4 things remote teams can learn from marketers about effective communication

How to incorporate the 4 Cs of team communication at work.
Like it or not, remote work is here to stay.
No matter what kind of approach your company has decided to take, one thing we can all probably agree on is that how we think about work and how we work with others.
Question is: How can we optimize our new working patterns, beyond creating nice ?
We’ve always known that good communication is a key characteristic of high-performing teams. Years ago, before hybrid teams were even a thing, the Project Management Institute (PMI) reported in its ™ 2020 study which claimed the following:
‘On average, two in five projects do not meet their original goals and business intent, and one-half of those unsuccessful projects are related to ineffective communications.’
With a growing number of teams transforming themselves into hybrid, globally dispersed, or remote-only versions of themselves, the need for solid communication strategies and practices is greater than ever.
So, where can we turn for insights and best practices? Maybe our friends in marketing can help.
Think like a marketer.
As someone who’s hung out with marketing and content strategy teams a lot in the last few years, I’ve found that marketers always seem to know the right thing to say at the right time, in the right way, and to the right group of people.
When researching the topic of ‘communication and remote teams’, one particular caught my attention:
“It’s time for employee communicators to start thinking like marketers, delivering the right information to the right employee at the right time through the right channel.”
So, how do marketers think?
Pick up any marketing textbook, and you’ll eventually come across the concept of . It’s one of the most enduring and widely accepted frameworks in the field, first introduced by a Professor of Marketing at Harvard University back in the 1940’s named James Culliton in his book, The Management of Marketing Costs. Some 20 years later, his work resurfaced with , who gave it a much catchier name by branding it the 4 Ps.
The 4 Ps of marketing are: product, price, place, and promotion.
It was then transformed into the 4 Cs in 1990 by Robert F. Lauterborn, who replaced each of the p’s with more consumer-focused concepts that start with the letter—you got it—‘C.’
Product became consumer
Price became cost
Place became convenience
Promotion became communication
A focus on people, not things.
In the same way that the 4 Cs remind marketers to always start with a clear understanding of the people they’re marketing to, we should start with a clear understanding of our teammates we’re communicating with.
The following table is my best attempt at translating into the context of team communications. I’ve taken the liberty to rename the marketing 4Cs so they refer to concepts more relevant to team communications. To me, it makes more sense to refer to our teammates as ‘colleagues’ rather than as ‘consumers.’ I’ve also opted for the term ‘connections’ to highlight the essence of the ‘communication’ principle, as described in the 4 Cs.
The 4 Cs remind us that marketing, done well, is built on a deep knowledge and understanding of others. This discovery phase takes place before you start drafting any messages, propose any new feature, or launch any new campaigns.
I believe this kind of approach is also true for developing good communication within teams.
How to incorporate the 4 Cs of team communication at work.
The phrase, ‘there’s no I in team’ is often used by leaders and coaches at kickoff meetings or huddles to get teams to work together better—to help them move away from an individualistic mindset to more of a group-centered one.
Team communications starts with a focus on others—what they need, what they don’t need, and when they may need to know. Let’s get practical and see how the 4 Cs can help our remote teams stay connected.
1. Colleagues: Find out what your teammates really want to know, need to know, and care to know.
Our default mode is often to say too much or too little.
Both can be just as ineffective because, it’s not so important the amount of information we communicate, but whether or not information is relevant and valuable in the eyes of our recipients.
With remotely distributed teams, many of our dynamic, in-person dialogues and spontaneous hallway chats are now replaced by video calls where people must take turns to speak, and make every attempt not to talk over one another.
These video calls have produced two different types of team dynamics:
Individuals who attempt to optimize their airtime, leaving little or no time to solicit input from others to ensure their message is understood and useful.
Individuals who attempt to give everyone a chance to speak up, leaving less time for themselves to provide some important context or share critical details about a project, announcement, or new proposal.
💡 Tip: Just ask.
Soliciting input from others before communicating to them is critical—especially when there’s a need to optimize the time we spend on video calls. You can do this asynchronously before a video call (in the form of a survey or comment threads) or you can schedule quick chats with a few people on the team to solicit their input before you meet with the entire group.
Whenever I have a new proposal or important announcement to make, I’ve often found it helpful to ask people what they want or care about before I share out anything more broadly.
Questions I often ask:
“What do you and others want to know?”
“What do you think would be most valuable and relevant at this time?”
“What are some things people don’t care to know?”
A little prep upfront will save you time having to clarify and field questions later. It rarely hurts to ask.
At Coda, we often use two simple tools to find out what people want to know, care to know, and want others to know:
Dory and Pulse.
When I first joined the company as a new hire, Coda’s Dory and Pulse rituals gave the confidence and security I needed to freely share thoughts and ideas in front of a group of people who were strangers at the time.
At almost every meeting, we’re given at least 10 minutes (at the beginning or end of the session) to share sentiments and solicit topics (or questions) to discuss. Not only do participants feel heard, but meeting hosts get a better sense of topics to spend more time on. Fun fact: The ‘Dory’ was inspired the fish in Pixar’s Finding Nemo movie who asked a lot of questions.
Check out the for yourself or type /Dory and Pulse in any Coda doc to insert it onto a page.

Sentence starters.
Sometimes when we ask for open-ended feedback, people struggle to know what to say. The sentence starters tool lets you create specific prompts so your teammates will know how best to respond, and you’ll get the information you need.
Check out for yourself or type /sentence starters in any Coda doc to insert it onto a page.

2. Cost: Remember that any communications you share with teammates is going to take time and effort away from their other priorities.
Have you ever heard someone on your team tell you, “I didn’t have time to read everything in your email...” or “I read your email, but didn’t quite understand what you were asking me to do...”? If so, it might be a subtle hint that your messages are either too long, too confusing, or don’t come across as relevant or important enough for them to read through. If you’re like me, maybe you’ve even sent messages like this—you know—the ones that require significant scrolling to get to the end.
Yeah, don’t do that.
Over time, I’ve learned that people will either not respond to a long message like that, or are very delayed in their responses. It’s not that people are trying to be rude. Often, it’s just because they’re really busy. In fact, people who work from home are and facing a bigger workload than before the Covid pandemic hit.
Maybe some of us have also been on the receiving end of such emails and chats. So, what can we do to avoid these situations?
💡 Tip: Read your messages aloud before you hit ‘send’.
If you don’t already do so, try to develop a habit of reading emails aloud before sending them out. As you hear yourself reading, think about how your intended recipient(s) might respond to it.
Ask yourself questions like:
Will the recipients walk away with a clear idea of what they need to understand or what they need to do?
What aspects of the message will they most care about, or find most relevant to them?
What might they not need to know right now? What can wait?
Is any important information missing? Do we need to ask someone else to provide more
💡 Tip: Keep it short and simple, with lots of whitespace.
One ‘business writing’ workshop I took a few years ago equipped me with skills I continue to use today. The key takeaway for me was to clearly state (in as few words as possible) why I’m reaching out and what I expect others to do.
Here’s the following 3-part format I continue to use to structure my emails:
Intro: After a short, one-line greeting, state your intentions.
Request: State my request, expectations, or questions clearly in the second paragraph in 2-3 sentences (with bullet points, if possible).
Wrap-up: Close with an optional, final paragraph (with no more than 3 sentences) that provides any relevant details or links (as bullet points).
We also learned the secret of adding line breaks between each paragraph to create lots of whitespace for easier scanning.

Finally, we were repeatedly reminded to review all our emails before sending them—either by reading them aloud to ourselves or inviting others to help us do a quick check.
There are two ways you can start incorporating this into your workflow:
Keep important emails in a ‘drafts’ folder so you can read them over again to make sure they’re clear and succinct, before you click ‘send’.
Create a system that keeps your email drafts organized so you won’t forget to review or send them. To try it out for yourself, check out my doc. It even lets you set up Gmails directly from the doc—with one click:
3. Convenience: Do your best to remove any barriers that could potentially hinder teammates from responding or acting upon your messages.
Out of all the best practices I’ve learned from my marketing friends, this is probably the one I find most helpful.
Marketers often talk about CTAs. Simply put, calls to action describe the one thing you want the target audience to do. Oftentimes, it’s in the form of a big button that appears right in the center of the landing page or at the end of an email.
💡 Tip: Think of a clear CTA.
Sometimes communications happen best outside of our email accounts. To save yourself from sending out another email, try engaging others in async or in-person interactions by leveraging tools like or one of the tools in .
4. Connection: Build trust with teammates and show concern for their needs, priorities, and preferences.
Many of us know that marketers often invest a ton of time, money, and effort on research and building a brand. One of the main goals of brand marketing is to connect with their target audience in a personal way.
I love the way describes it:
Brand marketing is the process of establishing and growing a relationship between a brand and consumers. Rather than highlighting an individual product or service, brand marketing promotes the entirety of the brand, using the products and services as proof points that support the brand’s promise.
We, as teammates, also need to build trust with one another in the same way that marketers do with their audiences. This requires time and effort (and probably some money for social and drinks). The better we get to know our teammates, the better we’ll understand their needs and priorities. We’ll know what they would care to know, and what they don’t care to know. We’ll know how they prefer to communicate. We’ll know the best time of day or day of the week to send a chat message. We’ll know whether or not they’re the right person to go to for feedback on an idea.
When it comes to building connections, there are numerous ways to do it. Depending on your team culture, working patterns, and geographies, you’ll find the ways that work best for you. At Coda, we make an effort to build connections through in-person lunches, after-work drinks, virtual cooking sessions, and virtual one-on-one meetups using the app.
Here are three examples of how companies have successfully helped their teams form connections and build trust:
Closing with a clear CTA.
With all the principles and tips discussed so far, you may be wondering how you and your team can start flexing your remote communication muscles. We’ve discussed the importance of clear CTAs, so I leave you with this:
Next time, before you sit down to draft an email, send a chat message, or craft some talking points for a presentation to your teammates, stop and ask yourself the following four questions about your intended audience:
1. What do they really want to know, need to know, and care to know?
2. How can I simplify my message so it’ll require less time and effort on their part?
3. How can I make it really easy for them to respond to my message?
4. How can I build trust and demonstrate concern for their needs, priorities, and preferences?

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