You may be losing clients, job opportunities, or supporters because you lack clear messaging.

And it reminds me of a cool summer morning, when I looked up at Mont Blanc in France and could see nothing but trees shrouded in milky clouds. 

Everyone had told me this mountain was breathtaking but to me it was a disappointment.

Until the fog cleared. 

And what a different experience. A snow-capped peak, glaciers running down the massive mountain bathed in sunlight.  Beauty and majesty revealed.

Had the sun never emerged, I would never have understood what Mont Blanc was.  This experience made me think of how too many of us shroud ourselves in metaphorical clouds because our messages are overcomplicated, confusing, and downright boring.

We do good work but we leave our value and our opportunity to succeed on the table.  Why?  Because we haven’t figured out how to tell simply and clearly the people who matter most to us why we matter to them.  The result: they tune out, shifting their attention to someone or something else.  

So how do you find your messaging sun to burn off the clouds of confusion and boredom?

Understand Your Audience and Their Emotional Drivers

People make decisions based on how they feel about a product or service, a potential hire, a partnership and use facts and data to back up the decisions.  It is important to understand what your audience’s aspirations and concerns are related to the decision they are making.  Are they afraid of making the wrong decision and then looking bad to colleagues or their Board?  Are they overwhelmed and need reliable support? Are they lacking in knowledge and experience and need to fill in what’s missing?  Learning as much as you can about your audience is a vital first step.

Clarify Your Purpose, Values, and Vision- Why and How

Understand your own why.  It’s not about what you do as much as why you do it.  For example, Nike’s brand purpose isn’t just to make athletic footwear and apparel.  It is to help people be better athletes by having shoes and clothing that help them run faster, play sports harder, and prevent injury.  The iPhone isn’t really about a phone as much as it is a means to connect with all the things you care about easily and conveniently. Your values speak to how you do what you do–Do you treat your employees, customers, suppliers, and other partners in an ethical way?  Are you a good steward of the environment?  Do you care about your customers and make it easy to do business with you? And your vision speaks to how the world of your audience is different because of what you do.

Create Simple Messages Based on Your Why and How

Too often, brands both in the for-profit and nonprofit worlds, think that a mission statement or a list of things they do or offer is the message.  Powerful messages connect your audiences’ yearnings and fears to your purpose, values, and vision.  And they use simple language easily understood by your audience.  A hospital, for example, isn’t a diagnostic, treatment, and surgical place; it is a place that helps you get well and stay healthy.  Disney World isn’t an amusement park but rather a place where you can “stay in the magic and play.” You have to lead with messages that speak to the emotions and promise of something better and then back them up with the “what you do” that demonstrates that you deliver on the promise.

Avoid Jargon and Be Concise

Many people think that using technical language makes their brand look smart and serious.  Unless your audience is familiar with your industry or field, using jargon is like clouds rolling in obscuring what you are trying to communicate.  For example:  a consultant described her business as providing  “results-driven, creative solutions for purpose-driven organizations who are catalysts for positive change using a framework of strategy, systems, and culture.”  When I first read this, I was confused and didn’t understand why I wanted to engage her.  Too many hyphenated words and too abstract.  A better description might have been: “helping organizations who want to change the world determine the best strategies and build the systems and culture to do it.” 

Use Stories Wisely

Sharing stories about your work provides a great way to bring your messages into clearer focus.  But it only works if your stories get to the point quickly and avoid unnecessary details.  The story at the beginning of this blog post offers an example and paints a picture with words about confusing messaging, an abstract subject.  It uses something most people are familiar with–a mountain and clouds. Our brains process visual information more easily and we are more likely to remember it.  When a client of mine was speaking on a panel about being a woman leader, she opened with a story about being a Middle School football quarterback and how it helped her develop leadership skills in a man’s world.  It made her memorable and supported her larger messages about teamwork and collaboration.

When your audiences don’t get you, you don’t get what you want.  Invest the time in developing messages that are simple, easy-to-understand and speak to emotional yearnings.  If you surround yourself in a messaging fog, your audiences will go where the sun is shining.