create engagement opportunities to help speed up the adoption curve. On the flip side, telling an unclear story could derail a major deal, or impact the outcomes of an investor roadshow. Or worse: your firm is a risk.

It is critical for companies to clearly communicate the vision of what could be.

Anchor an Evolving Process

Recently, I had a conversation with Jeffery Dale, a Practice Builder at Kimley-Horn and Associates, a leading engineering design and planning firm. After we caught up on common colleagues and upcoming events, we spoke about our respective roles at our firms.

We agreed that our work with emerging technologies such as automated vehicles, IoT, and smart cities is exciting and groundbreaking. It also became clear that we spend a lot of time communicating the unknown. He literally said, “with my focus on strategic planning related to these emerging technologies, most of my time is spent on what is possible and helping clients prepare.” As a strategic communicator myself, I can completely relate.

It’s not just technology firms, either. Traditional industries such as life insurance, financial, and everything in between are transforming. Have you ever heard of a company named Lemonade? The firm is turning the very traditional rental insurance market on its head (no Beyonce connection). How about Electric Cab of Austin? Intelligent transportation is on the minds of every municipality and university.

It’s what could be. And, it is a challenge for nearly every company.

To help anchor an evolving process, here are a few strategic communications and public relations perspectives to remember.

Top 3 Ways to Harness the PR Power of the Unknown

  • Run Towards It, Not Away (Educate): Certainty usually wins out in newsrooms and communications departments. As it should. The challenge is when the company vision is literally looking over the horizon. Some might say, ‘ahead of its time.’ Those can be the best opportunities and can produce the most impactful stories. Run toward the uncertainty. Leverage industry trend statistics that help frame up the need, and be authentic with messaging about the ongoing development aspects. Listen to key audiences for pain points. Own the business opportunity, and communicate the possible. It is an effective foundation for any public relations program.
  • Use Analogies (Relate): Change can be difficult for many people. Yet, change is the only constant. An effective way to introduce new information is to quickly make it relatable. That way, people can process it in a meaningful way, and be ready to learn more. You’ve essentially leapfrogged the first barrier to entry. A CEO explained his company to me with these words: “It’s like an MRI for your energy usage.” Perfect.
  • Tell the Impact of No Action (Motivate): One of the most powerful perspectives is the ‘we do nothing’ approach. What happens if everything stayed the same? What doesn’t happen? Every company adds value and plays a role in a larger industry. An effective framework can actually be the opposite perspective. What if everything stayed the same? The answers can help craft a framework for motivation and action.

It is an amazing time to be a communicator. Nearly every industry is creating new business models based on a series of evolving and developing innovations.

By focusing on the possible, we can better understand the unknown, and rally towards the vision for any industry.

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