Game-changing trends identified at the Ragan/Southwest conference

Last week, communicators descended on Southwest Airlines’ headquarters in Dallas for a Ragan Communications conference. Here’s what one attendee learned.

For those who couldn’t attend the conference, but would like to view all the presentations, you’re in luck. Ragan offers a webcast of the event that allows you to watch all the sessions without leaving your cube (or couch). Just pop in the DVD and learn from the pros.

Content is the new marketing.

Mark Ragan, CEO of Ragan Communications, told us we need to start thinking of ourselves as “brand journalists” and our companies need to realize they are “media outlets.” If we aren’t shaping the story, someone else is. Our messaging needs to be communications mixed with entertainment, and grab people’s limited attention. The new formula: great content + engagement = success.

Employees and customers want passion and purpose.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, mentioned that a big part of people’s happiness is linked to doing something that has meaning for them, and is contributing to the greater good. Companies must be more than profit-driven, but aspire to contribute to a better world.

As the brand/communications team from Interface explained, they made radical changes to their modular carpet business, embracing sustainability and creating a sense of pride within their workforce that has translated into a more successful company.

Trust your people.

Hire the best and the brightest, and get out of their way as a manager. Southwest looks for people who have “a warrior spirit, service heart, and fun-loving attitude.” As Tony Hsieh from Zappos declared, “We don’t motivate our employees, we inspire them.”

The best ROI for companies today: Invest in your culture.

As the Southwest Airlines team explained, “Happy Employees = Happy Customers = Happy Stakeholders.” You could feel the difference at Southwest headquarters. There were a lot of happy people walking around, and it was amazing how many people had worked there for more than 10 years.

Oh, and Southwest happens to be one of the biggest domestic carriers in the country, something seems to be working on their focus to build the brand inside out.

Social is here to stay, so deal with it.

Social is more than Facebook. SAS fostered internal collaboration and conversations with its internal communications platform. It sparked better employee relationships and connections with teams spread around the world. And if you don’t get it, then learn it, as younger generations enter the workforce, the use of the Internet and collaborative tools are more important than ever to them.

Change is hard, but you can no longer afford to resist it.

Complexity is only increasing and the world is rapidly changing. There has never been such a convergence of disruption for our society, business, and government. As Cisco’s Carlos Dominguez pointed out, “More than 40 percent of the companies today will be out of business in 10 years.” Companies need to be looking forward and constantly adapting to the rapid changes that are occurring in business and technology to thrive.

Focusing on customer service is a critical part of any business strategy going forward.

It doesn’t matter if you sell shoes or deals. Southwest Airlines, Groupon, and Zappos demonstrated the merits of exceptional customer service and how ingrained it was in every aspect of their culture.

You can’t communicate enough to your stakeholders.

As Mark Ragan explained, corporate communicators play a critical role in the success of your company. Content drives everything, and at the center of good business is good communication.

Consumers own your brand.

We are all living this paradigm shift. Dominguez said give your customers social tools and arm them with the resources to represent your brand. He calls it a “contribution revolution.”

Kirstin Falk is a brand engagement strategist with over 15 years of marketing experience. She is co-founder of Lifecycle Strategy Group, a consulting firm that helps its clients engineer meaningful relationships with their employees and customers.

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