By: Alan Walsh, Owner, Huntington Consultancy
Among the complex factors determining the outcome of the last Presidential election was a significant difference in communication style, methodology, and delivery between the opposing camps. While The Republicans were communicating “lofty thoughts” and “civics lessons” that were issue-focused, the Democrats crafted a set of communications that were “short & sweet”, simple, jingle-istic whenever possible (developing a word or short phrase that would be instantly recognized as representing a more complex thought or concept), and focusing on core hot-ticket issues of voter self-gratification (as determined from polls, town hall meetings, and other sources).
As the success of their communications grew, the Democrats’ messages were presented with more & more of a lofty air, implying “We Get It..They Don’t” and instilling this belief in their adherents to psychological advantage. The Democrats made better use of the internet in getting their messages distributed; thus making better use of their campaign funds and drawing voters into a more personalized relationship. Often, adherents conveyed the message for the campaign.
In other words the Democrats made best use of, and appealed the most to, basic tenets of human nature; in the most effective way.
Before anyone gets their political “underwear in a knot”, let me comment that this is not a political manifesto for –or- against either party. The Reagan campaign in its time did much the same thing to their hapless Democrat opponents. Reagan was a master at reducing complex thoughts into simple, popular, easily-remembered phrases & jingles and planting them in peoples’ minds.
The Reagan campaign used this communication strategy effectively when the internet was still pretty much a “gleam in its daddy’s eye”. We all recognize now that the internet age has brought about a revolution in the style and delivery of communications; opening up whole new realms of possibility & challenge, and lending exponential power to the communication methods described above; if done properly. The Obama campaign made good use of this added dimension.
Businesses which want to survive and thrive would do well to absorb these lessons into the fabric of their communications.
KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID
The time-honored “KISS” principle serves well in guiding the crafting of effective business communications.
We’ve all watched company ads on TV that left us scratching our heads afterward about what they were trying to say – or sell. No offense BASF, but I remember an ad campaign of yours that left me saying – “Huh”? Lofty, multi-faceted communications just don’t work well; especially in this day & age. “Manifestos” are quickly ignored and forgotten.
Likewise we’ve all seen ads where they tried to get “cute” or “clever” with the result that the “trick” was a poor fit to the message, or the message just got “lost” in the nonsense. I can’t think of one off the top of my head, but there have been many.
Conversely, we’ve seen ads that communicated strong messages well with very few words or none at all. Budweiser and Coca Cola come to mind.
We live in a “bullet-point” world now. Complex messages tend to get lost in the background clutter, and people don’t have the time or patience for them. They especially don’t appreciate communications that are drawn-out, vague, or communicate above or below them.
Communicate in ways that fit in with the society’s contemporary language usage. People relate better to language that’s in common use.
“Jingle-ize” whenever possible. If you can establish a simple word or phrase to represent and replace a complex thought or concept in the customers’ minds, it makes communication simpler and you tend to gain “ownership” of that talking point; almost as if you copyrighted it. Whole business identities and brandings have been built around such “jingles”.
Know Thy Customers:
The key element in effective communication is understanding the “talking points” that resonate with your customers on a personal level. Society has taken on a much greater personal gratification / quality-of-life orientation than in past generations; which were burdened with global war, nuclear-age cold war and sacrifice for the greater good. A different societal mind-set existed then. Personal talking points that would have had little effect, or been looked on as being “self-centered” by past audiences, now resonate strongly with the new generation. It’s just a reflection of the times, but important to understand for business communications going forward. Even if you’re selling business-to-business, try to reach the key decision-makers on a personal level; and give them reasons to justify with their own people that they made the right decision buying from you.
Businesses are more & more recognizing this “personal” element. For instance, aerospace companies have been running ads that are crafted as “civic messages”, touting “defense and security”, to build public goodwill and cement themselves in the public’s minds as “key players”. Northrup Grumman comes to mind.
Do the research.
The internet’s a great place for any business, especially a small cash-strapped one, to see what works and what doesn’t. In fact, the internet is just as useful for research as for communication. Just go on Facebook or a similar site and see what’s attracting “Likes” and “Comments”. The values, interests, and personal desires of society are laid out for our edification on a daily basis; expressed in their own words. So are the communication efforts of competitors. Likewise, you can go to places like LinkedIn and see what other business people are saying & thinking. It’s all there to observe.
Get to the Point
Any ad man will tell you that certain styles sell. Without making a qualitative judgment, I’ll just note that “Sex” still works well if used properly (even though certain segments of society are increasingly finding it repugnant} –and- “Friendly.. Touchy.. Feely.. Warm.. Safe.. Secure” is taking on increased importance; amongst other styles.
Whatever “flavor” you want to give your communications, you’ll be wasting your breath if you don’t get to the point; quickly. You can have all the “sex symbols” or “friendly, warm, fuzzy style” you want, but if you’re not appealing to a real and direct want or need, and doing it with a quick, simple, memorable message, you’re wasting your time and the customers’.
Get Their Attention, and Give Them Something to Remember
Sometimes, it’s just not possible to get across everything you want to say with a simple message or “jingle”. In such cases, use the simple message or “jingle” to capture their attention and draw them into the more complex message. You’ve got to get their attention before you can tell your story. Plus, the simple message or “jingle” will be remembered way after the long message has faded; especially if you finish with it. Reagan did this well. He’d start off with jingle-istic phrases and work into more complex statements in his speeches; finishing off by reinforcing the jingles. Later, when the long speech was forgotten, people would be quoting the jingles.
A car is a car, but lots are sold for their “safety”, or “sexiness”, or other “fuzzy qualities”. Those “qualities” are often planted in customers’ minds with well-crafted messages and images. By associating your products or services with desirable or friendly “qualities” in customers’ minds, you will “own” those “qualities” and differentiate yourself; carving a unique niche.
Just as in politics, you’ll have competitors making their own offerings. Sometimes those offerings will be stronger than yours; sometimes they’ll be the same. Where you can, stress those offerings of yours that are unique and/or stronger than your competition’s. Otherwise, try to build an aura that disguises or downplays your weaknesses and gives you the edge on the common points. Politicians do this to each other all the time; usually through some “likeability” factor. If you’re personally attracted to the politician, you’re likely to overlook flaws and weak “fighting points”.
“A Picture Says a Thousand Words”. A single image can convey a whole message. A set of images can attach “qualities” openly or subliminally while you’re stating your main message; or can be your main message. Images are “eye candy”, and are usually well-received. They fit in well with the concept of simple, rapid communication. They can “define” your brand. Use them to advantage. Just consider the image at the start of this article. It defines the topic instantly and attractively.
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