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CNN (TWX) rarely covers the introduction of a new Internet router, but it did on Tuesday, Mar. 9. I can't remember when a radio station in my area covered the launch of a router, but it did, too—on the same day. This wasn't just any router, but Cisco's CRS-3 router, capable of handling 322 terabits of data per second. Still not interested? What if I told you the router is fast enough to stream every movie ever made in less than four minutes? Bet I got your attention. Cisco (CSCO) found a hook.
I first heard about the new Cisco product from a receptionist in our office. As I walked in, she said: "Did you hear about Cisco's new router? It can download the entire Library of Congress in one second." What surprised me was not that Cisco had introduced a phenomenally fast router for service providers. What surprised me was that our receptionist—who has never mentioned Cisco and probably cares little about router speed—was excited about it.
I retrieved the Cisco press release and, sure enough, the streamed movies and Library of Congress hooks were included in the release, word for word. Cisco had given the public something to talk about, a conversation starter. Cisco's customers will not buy the router because it can download the entire Library of Congress collection in one second—it would take a really, really large hard drive to store it all. But the hook does what it implies—hooks customers and encourages them to learn more. If Cisco had said the new router offers 12 times the traffic capacity of the nearest competing system, the story would have been relegated to only the most technical publications and my receptionist would never have mentioned it. Consider the following points you can use in your business communications.
A hook reels you in. Every great song has a great hook, a memorable line created to catch the listener ear and then repeat throughout the song. As its name implies, a hook catches your attention and reels you in. My 4-year-old daughter cannot interpret the nuances of pop songs—in some cases that's a good thing—but she runs around the house repeating Lady Gaga's "p-p-p poker face."
Like a catchy a song, your business messaging needs a hook, too. Just as a hook is repeated in a popular song, yours must be repeated in your marketing channels—presentations, Web site, press releases, and advertisements.
Why three seconds matter. New York University's Langone Medical Center, a top academic medical institution in New York, found a hook for its new ad campaign: the number 3. Billboards were created and full-page ads in The New York Times featured the numeral 3 prominently at the top. In smaller print, it read: "3 seconds matter. That's why at NYU Langone Medical Center, surgical instruments are hung on the wall, instead of kept in a drawer." Saving three seconds every time an instrument is used adds up to a lot of saved time, enhancing performance, efficiency, and ultimately delivering higher quality care. But the latter sentence is a mouthful; "3 Seconds Matter" is a hook.
I asked Deborah Loeb Bohren, Langone's vice-president for communications, about the campaign's hook. She said that hospitals face a challenging environment—especially in New York—and must differentiate themselves to compete. The communications team held a meeting at which they put all of their competitors' ads on a wall and asked themselves how Langone could stand out. They discovered that the other ads all used the same color (blue), showed stock photos of happy patients, and contained a lot of text—too much to absorb in a short conversation.
The Langone ads would be largely black and white, replace stock photos with action images taken by a professional photojournalist, and contain far less text. Above all, each would put forth one key idea, a hook that acts as a conversation starter. The campaign has been so successful Langone has released 11 ads, each with its own hook.
How do you find a hook? Loeb Bohren says it starts by knowing your essence as an organization. "Be honest about your strengths and differences," she says. "We are proud of many things at the hospital, but they may not be as important to people on the outside as they are to us. The key is to match your strengths with what people care about."