How Would Coca-Cola Fix the Construction Skills Gap?

VIDEO CREDIT: This is Coca-Cola’s advert, and nothing about me posting it here implies anything else. All credits, images and copyright remain with them, in perpetuity (they’ve got a big legal team)

It’s almost that time of year again when our TV viewing becomes colonised by adverts full of reassuringly predictable depictions of snow, happy families, and calorie-laden items that must be consumed. One of the most notable advert over the years has been the Coca-Cola Christmas convoy, arriving to the tune of “Holidays are coming…”

If you’re involved in the construction sector, and particularly if you’re feeling the pain of the skills shortage, I encourage to watch that advert this year with new perspective. Because, whilst it might make you feel all warm and fuzzy, a couple of details are missing.

At the end of the advert, ask yourself how much the Coca-Cola drink costs. Or where you buy it from. Or what it tastes like. Or whether it’s any good for you. Because the advert won’t tell you any of those things.

Now, Coca-Cola is one of the most powerful brands on the planet, with people in more than 200 countries drinking 1.9 billion servings every day (according to The Coca-Cola Company) so they can play fast and loose with things as trivial as product details. The construction sector isn’t quite there yet, and we still need to include facts in our careers promotion.

So what is Coca-Cola really selling?

The kind of promotion adopted by Coca-Cola is known as ‘brand advertising’, as opposed to ‘direct response advertising’ which encourages the viewer to take a specific action. Brand advertising creates an emotive response about a company’s reputation, and it stimulates positive feelings of trust, reassurance and comfort. The very mention of the brand name (or the sight of the brand logo) conjures all of a customer’s experiences and perceptions of a business—good and bad. A company’s brand represents their market identity—who they are, what they do, their personality, what kind of quality they provide, their reputation for trustworthiness, and more.

This emotive technique is called anchoring, and the reason big brands spend millions to achieve it is because emotion is significantly more powerful in decision-making than facts (see: Brexit and the US election as very current examples). That should be no surprise. Studies show that we rely on emotions, rather than information, to make all sorts of decisions in all aspects of our lives. We might justify the rationale of decisions with facts, but ultimately we make our choices based on how they make us feel.

And yet, construction often seems to rely on statistics and ‘logical’ arguments when we talk about careers and opportunities in the sector. There is certainly a need for information about potential salaries, career progression, and overseas opportunities to reinforce what we say, but we’re missing all the emotive points around trust, reassurance, quality, reputation, and personality.

If you’ve done any kind of sales training, you’ll have heard the mantra, “sell benefits, not features”. And when we promote careers in construction we definitely need fewer features, more benefits. Why am I linking careers to sales? Because careers promotion IS selling – we’re selling a future, a choice, a qualification, a lifestyle. And ‘buyers’ are just as reliant on anchored emotion, whether they’re buying a winter coat or a job opportunity, and they need to feel a certain way before they take any action.

I’m absolutely certain that you love construction and want to encourage others to join the sector, but assuming that young people will understand why they should act just because they’ve been told some facts about something is leading us further and further into a significant skills shortage. When we try to sell the features of our industry, or profession, or specialism, we’re making our ‘customer’ do all the work to figure out why they want the feature and how it will benefit them.

So, what can you do? (Because I’m all about taking action; no empty theory here!)

Tell stories.

Stories are a great way to get your point across. Stories draw people in. Stories allow us to convey context. We all love a good story. We read stories in the newspapers, and watch them on TV and film.

What do I mean when I say the word “story?” Are we talking about Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast, with a handsome prince and a plucky heroine? No. Well, not usually, anyway. What I mean by storytelling is an event that happens during a user’s experience that creates a positive emotion.

Careers stories aren’t adverts or marketing pitches. Careers stories are stories, and should be thought of in that way. And stories have three key steps: perspective, plot, and permutation.

Step 1: Find your perspective

You can’t tell a story without a main character. Who will be yours? For stories that sell qualifications or job opportunities, storytelling is often told best from the ‘buyer’s’ perspective, showing a successful interaction in a unique way. For stories focused on an employer or a career path, it is generally more useful to tell a story from the perspective of the community being served.

You want your audience to identify with your story, because identification engenders trust. They should see themselves in your story—any good narrative always starts with them.

Step 2: Draft a plot

Storytelling is plot, and writing yours is going to be the most important step in the process. Your plot could show an employee benefitting from the future promise you’re conveying, or by showing the future promise carried out in the served community.

Don’t be afraid to think in storyboard form. Your plot should be as easy to follow as a storyboard, and it’ll help you hit the main pivot points. Where does it begin and where does it end up? How is the experience changing for the main character and what emotional note does the story hit at the conclusion?

Step 3: Think in permutations

Now that you have a story, how will you tell it? School assemblies might be the starting point, but a good story is flexible enough to thrive on many communication channels. Your audience must be able to retell it to others.

Beautiful still photos from the story could have appropriate copy for Instagram. The story could lead to audience questions or calls-to-action on Twitter and Facebook. Pieces of the story could become bite-sized shareable content for Twitter. A story hashtag encourages user-generated content.

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