29 Sep 2016

Why It’s Time To Push Your Broken Message House Into The Sea

I’ve spent countless hours preparing messaging documents for clients. Often this involved breaking complex propositions down into words and numbers before fitting them into a triangle and three columns to a create a message house. I’ve sold many of these in the past, championing their single, simple messages as a way to speak and be understood. I was wrong. Here’s why:

You No Longer Need A Single, Overarching Message

Once, audiences were large and aggregated neatly into a small number of channels. A single message served you well in a broadcast interview where journalists are trained to probe and confound. When the unwary could be trapped into making an inappropriate comment or, worse still, offer up nothing but a long and confused silence, a message house’s roof, which contains the key message, gave the communicator shelter. But broadcast opportunities are no longer the most common route to market for most brands. We mix media relations with content marketing, advertising, digital and customer experience. Yet people are still using this single message approach, defining success by the same old metric, that we got more time or space than our competition. It’s time to shift our focus to share of audience, measuring the success of connection with the target and the diffusion of a message, instead of singular exposure.

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You Are No Longer Calling The Shots

The three pillars that support the roof, each one filled with a core message, encourages communicators and clients to revel in too much detail. They end up bombarding audiences with ideas and messages stripped of relevance and context. A great many factors including social media, overuse of the white-coated expert and the availability of unlimited choices, have created a world where customers are powerful. They’re no longer willing to accept whatever you dish out so brands need to find a new role. Wallowing in self-focused detail is not the way forward. You can claim to be the best route planner in the world but most of your audience simply doesn’t care. They’re much more likely to be interested in a story about how fresh milk gets from the farm to their frothy cappuccino.

You’re Using It Wrong

The concept of the single overarching communications objective (SOCO) has been misinterpreted by PR professionals. An objective is not a message. We should encourage an organising thought, not a set of words. From a marketing perspective, we’re now on a journey to the segment of one. We live in a world where audiences are split into millions of niches. These niches are defined by the individual. The woman in the car next to you on the way to work is as likely to be a punk rock listening, cosplaying revivalist goth as she is to be a gluten-free baking, amateur pug fancier who’s listening to early nineties hip-hop. You won’t be able to tell just by looking.

The people who make up these audiences move from niche to niche in ways that are mostly unpredictable without the sort of creepy end-to-end data tracking that is driving the explosive growth of ad-blocking platforms. Ideas are the best way to unify these niches, not a narrowly-defined set of words.

As the communications ecosystem grows more complex, it’s punishing brands that say the same thing to every audience regardless of context. It favours those who can speak to smaller groups in a way that motivates them to act. There are examples in most industries of large, established brands being eaten from below by new entrants who are using different methods to capture attention and market share.

The communications ecosystem responds to messages that are relevant and contextual. In a world of unlimited choice, the contamination of audiences with irrelevant messages is low. As long as the organising thought is consistent, an individual who finds a message in two or more niches is likely to have an increased affinity for your brand, not a diminished one.

The changing media landscape brings great opportunity to be present in more places. You can use analytics to measure interaction and the effect of content, learning to be better. You can exercise self-control and eradicate brand wank from your narrative. You should start by knocking down that rigid and outdated message house.

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