The odds are that everything you say or do has scores of other people doing and saying exactly the same thing. The beauty of our increasingly networked world is also our collective curse. As citizens of the world peer at each other’s communications through web browsers across the earth, they inadvertently lift, steal, copy, and paste their ways to articulating the next exactly-the-same-thing-sounding business. Then, steeped in a fresh new crop of un-fresh communications they bombard the same people you are trying to reach with virtually the same messages you use.
Piquing interest in a saturated market requires something new, or something familiar delivered in a novel way. By novelty we don’t mean attention getting B.S. (SPAM), but a fresh way of thinking that enlightens, empathizes, or shows you have unique and valuable insight into the people you are trying to reach.
If you feel you might have a stale message and you are not getting noticed, here are a few things to try:
1-Know what is stale and break the mold
In our messaging workshops, we often set up a “jargon bucket” where words or statements that are overused are posted. Once the phrases go into the bucket, they can no longer be used. When the jargon bucket is full, the well-worn paths disappear and the language becomes pure and fresh. When you move toward a truly unique message, participants become more untethered from mass articulations that feel very much like home, and they begin to feel a bit exposed as they enter new territory. This vulnerable feeling is a sign of progress. A simple exercise to try is to Google the phrases and statements you use to introduce your brand or offerings. If you find thousands of entries for each phrase, it is a clue that you need to dig deeper into a more unique way of expressing your value. What Google returns is likely a good test of what your target customer hears and sees…over and over again. This is most helpful for the top tier level communications we’ll discuss below.
2-Borrow an approach from singing
If you are a singer-in-training, the holy grail of your practice is “finding your voice.” A person can sing with technical perfection, yet deliver a forgettable performance. A person who has found their voice can sing the same song with less technical skill, yet it could be considered the most unforgettable performance ever. What is true for singing is also true for communications. A business that has a voice is a business that is hard to forget. Think about businesses that have a truly unique voice: There are the obvious ones like Apple, or Google, but there are also many smaller successful firms like our customer Big Nerd Ranch, who has an undeniable voice. The Big Nerd Ranch voice is clear, always with a sense of humor that bristles with intelligence. Their Big Nerd Way approach elevates the concept of being a nerd to a new level. They do a great job of painting a picture that people (nerds) identify with and want to be a part of. This elevates their mobile app training service to a cultural achievement where participants become part of an exclusive club of elite nerds ready to unleash their talents on the world.
3-Organize your communications into useful tiers
Unless there is a simple framework for developing messaging, groups with mixed thinking styles tend to produce piles of unsorted and minimally useful communications. For example, a group with engineer-type thinkers who think logically and in more detail may have very different ideas about what makes good communication than holistic thinkers who may connect ideas more organically. Most groups have mixed thinking styles, so defining communication tiers is helpful. One useful template we’ve used for helping clients craft influential funding pitches is a “building the case” pyramid that establishes the four major connecting points that need to be made quickly with an audience.
It is a simple format that includes the following tiers:
Tier 1: What’s the big idea?
- This is the most compelling, clear and concise articulation of what you are about.
- This tier does not explain, justify, or address details, but shows why you exist with the most brevity possible.
- This tier message is always true of your firm no matter what situation or segment is involved, it has a very long shelf life.
- It must intrigue in a new or fresh way and motivate the audience to learn more.
Tier 2: Why should I care?
- These are clear, burning reasons from your audience’s perspective that drive their need to listen to what you have to say.
- It’s good to limit these to three or four major reasons; less is more at this level.
- It’s critical that the reasons are validated from some kind of research or inputs outside of your company.
Tier 3: How?
- This tier shows three to five ways you accomplish addressing or solving your customers’ issues.
- This should involve some level of differentiation, but also show enough familiarity to the audience that they can understand what your business offers. For example, this is where you may list services, products, or features.
- (Most companies communicate almost entirely at this tier level.)
- This tier has more detail than the top two tiers, but it is still concise.
Tier 4: What do I need you to do?
- This tier changes according to who you present to or talk with.
- It is important to move from general (who we are) to specific (what we are all here to talk about) to connect with your audience.
These simple organizing principles for preparing communications will help you avoid the inevitable conflicts that develop when you must generate new content with different types of thinkers. This framework is sensitive to the level and pace of the receiver’s ability to absorb and engage with your message and is modular so your messaging tiers or “components” can be mixed and matched according to channel and situation. In our experience, most people prepare business communications with an instinct to prematurely descend into details well before the audience is either ready or interested. This almost always results in a disconnected effort and lost opportunities.
It’s a safe bet it will get harder and harder to break the molds and get noticed in your market. Since molds are made by molded ways of thinking, a simple tweak to the thinking framework behind your communications can make you the mold maker, which is the position that will move you out of the forgotten city of Me-tooville into the lights of Hard-to-miss City.photomontage and tier pyramid sketch by Michael Taylor