Free Coordinates

For good communication

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  • Published: Aug 5th, 2020
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The speech of a tiger shark…

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Every time we communicate we use a tone of voice, and that tone creates a sense of character. Whether we’re talking personally or as a multibillion dollar corporate body – none of us likes to be taken the wrong way. So the task with tone is to get our true character across.

I spend a fair bit of my time with clients helping them define and use a tone that fits their character. So they can give customers, investors and other stakeholders a clear sense of who they are and why they’re different. Alongside core purpose and culture, tone is critical. A galvanising core purpose, so you know exactly where you are going and why you want to get there; a strong values-based culture, so you journey together as one through thick and thin; and the right tone, so you communicate your true self clearly and characterfully – these are the three essentials at the heart of all great businesses.

Talking of truly characterful communication, here’s a brilliant take on the power of tone, courtesy of Jayne Cortez: “The speech of a tiger shark is not like the bark of an eagle fish…”

Tiger shark, eagle fish, plain old human being, bright new business – no matter who you are: find your own voice, and use it.

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  • Published: Jan 8th, 2020
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Champions keep playing…

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This time last year in Barbados, I came across a mighty fine motto accompanying a court for the island’s homegrown game of road tennis:

CHAMPIONS KEEP PLAYING

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAMPIONS KEEP PLAYING – both a definition and an encouragement, it’s one of those immediately getable and galvanizing phrases that stick in your head in a good way. Like all great calls to action, it not only sounds right but rings true. There’s no avoiding it – to win at anything truly worthwhile, you’ve got to put the effort in. Take for example the work rate of Liverpool Football Club’s players, who are heading for clear victory in this year’s Premier League. Last season, the Reds clocked up 4,737 sprints – more than 150 ahead of the next closest team. As Jürgen Klopp said when asked the secret of the club’s success: “No secrets, hard work.”

So Happy New Year to champions everywhere – keep playing.

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  • Published: Jul 3rd, 2019
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The necessary qualities of good business…

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In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, I came across a “devoted band that called itself the Eldorado Exploring Expedition. Their talk was the talk of sordid buccaneers: it was reckless without hardihood, greedy without audacity, and cruel without courage; there was not an atom of foresight or of serious intention in the whole bunch of them, and they did not seem aware these things are wanted for the work of the world. To tear treasure out of the bowels of the land was their desire, with no more moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe.”

Strikes me that the qualities the Eldorado Explorers lack are the very ones that lie at the heart of what goes into good business: hardihood, audacity, courage, foresight and serious intention. These five are a handy guide and inspiration for all of us trying to do worthwhile work in the world.

Better a good business than a sordid buccaneer. Every time.

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  • Published: Oct 10th, 2016
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Three funny sounding words…

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Never Knowingly Undersold. These “three funny sounding words”, as John Lewis calls them in their current crop of print ads, sum up the retailer’s unchanging price promise to customers. It’s a promise they’ve stuck to since 1925 and one they maintain they’ll always honour. Indeed why wouldn’t they – good value never goes out of fashion.

But are they really that funny sounding? There’s certainly a distinctive character to them, which is an undoubted plus. A more straightforward trio such as Always Good Value would also be more forgettable.

Funny or not, there’s a lot to be said for the power of three, for example in adding melody and memorability to your writing, and in creating a groundbreaking way to give everyone, everywhere a simple address.

So in distilling your story and/or articulating your promise, it’s no bad thing to go for three distinctive words. Funny sounding optional.

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  • Published: Sep 5th, 2016
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The cat sat on the dog’s mat…

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What’s at the heart of a good story?

Who better to answer than the creator of Smiley’s People and countless other gripping tales, John Le Carré: “You take one character, you take another character and you put them in collision. And the collision arises because they have different appetites and you begin to get the essence of drama. The cat sat on the mat is not a story; the cat sat on the dog’s mat is the beginning of an exciting story.”

And of a classic ad for real fires. Woof woof, miaow miaow, squeak.

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  • Published: Jul 21st, 2016
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Write differenter…

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In a new book, ex Apple ad guy Ken Segall encourages us to Think Simple. A good call, for there are virtues in cutting out complexity, such as making things easier to understand and speeding up decision taking. A timely call, too, as simplicity’s stock is rising. Across business models and brands, from cooking to cycling – simple is fashionable. But is it everything?

Under Ken Segall’s watch, Apple ran the famous Think Different campaign, which by all accounts provoked a fair few complaints about the slogan’s poor grammar. Yet by lopping off the adverbial tail of the second word, Segall & co not only made the line simpler, but also more characterful. Think Differently. Correct, yes, but less distinctive than Think Different.

So, let’s not only write clearly, let’s write differenter.

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  • Published: Oct 7th, 2015
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In the blood…

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An incisive take on tone of voice, courtesy of one of the big pop hits of the 8Os: A-Ha’s Take On Me

“We’d already written Take On Me but hadn’t recorded it…It reminded me of an advert for chewing gum that went: Juicy Fruit is a packet full of sunshine. That influenced the verse melody,” says A-Ha’s singer Morten Harket. “Paul [Waaktaar-Savoy, guitarist] had the idea of really using my vocal range in the chorus, having notes rising in octaves like Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra. As for hitting that last high note, you either have wings or you don’t – the voice is not in the throat, it’s in the blood. It’s what you envisage, what you believe. ”

From the flighty falsetto of Take On Me to the rutting bellow of the red deer in Bushy Park last weekend:

Red Deer copy edit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Albeit way down the scale, this character’s call was equally full of emotional conviction.

High notes or low, find your voice in your blood. Sing from the heart.

 

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  • Published: Aug 26th, 2015
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Nobody likes a tailgater…

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Driving back to London along the M1 after a wonderful week in Wales climbing mountains, canoeing lakes and chomping chips, we slowed down along a sustained stretch of 50mph roadworks.

Nothing new there for anyone familiar with the UK’s motorway network, except for the unusually characterful traffic signs. Gone were the standard blunt and bland commands to keep your speed down. In their place, conversational messages: “Nobody likes a tailgater”, “Let’s all get home safely”, “Our Dad works here”…

With their refreshingly friendly tone, they certainly caught the eye and according to a Highways England spokesman have been developed with the help of psychologists “to improve the customer experience through roadworks”. I’m not sure it’s about improving the customer experience so much as making safety messages clearer and more compelling. On that score, the ones I saw worked well. Nobody does like a tailgater, for example – not even the tailgater themselves, when they stop and think about how dumb and dangerous they have been.

But then came a message that stood out by virtue of its worrying ambiguity: “You may not always see us”. Did it mean that the road workers were not always there? We know that already – how many times have you driven along a stretch of motorway roadworks with not a worker in sight! Or did it mean that we were not allowed always to see the road workers? A rather rude mind-your-own-business message. Or did it mean that sometimes the road workers were difficult to see. Yes, but that in turn raised another question: Why aren’t road workers more visible? Worse, this sign was on the central reservation, rather than on the left by the hard shoulder – the natural home for such signs. It was all rather distracting and disconcerting – the last thing you want when driving along a motorway – and made me hanker for a much simpler old-style “drive carefully”.

So, when revamping motorway messages or indeed any other communication, it always pays to pay attention to keeping clarity while adding character.

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  • Published: May 12th, 2015
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Creatures of emotion and imagination…

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What made Winston Churchill a great leader?

In a National Trust feature gently plugging his newly published The Churchill FactorBoris Johnson cites his hero’s “ability to stick to his guns and to inspire people, and he was brave. He also had a love of language and could explain what was going on in a way that engaged people. We are creatures of emotion and imagination, and language is absolutely vital.”

So if you want to lead, choose your words wisely – and aim them at the heart.

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  • Published: Mar 6th, 2015
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Earthy eloquence…

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“Lincoln’s great skill was to speak simply. He searched for language that was spare, colourful and accessible to all,” says Martin Kettle in an article on the great orator of Gettysburg.

“He liked it dry, clear and cogent, but he liked colloquialism too. As Harriet Beecher Stowe put it, Lincoln’s language always had the “relish and smack of the soil”. An aide tried to get him to withdraw the phrase “sugar-coated” from a speech once, on the grounds it was undignified. Lincoln would have none of it. He was also a great pruner: the Gettysburg address, perhaps the best-known political speech in English of all time, is less than 300 words long and took as little as three minutes to deliver.”

Earthy eloquence at a hundred words per minute – we could do a lot worse than aim for this in all our communication.

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