About the Podcast
The Adapt Inc. Places podcast helps me reach out to others interested in my area of PhD research. I am interested in understanding how people make place related decisions. I am also a digital user experience (UX) researcher in my day job. Merging the worlds of digital UX with the physical of place sounds like an exciting area to explore. Given how much online presence places have – I am quite interested in championing the UX of places and reaching those that want to go on a digital transformation journey.
In this first episode of the Adapt Inc. Places Podcast Gunter Soydanbay a brand strategist with a keen interest in place branding talks about some simple tools that you can apply in order to communicate clearly during times of crisis. My passion for simple tools (or heuristics) meant that I was listening intently and already applied some of his insights in my work. Günter is an insight-filled brand strategist with significant experience in working with big brands, complex stakeholder organizations, and places. You can get in touch with him by visiting soydanbay.com
We discussed Gunter’s experience in place branding and got to clarify some of our definitions before delving into his prescription of how to communicate as a place brand in a time of crisis:
"One might say that business to business branding is similar, and I would concur with that. And what makes it particularly different with places is that when you're working with any type of traditional brands you have to work outside in. So you look out in the market, you identify your target, you identify the needs the ones, you look at the competition, and you create your own niche based on what you observe out there. With places you cannot do that, because the place already exists, you have minimal control over the place. There are only the perceptions about the place. So you have to work inside out.”
Complexity and Lack of Control
I asked Gunter about his understanding of complexity and what this means for place brand management. How can we manage a place brand given the complexity and now the crisis situation imposed by Covid-19:
“Well, at the granular level, we can say that the metaphor [of a flock of birds] represents the key stakeholders. When you're working with a, with a place you have to deal with so many stakeholders, everybody has a different vision for the city for the region for the country. So in that sense... none of them is completely in charge, they just hold a piece of the power, and they all have to fly together in order not to crash into each other. And at the more macro level, it is actually the place itself, you know, with its inhabitants, hundreds of thousands of people or millions of people, because at the end of the day, the perceptions that we have of place is partial”
Psychological Concepts to be Aware of when Communicating in a Time of Crisis
Our discussions about place and complexity helped set up the discussion but they did not make it into the final edit of the podcast. I wanted to keep the podcast action oriented - focusing on how to communicate in a time of crisis. Here is a brief overview
Gunter talked about how change can’t always be managed in the traditional ways – sometimes we deal with crisis situations. Crisis situations require that place managers are aware of 4 concepts from psychology:
_mental noise - When we are stressed, anxious, panicked or afraid, our ability to process information goes down significantly.
_risk perception - Crisis communications have to deal with a paradox: the risks that kill or harm people and the dangers that alarm and upset people are often very different. The real threat and the perceived risk are virtually unrelated.
_Trustworthiness - In the absence of trust, no communication objective can be achieved. Determination of trust takes place in the unconscious mind.
_Systematic error (bias) - we are all have a deviation away from traditionally understood rationality that under stress may be even more pronounced
I was curious to learn from Gunter’s background in psychology as I am a marketer by training and only in my PhD am delving deeper into evolutionary psychology and some of it’s applications in behavioural economics and decision-making. As I have been reflecting on heuristics as adaptive strategies rather than fallible replacement for full rationality I wanted to probe how Gunter sees their relationship with cognitive biases. After all the point of our discussion was for him to give us rules of thumb or heuristics to help communicate in a time of crisis but at the same time he acknowledged the fundamental nature of our minds always having some inbuilt systematic errors (or bias):
“I guess the deep fundamental thing about the idea of nudging is it doesn't work on everybody, right? It just makes marginal improvements. on on certain things. Let's say that you can reduce like late payments by 12% If nudging can help you with that, then by all means use it but it doesn't make the problem disappear. That itself tells you that there is no one knowledge that solves everything, there is no one cognitive bias, which you can identify that can solve the entire problem.”
The Crisis Communication Tools:
The psychological concepts discussed earlier in the conversation led us to discuss 4 communications tools that work in time of crisis:
_Average Grade Level Minus 4 - Due to mental noise, messages should be greatly simplified. A good guide recommends aiming at the average grade level of the intended audience, minus four.
_3 Positives for Each Negative - positive here was discussed as meaning constructive rather than positive in clearly uneasy times
_Rule of 3 Messages - Again, due to mental noise, in high-stress situations, we can process fewer messages than we usually could. Consequently, you should limit yourself to having three key messages.
_9 Words in 3 Seconds - Finally, messages should be concise and precise. It is recommended that each of the three key messages should be organized into sound bites containing a maximum of 9 words that can be spoken in three seconds.
Here is a website recommended by Gunter with some of the academics he follows recommending how to communicate in a time of crisis: