Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Still Looking For The Silver Bullet: Tell Me When You Find It

(Dillon School District)
People, smart people, make money teaching us how to communicate effectively. ‘Effectively’ usually means getting someone else to understand what your are saying— and in many cases getting them to do what you would like them to do.

Saying what’s true is important because you’re toast if someone shows it’s not true. But saying what’s true with a human face and a human voice beats saying what’s true with tables, footnotes and reasons every time. Values-talk beats ledger-talk, benefits beat features almost every time.

We have developed a whole range of tools and techniques to ‘talk’ to people. There are great stories about how many of these have worked and why you should use them. It’s hard, however, to take a product, a candidate, a cause and to use all the available tools and techniques.

Not everyone is interested in buying a hybrid vehicle— or can afford one. Who really wants to read President Bush’s memoir? Who do you want to pick up their dog’s poop?

The answer is obviously not ‘everyone.’ Knowing how many hybrids, books and poop you want sold and picked up— and who you want to be buying and picking up— is a great place to start before figuring out which tools and techniques to use.

Set goals.  Know thy audience.  Tell your story in values and benefits.  Say it over and over.  Measure results and adjust your tools and techniques.

I doesn’t hurt to have the right person championing your product, candidate or cause. Right person, right audience, right message.

Those of us who work for causes on small or non-existent communication budgets dream the equivalent dream of one day becoming a millionaire: We dream that one day our message will go viral and circle the globe. We’d love to have that silver bullet.

And, just like becoming a millionaire, we will work hard but it won’t happen.

But here’s another way of looking at  the work we do on good causes, and I heard it from David Domke, author and communications prof at the University of Washington.

Domke said that groups working on climate change, pollution, food safety, environmental justice and other causes have missions and goals that make them seem like disparate efforts competing with each other for people’s attention— and money and time.

He suggested that groups-- without changing their mission or goals -- try to reframe their higher purpose in terms of responsibility, legacy and opportunity to give a sense of common purpose among all causes. ‘Responsibility’ to do what each of us can do to make the world a better place. 'Legacy' to leave something good and positive for the next generations. And 'opportunity' to open the possibilities economic growth associated with doing good things.

I always found Domke’s suggestion compelling in bringing together so much of the work we do as communicators. Not a silver bullet in the sense of tools and technique but a simple and powerful reframing. Great values, good benefits, truth well told.

--Mike Sato

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