On Wednesday I attended Plasticity forum in Shanghai, an event hosted by Doug Woodring that focuses on the plastics industry bringing together professional, experts and stakeholders from around the globe to promote and discuss the future of plastics and its progressive management.
Despite a host of interesting talks I wanted to share with you the theme of a conversation that I had with the senior employee of an organization committed to developing systems that better harness plastic resources. A conversation not unlike many that we have here with clients, collaborators, and others where we discussed how there was an opportunity for foreign firms/ government and their Chinese counterparts to tackle a pressing issue in the country.
In this case, the conversation was about plastic waste.
He and his team had worked hard to develop the right message to deliver to their Chinese contacts, with the hope that it would generate discussion and perhaps lead to a change in policy. In doing so, they decided to focus on the growing issue of plastics in our oceans, to provide a measure of tangibility that would catalyze the needed change, but when presented, it fell flat.
Their Chinese counterparts simply did not see it as an issue (of concern) at all. Highlighting a key issue that we at Collective often encounter – what seems obvious and tangible to one culture and organization can often be completely different to another.
In this case, the romance that Europeans associate with the beach and holidays simply does not exist in China, in fact, vast waves of the Chinese population have likely never seen the sea and as a result, portraying this image will not have the impact and provide the catalyst for changed that it would in Europe.
To help readers better understand our approach to driving local engagement, the below process is for us what we undertake when looking to develop the tangibility needed to drive effective engagements:
Understand your target audience
This may seem obvious but it is vital to the development and underpins all the strategy to follow. Without a deep and complex understanding of who you want to influence or engage, you are bound for failure. Develop this through quantitative and qualitative research and attempt address all key stakeholders.
Develop a succinct tangible message
Develop a message that is clear and to the point. There is often no need to paint a pretty or romantic picture. Find the issues, develop the proposition and, most importantly, make it tangible to those individuals or groups you have worked so hard to understand.
Be prepared to adapt and compromise
Even if you think all the research has been done and the message is clear when you engage your target audience or local experts they may not get the point. In this case, take on board their issues and work with both mindsets to develop the most impactful outcome.
After the initial alignment, get started on what you can
A strong and targeted message is vital but you must build a strong network within the areas of targeted change and communicate with people “on the ground.” Have trusted stakeholders who understand and continue to develop the message is key to project success.
Develop a system to assess progress to help targeted iteration
Not always an easy task but if you develop a system that allows you to understand and quantify which areas of your plan are working and which are not you can best target and allocate resources. Within this at hand, efficient project running and its impact can be maximized.
Repeat the process
Until the problem is fixed.
Combine these 5 factors and you will be well placed to develop, implemented and monitor the success of a project, business model or initiative. In the case of Plastics Europe incorporating some of the above allowed them to move from the issue of ocean pollution to that of local rivers and lakes, water sources that are much more tangible and sentimental to Chinese officials and citizens. This allowed them to deliver the message and to develop the foundation for aligned strategy with the government for business and citizen engagement.