Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Making Your Message Stand Out

"I've explained the same concept over and over again, but it's not sinking in.  I just tried again, and got more blank looks."

"This is the third time I've told them what to do, and they're still doing it wrong."

"Nobody responded to that urgent email I sent out last week.  It sank without a ripple.  What do I do now?"

Chances are that you heard yourself declaring your own variation of one of these comments recently.   

What's your communications brick wall today?  Where are you struggling to get traction?  

In this super-saturated media world, with endless assaults on your audience's attention, it's difficult to get your own voice heard.  When your messaging isn't getting remarkable results, maybe it's because it simply isn't getting out. In fact, it may be getting drowned out.  

So is there a way to make it stand out?

I've got six ways for you.

They're found in the book Made To Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath.  

Best.  Messaging.  Book.  Ever.

It outlines six characteristics that make communications memorable:
  • Simplicity
  • Unexpectedness
  • Concreteness
  • Credibility
  • Emotional
  • Stories
My acronym-happy soulmates have probably already noticed that the first initials of these words spell SUCCES.  Add another "s" for stupendous, and you're all set.

Click here for a very good, quick summary read about the Heath brothers and each of the bullet point particulars above -- that is, if you're too busy (or cheap) to purchase and/or download the whole book and read it from cover to (virtual) cover.

The stories that Chip and Dan use to prove their points are fascinating.   Each of their winning principles is described in engaging detail, with practical tips and tools.  (Hint: Jared, the Subway sandwich spokesman, is in here. Did you know that Subway's marketing folks were dead set against using him at first?  He turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to Subway advertising.) 

For example: of the two bikes in the picture above, which one do you notice more?  Obviously it's the one with the flowers in its basket.  That little touch of unexpectedness captures your attention.  In the same way, it's the unexpected punch line of a joke that makes us laugh -- and repeat it at our next party.  And it's the unexpected ending of many a story or a movie that makes it memorable enough to recommend it to our friends. 

Lesson learned:   If you can retell your unheard message with a surprise twist of some kind, it will skip past your audience's defenses, charm them into full attentiveness, and create a lasting impression.  And in their chapter on Unexpectedness, Chip and Dan give plenty of illustrations for how to do it.

The basic theme of Made To Stick is this: It takes a lot of creative engineering to make people remember what you say.  Yes, that's a bit of a burden -- but it's also a big bonus.  After all, if you take the time and effort to insert some of these attention-winning characteristics into your messaging, and your competition doesn't, you'll probably own your audience -- and they won't.  

I'm planning to do a deeper dive into each of these stand-out tactics in future posts, so stay tuned!  But in the mean time, remember:

Your idea won't just sell itself, and your message won't just tell itself.  So don't just say something.  Hone it. Craft it. Make it stick.

At bare minimum, this means whenever possible that you should sit on a piece of writing for 24 hours before you send it out.  Never send a first-draft message to do a fully-strategized message's job.  Take the time to look it over, and you'll usually see something you've overlooked -- something that you can tweak to make your message memorable.

When your messaging stands out, you'll win out.  

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