The race to success isn’t always won by those with the most talent but rather the most compelling messages. That’s never been more true than in a time of global challenge, when communications are cluttered, and everyday contact or outreach is obscured by crisis info. But effective communicators know how to hit us where it hurts and where it hopes. Especially during times when emotions are fragile and our bravery is strained, communicators are at work, trying to tap into our fears or our aspirations. By doing so, they get us to buy products, support their cause, vote for a particular candidate or shift our beliefs.
There is also a lot of failing messaging out there. The reason is simple: we often broadcast messages that center on what we do, promote, or produce—without fully understanding what people really want. By seeing your audience through a Prism of Value, in which you envision how to enhance the positive while reducing negatives, you’ll reduce the kind of list-speak that simply creates rosters of what you do and what you’ve achieved. You’ll be able to focus your messages on the kind of powerful impact or relief that each of us, and every one of our enterprises, are capable of delivering. You have to get out of your own head, and into the head of those you want to reach.
And you can’t always know what people want just by asking them. If, back in the early 2000s, Steve Jobs had asked people if they wanted a phone that could play music, record video, and send emails and texts, people probably would have wondered why they needed that. But what Jobs understood was that technology could give people something they really do want—connection with others made simple, fun, and secure. Jobs’ iPhone concept delivered on his vision for “the world in your pocket.”
It’s not About the Drill
Harvard Business School professor Ted Levitt used to say “people don’t really want a drill; they want a hole. And why do they want the hole? To hang grandma’s picture or put up a baby gate to keep their child safe.” In a sense, messages are the drill that gets us to what we really want: understanding, connection, meaning, or an exchange. Messages are the connective tissue that holds us together.
Simple and Universal Wins the Day
Dorothy, in “The Wizard of Oz,” was one of the best messengers of all time. Her message was so powerful that she got three really disparate characters to join her quest, at great risk, down the Yellow Brick Road. Here is a message that had all the ingredients for success. It was clear and concise. “I want to go home.” It was memorable and she repeated it to anyone who would listen. Her message was also universal, and touched the minds and hearts of Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion. Home, in her narrative, is a metaphor for a place that makes us happy and comfortable. For Dorothy, it was a farm in Kansas. For Scarecrow, it was a brain. For Tin Man, it was a heart. And for Lion, it was finding courage within himself. The lesson of the story is that, home was inside each of the characters. They just needed the Wizard to remind them.
Three Questions that Get You To Great Messages
Before you can create a message, it’s important to understand what you want to express and why. You must find your clarity of purpose. For a doctor, the message might be about easing pain. For an online retailer, it’s to create great shopping experiences. For a handyman, it may be to fix the things that are broken. The core of the message must be the responses to three questions posed by your most important audiences:
Why should I care?
What about you is valuable to me?
What should I do, now that I see myself in your narrative?
If you can answer these three questions, and you’re clear about how you make your target audience’s lives better or easier, you will create messages of value. How might you answer them?