Telling a story takes a lot of moving parts
Question: How many ways can you say 'eat at Joe's'?
Answer: Never enough
When I was an undergrad, we were told we needed to communicate with people using three methods. When I joined corporate America, it was seven. Now, in order for my message to be heard, I've learned that I must hit people with at least eleven kinds of communication. As the economy falters, it may now take even more.
The good news is: There are a lot more ways to communicate an integrated message. The work of the integrator is to decide which are best and how to build strong return for the communications effort.
After you've read the rest of this essay, call me at 425 208-5130. I'll tell you if your message is integrated and I'll explain how it can be.
Eleven ways to communicate
Say, for example, my favorite non-profit wants to have a garage sale fund raiser. We post it to our web site, put it in the bi-monthly newsletter and wait. And wait. And nine people come, all on the sale's planning committee. What happened?
Our constituency read the newsletter. But they put it down for future review and it got buried under everything else that cried for attention after. They went to the web site, and thought "gee, I'd like to see what they're selling." And forgot to go back.
Didn't we send a blanket email to the general membership listAND a reminder email the day before the sale. No. Tut-tut. Didn't we send out a one-page note or flyer people could tape to their front door. No. Oops. Didn't the telephone tree call them twice (or maybe we don't have a telephone tree). No. Oh, dear. Or, maybe they did but left voice messages instead of calling back. And back.
Outside the committee meetings, didn't we mention it to any other member? No. How utterly suburban. Was there a general members meeting and the sale was forgotten in the announcements? No. Ouch. Didn't we talk it up to our non-member friends, colleagues, neighbors, and anyone else we met? No. Sorry. Didn't the president of our board write a letter to the local newspaper editor? No. Too bad.
I hope this doesn't sound familiar but it happens all the time. I mentioned a number of excellent communications techniques in the previous three paragraphs. Have you ever explored using them?
There are many more, including radio, TV, print advertisements, public service announcements, school district messaging you could coop, CD-ROM (the little business card sized giveaways), leafleting windshields, sandwich boards on street corners, supermarket bulletin boards, community civic panels, senior centers city council meetings.. Not all are appropriate to every message, but they all have validity.
As you can see, it's hard to communicate. It takes a lot of effort. It takes coordination and team work. It takes patience. Most of all, it takes repetition. And more repetition. And more.
My communications philosophy is simplegive people useful information that meets everyone's objectives, increases value, and gains recognition. Create effective communications that accomplishes the organizational goals and exceeds expected results.
I'm a storyteller at heart. Capture the readers/visitors/listeners eyes and mind and their hearts will follow. Tell a great story while at the same time, educating them. Leave them wanting more. Ask them to do something.
Career counselor Tom Washington told me that he's never heard of a decision made on just the facts. Decision were made on gut reaction, on emotions, on empathyand the facts were used to justify them. Sorry, Sgt. Friday ("just the facts, ma'am"). The reality I've experienced is that a good storyteller, a good communicator, goes for the heart even in an ROI proposal.
There are stories all over my web site. I hope they're fun to read, that's one of the value propositions I offer my readers. Even when I explain something, like how to create a logo, I tell the story of what prompted me to design it, when all I really wanted to do was take a nap. See, I got your attentionthe story is about creating a logo graphic.
Starting point for the future
Coming back to my theory about communications convergence, I have the concept that the basic paradigm should not be the page at all but the information. Who should we constrain information into 81/2"x11" (or A4). What happens when I reach the edge of the page?
In Rand McNally's atlas, I thumb frantically for the page number printed in the margin, and then flip back and forth to make sense of what's across the gutter. With the advent of the terabyte storage systems, now Google Maps has a scrolling motif that makes the transition easier.
But it's still not perfectbecause I need a browser. And the browser needs a platform and an operating system. Neither is perfect. I can take Rand McNally with me and struggle with the edge of the page. Or I can take my laptop with me and struggle with a wi-fi connection. Or I can subscribe to a global mapping system on my car or cell phonebut it won't run on my laptop. Well, maybe I can but it takes extra effort on my part.
In my ideal communications reality, I have an idealike this article:
And, as the song goesall on a Saturday night. Note that any of the tasks could come first (or last) and they could happen in any order, depending on need. The critical factor is the need to communicate.
Message remains the core
My friends jokingly call my concept "MichaelSoft."
Once the message's components are assembled, it can be manipulated between print (no video, but a screen grab), web (how's the bandwidth), email (shorten it, please), biz card CD (what else can be included), business letter (gotta get past the secretary), full-color trifold (awk, screen grab too rasterized)
one message, multiple tools, numerous means to disseminate, many potential audiences.
As you can see, throughout the entire process, the message remains the core of the endeavor. The tasks accomplish it. The components enhance it. The features fancy it up. But it's the message shining through, pointed squarely at the intended audience(s) that drives the progression.
I hope that when I grow up, the technology will be there to support my need to tell stories, even if they're picture stories. No more conspicuously opening Photoshop, Word, Excel, Visio, Project, Outlook, Internet Explorer, QuarkXPress, Dreamweaver, camera TWAIN link, and IMand then wondering why my laptop is behaving sluggishly.
Just a clean screen that automatically starts the necessary editing service that does what I want and silently exits. No splash screens, title bars, network icons
Writing shapes us
Several years ago, I took a refresher publicity course. One exercise was to spend 15 minutes writing from facts on a class handout. While everyone else agonized over their introductory paragraph (the "lead"), I started writing and had six paragraphs when "time" was called.
Of course, reviewing my writing, I found the key message was in paragraph four. I used arrows to show where it should be (thank heavens for word processors). I got a better grade than my classmates and they wondered how I could write so much so fast.
The answer is, of course, start. Yes, I bog down searching for the right words, too, but never in the drafting phasethe right word can elude me until later, right now I just want the idea pinned down.
The important thing is to capture everything raw, unfiltered, unordered, and unforgotten. Unforgotten. Then, I come back to restructure, rewrite, and polishand produce a readable second draft.
Writing is the key. From the Phoenicians on, our entire species psyche has been focused by chiseling symbols in clay tables typing black symbols on white screens and printing them in fused plastic dust on paper. We see the symbols and automatically interpret them into concepts.
Understanding the needs
My creative style has been described as "iterative," in the sense that I test for effect, focus, functionality, and value at each step in the process. I believe it allows me an enormous amount of flexibility. I can make mid-course corrections that move messages, projects, and programs successfully to the final objective.
Writing for an audience means understanding what the key message really is, determining what audience will get the message, tuning in on what the audience needs, and finding succinct ways to include everything without being wordywhen one to two pages are expected, four, five, 10 pages will not do.
Businesses expect the same things, tune in on the desires, ferret out the key messages, understand the organization's needs, and discover new effective ways to "spread the word."
The critical factor is to write for the audience. Not everyone reads the same way or for the same purpose. Communicating to a CEO, CFO, or member of the board requires different tactics than to a potential customer, field service technician, or retail partner.
The Saturday morning cartoons are delivered with some powerful messagessome parents and legislators think too powerful. But our children get the meaning. And they remember it. If you don't get that, ask the next child you meet what they saw last Saturday. And be prepared to have them, the children, lecture you and give you the true meaning.
They get it. And so do the advertisers who sponsor their programs. Remember rule one way back up there, my simple philosophy?
Messaging, communicating, writing is different when targeting the night systems operator whose printer dies in the middle of 100,000 dunning letters. It's different to the IT director he calls that night, who says "get information on what you want on my desk and I'll buy it in the morning."
Each represents a class of audience, and each has a particular tone, a different technique, a different information vehicle, that works better than anything else.
Miss any of them and you walk away from a potential source of revenue. It's like saying Netscape is awful so I don't care if my web site works in Netscape. Reality check here: sure, it may be awful, but there are influential people who use it for their own mix of reasons. Some of them manage million dollar budgetswho would dream of letting go of that. Everything about communicating is like that.
The key message mayshouldbe identical. But the delivery, tone, style, depth, and breadth must be tempered by who is digesting the content. Is a block of paragraphs good, or would a bulleted list be stronger? Is a three page letter better, or would the handouts for a PowerPoint presentation carry more weight? Is the web page enough, or would a snippet from your training video enhance it?
The best lesson I learned from journalism school was (I'm paraphrasing here): "you can write something that takes 100 words to explain but if the reader doesn't want to read more than 25 words of it " I've met people who only want the sound bite; their eyes glazed over when I gave them too much.
So I've said enough.