Primum non nocere is a Latin phrase which means ‘first, do no harm’. Although this is part of bioethics, it does make sense to keep this phrase in mind while handling business communication. Whether communication is good, bad, or mediocre, it should first and foremost do no harm to the business.

Why do businesses need to communicate?

Businesses rarely exist as islands. They primarily exist to provide either a service/product/information to their customers. Various channels are used to communicate information about the business, what is being offered, and how much it might cost, all while keeping to ethical issues in business, for the integrity of the business is what keeps its reputation in the business ecosystem.

In times when people lived in villages, business was rather straightforward. Need some metal work? One went to an ironmonger. Need supplies? There was the store which sold all kinds of stuff. Everyone knew where these places were.

Where is the need to communicate? The ironmonger needed to inform people about the services he offered. He probably put up a board. What about the store? They needed to let people know that they had a list of wares they were selling. A board with prices helped. A farmer had cows and horses to sell; he put up a board at the entrance, or asked the vet to spread the word.

Straightforward enough.

What happened if there was more than one store or ironmonger? Many farmers selling their cows and horses?

Business communication stepped in.

Then and Now

Fliers were distributed. Boards were put up in high footfall spaces. People carried away fliers for later reference or for passing on. A board of a cute calf on a tall water tank increased visibility for the smart farmer. Very soon this was followed by ads in newspapers, radio, and then TV. Brochures were handed out to customers, both potential and current. Catalogues were circulated to share information about products that companies sold and serviced.

In the last two decades, business communication has spread to company websites, company sponsored forums, conferences, sponsored events, and social media presence, to name a few channels. In the last year, with the spread of Covid-19, there has been an upsurge in virtual presentations and communications.

In a Nutshell

In essence, a business owner needs to communicate well to achieve the following:

  • Keep current customers informed about what is available, and what might be coming soon
  • Get potential customers
  • Keep customers in the loop about quality and price competitiveness
  • Share with customers the changes they intend to make in the business/ technology / processes
  • Communicate to the community about the good they are doing by way of jobs provided, the environment, training, change in ownership, adding new people, acquisitions, expansions, mergers, clarifications, or anything else of importance to the business

The 5 Pillars

Communication can be strange. Sometimes a glance is enough to convey something, and yet there are times when after a long lecture, nothing is gathered by the listeners. Communication is successful, when the receiver has understood things as the communicator intended.

Here are five points to be kept in mind:

1. Know your target audience

Research, research, and more research. This is at the core of finding the audience. Analyze data and dig deep. Even in a wider audience, there are different ways of reaching the various niches. Younger people who are digital natives, consume most things via a mobile device, while others might be more open to a brochure. Even on digital platforms, effective communication requires tweaks for the intended audience. If an audience reads the communication wrong, it’s going to reflect on the bottom line.

2. Clarity on what is to be conveyed

Frequently, there is a lack of focus in what is to be conveyed. When this happens, communication is wasted as the message might be vague. What is to be conveyed must always be understood with clarity or there might be misunderstandings. If this requires extra trained resources, so be it. If a large budget is spent and the communication is vague, the purpose of the entire exercise is wasted.

3. Test the material

Once you have the material, run it by a test audience. Is it reaching them? Do they understand what is being communicated? Are the words being understood, misunderstood, or not understood at all? Is it falling flat? Does it require more humor? More seriousness? Fewer words? Less clutter? Ambiguity? Now that is an absolute no-no.

4. Keep control on the language

This is key. Control what is said and how. Control how much is said. A word wrongly used can change the meaning of what is to be conveyed. The entire exercise of creating new material can fall flat. State what is to be said briefly and clearly. If a mistake has been made, own up. The BP oil spill in 2010 at the Gulf of Mexico, is a famous example of how more communication via ads brought harsh criticism about how the money spent could have been used wisely to clean up the Gulf Coast states where the oil had been spilt.

5. Keep up with the times

Even as leaders have had to upgrade their skills at the art of virtual communication, it’s important for people in communication to keep up with trends. Channels of communication keep changing, and with it changes the attention span. As communication is becoming more visual, text has to complement the imagery. Social media channels have jargon which is local to that channel. Words take on new meanings. ‘Unlike’ is not the traditional unlike. ‘Woke’ has nothing to do with woke.

Communication is a tool in the modern world. It has to be used like a brain surgeon uses her tools – with confidence, dexterity, care, and the goal of doing the best job for the patient, in this case the business.

Never forget – primum non nocere.

Aileen Brent enjoys blogging about STEM, as it’s an extension about the world around us, our home for millennia. She likes the fact that she is a part of the hum of life, something that she likes exploring and knowing better. @AileBrent

Channels of communication stock photo by thenatchdl/Shutterstock