The best universe wins

How to best sell Yourself? By enveloping Your business or product in a world of it’s own. People have always loves “worlds” – not least because we have short attention spans. In fact, there’s a very certain way we interpret everything…

(I wrote these words sometime in 2008)

Globalization has resulted in an explosion of quantity: populous countries with low wages now have enough highly educated and creative people; they have good productioncapacity and technology, etc. To outsource to these countries is not only rational capitalism in the short term, it is also effortless. Anyone can import goods from China, anyone can hire a Polish workman to the manual work and everyone can outsource programming and design to India – and all are on the way to do it. When the supply is so large, you can be sure that there is one out there in the world who are doing the same thing as you and even much cheaper and just as good.

Note: it’s been found that producing on the back of cheap labor may result in worse products or bad service, and quality-focused western companies, formerly outsourcing, are actually retreating to the West.

Already a consumer don’t have many opportunities to see the technical and professional differences between you and your competitors – she really only have her feelings to trust, and in a meeting with your product goes through what I call The Emotional Funnel.

When she first meets your website, your product, your service representative, she is very critical and need general information. If she is not disappointed, she invests more time, needs more detailed information, and becomes less critical. Much of what she does, she will justify as conscious decisions, but she will act on her feelings.

Thus, emotions are the only real parameter or competitive advantage – both because globalization has eliminated the possibility of trying to compete on most other parameters, but mostly because we humans are people.

And because we humans are emotional, the use of feelings is the best way to reach a customer. And because a customer is most critical early in the interaction – the first impression is formed within seconds – quick communication is necessary.
And images that stirs emotions, are thus the fastest and best means of communication.

Reaching a recipient through breathtaking images is not new. And linking the breathtaking images into a coherent world is not new: Lord of the Rings from 1954 is probably a good bet, followed by Star Wars in 1977. The former was written by JRR Tolkien, the latter written in close collaboration with Joseph Campbell. Both of these men dealt intensively with ancielt languages, religion, legends and myths from around the world through all time. They knew how stories work and how people use them to create understanding, defining our world or environment, creating order from chaos. Both Lord of the Rings and Star Wars was more than successes, they were defining for posterity.

We humans are in some ways always four years old: we want the adrenaline-fueled sense of danger, but also a calming reassuring feeling of familiarity. All success stories in human history, regardless of media, have mastered this duality – not least the previously mentioned two. Both throw reader / viewer into a strange world, which they then guide the reader or viewer through. This world itself is thoroughly described, but it is also suggested to be greater than the reader / viewer get to see: a whole universe!

A communication universe is, in my sense, a fictional world that your products exist in. A universe is not an advertisement, a competition or a temporarily assumed identity, it is a focused and alive set of values which is expressed in words, pictures and products.
A universe is all about being creative and it speaks to the emotions, with emotions: stories, adventures, experience, shock, experience, empathy, compassion, provocation, etc. It is not important whether the universe is expressed most strongly visual or linguistic, but always uses the elements to compliment and support each other.

A good universe arouses pleasure and curiosity in the customer – and provokes also a bit. It tells a story (or uses the typical narrative techniques), puts things in context, provide both comfort and adventure. The good universe is both autonomous and independent – it cares not for anything but itself, but on the other hand it invites the customer inside, to be swallowed up and participate actively.
A good universe knows itself, expresses itself clearly and focused, and is portrayed comprehensively – in as many facets as possible.  It recognizes that it is not the only universe, but as long as the customer is in it, it is the most important that exists. Therefore, it is also not afraid to provoke or repel customers.
By having a good universe, the company stands out –is salient – but to stand out is not the same as having a good universe. A universe is a cohesive message about who you are, what is unique, lovable, desirable, interesting, attractive, etc. The person who communicates the best universe, sell easier.

A communication universe is not advertising or marketing, but is expressed among other things through them. Traditionally, marketing is a monologue, but a good universe is not afraid of a dialogue with the customer, and may even be expressed in product ranges, etc. Marketing is focused on pretending, the universe is focused on existing. Theatre and film work with the concept of misé en scene: that which is on stage, as seen by the audience. But a good universe is not just dependent on being gazed upon, and it is larger than it appears.

A universe is not storytelling, the company and it’s employees are not included as specific actors. A universe is not corporate communication  – which essentially means to communicate the same to the greatest possible number of stakeholders, which is a merely a traditional tool. The communications Universe is a new way of communicating, not least because it is an indirect form, but more because it contains far more than just communication and marketing: corporate identity, customer as co-owners and co-creators, dialogue, products, and much more.

So what IS a universe?
A company’s universe is everything the company is. A communications universe is the combined portrayal of the company. Only part of it by the company itself, and almost noone with the full picture of it. And it can be modifed by a conscious effort – PR and advertising – but not completely created or replaced.
Thus, the company’s values are often expressed through a universe, but values alone can never constitute a whole universe. An important difference is that values that are often used as marketing tool rather than as an identity tool is not damaged by being described and discussed, but when a communications universe is publicly discussed and described, it dies!
Logic and magic cannot coexist.

What does “The best universe wins” mean for my business?
Logic has been relegated to the background. Speaking to logic and focusing mainly on information will of course not disappear, but those who can “wrap it” in a good universe will stand out in the crowd of competitors. And those who can implement the universe thoroughly through their company will stand out among the companies that use universes. This will translate into gains in market share – customers will simply be too engaged and entertained to bother finding a competitor.

Those that implements a universe help themselves through the implied need to define himself and his surroundings. Once this is done, the gain is increased further by a stronger culture or self-consciousness. This will have some impact on attracting competent employees.

You can win by letting your customers help, or even handed, your universe – I’ve written about this in “The co-creative consumer”.

How do I create a good Universe?
A universe created by forming chains of connotation for what your business is or will be: a real and an ideal chain of connotation. Real connotations stems from questions about the present, such as who the company is, what values it has, what characterizes the industry it belongs to, who is the company’s customers, etc? Ideal connotations arises from conditions from which the company wishes to remove itself: how will the company look like in 3 years, how does the customers really want to see themselves, how can it best to stand out from competitors in the industry, where is the whole industry going, etc.
Then insert the answers and the resulting questions in chains, so they from long chains of connotations: use pictures, actions, events, stories and quotes, then replace the unwanted cultural connotations with their ideal counterpart. This single chain now defines its universe. It must now be inhabited, constructed visually and linguistic, made to come alive.

Examples of parts of a communications universe
Often one sees communication abbreviated into staccato-like recitation. The idea is to radiate efficiency and effectiveness, but it prevents a clear understanding  and it makes the universe stiff, cool and efficient. If you want to radiate kindness, humanity and warmth, scientific terms and jargon should be avoided,  phrases written out more fully, and more attempts at engaging recipient, must be included. Cool is not specifically more undesirable than hot, it is all about which impression you want to create – what Your universe is about.

Example:
Instead of “Transformation, organization and individual“, rather spell it out: “Transforming organizations – to the benefit of human beings“.

Product descriptions are often boring and factual. But precisely here is really good opportunities for the universe to show itself. Not least because we have become accustomed to flowery phrases in corporate self-descriptions, but factuality in product descriptions. And this despite the fact that it is products to be sold to discerning customers.

The old verson:”Storage Bin: good for storing many different things, or as decorative touches. Now available in Denmark. Handmade in oak, good for both outdoor and indoor use, surface must however be treated with a little oil for a better life if they are to remain outside. Limited inventory.
The original text is written in the typical staccato form with many facts and no unnecessary fillers. A fictitious rewriting would aim to create a universe filled with history, craftsmanship and personal dedication – and still communicate the essentials, but in an exciting and appealing language.

The new version: “Our ancestors knew the value and robustness of the barrel, and stored and freighted almost everything in this way. Our cooper has just finished these sturdy barrels of oak – and that with the same diligence and skill as his predecessors. Threfore we don’t have so many to sell, but we promise you that the few we have will serve their new owners faithfully – especially if the barrels are given a layer of oil before use.

Another version – from feature list to prose – It takes only 20 minutes to rewrite the text list of alternatives for a more lively and engaging one.

Old boring version:
“Rocky 24” kids bike – Model Space Bellevue or agent
3 gears rotate shifter.
Heavy-duty wheels.
V-brake on front wheel.
foot brake on rear wheels.
Hjulstr.: 24 “.
Stelstr.: 33/41 inch (girl / boy).
Color: Pink (girl).
Color: Black / gray (boy).
Age group: 7-11 year olds.
Weight: 14.7 / 15.4 (girl / boy). ”
Comes 90% assembled. Front wheel, handlebar, saddle, screen and pedals to be fitted.

New version:
Tough bike for cool kids – Rocky 24
This bike is for the 7-11 year olds who are heading into life – or to weekly handball practice. It is available only in pink for girls and gray / black for boys, but then again: it’s assembled in just 15 minutes and it has 3 gears, so your kids are both soon and fast on it’s wheels.
It has V-brake on front and pedal brake on the rear, where the 3 gears are also located. The sturdy alu-wheels measures 24 ” and the frame itself is 33/41cm for girl / boy – that comes to 15 kg in total.”

Product images are, if possible, even better to realize a universe – because people orient themselves visually and intuitively. By using a background image, a framing and possibly supportive designs / helpers, you can literally create a window to the world as the product the hero belongs.

The example shown here is a massage oil (pukkaherbs.com) made of herbs, a product that can connote femininity, nature, wellness, pastels, etc. Therefore, a universe built on the exotic nature: crooked lines, flowers and soft colors, as I have tried it in the example above to the right – which cost $ 1 and 10 minutes work. Imagine product listings looking as that on the right, instead of now, that on the left. The universe may be populated on the same theme but with a different accent, every expression.

A few good things to remember:
A) Know who you are, what your products are and what they relate to, and connote. Know who your customers are and what their world consists of. If your text contain a lot of rules, orders and conditions, your business appear as authoritarian. However, if they contain advice and guidance, it stands as the forthcoming and consulting. If your pictures are clinical, You appear as boring. If they reversely arepart of a world, they appear as exciting and also relevant to those relating to the world.

B) Define the universe and communicate it targeted. It’s very popular to use many features to show how broad and exciting your companyis, but the result can lead to confusion for the recipient. Be focused.

C) All elements can and should play together, each must aim at creating and / or supporting the universe.

D) Any text can be transformed, all images can be changed.

What should I avoid in relation to the creation of my universe?
You should avoid using communication universes as a marketing trick alone. A company which in practice behave authoritarian, can not express themselves as playful or democratic without being detected and revealed – sooner rather than later. The backlash will be disastrous.
Unfurtunately, company values are used most in this way today – Mette Morsing (Corporate Moral Branding 2001) has discovered that the same 20 values is echoed by many (Danish) companies – in this way undermines the importance of having values.

You should avoid to write or explain your universe – as it dies. As just reviewed, do companies today go to great lengths to invoke values and explaining them in long tirades. A universe would lose its meaning in this case, because you then put logic in magic – it will work at receiver as magic – to explain the unexplainable, practice the aesthetic – and it kills it.