messaging

The Communication Equation

Photo by Awkward Robot. It'll be relevant later.

Photo by Awkward Robot. It'll be relevant later.

I recently discovered Unstuckable, a podcast where you can "get daily inspiration and learn ... how to work on your own terms to achieve the freedom you desire and the stability you crave." While that statement is pretty fluffy, Episode 43 featured a discussion with Cory Huff of The Abundant Artist, who offered this nugget wisdom to artists looking to make art their living:

Figure out the best way you communicate and use that method to communicate what you do, why you do it, and why it matters to the people who are looking at your work. And then don’t be afraid to ask people to buy things.
— Cory Huff

Below I've illustrated Huff's communication equation:

TML Formulas.jpg

While this basic formula is exquisitely effective as is, my research and experience leads me to recommend a few edits. I would posit that the result of such an equation isn't necessarily success (whether that be defined as freedom, financial security, or something else), but rather a response to the stated, specific request. Oftentimes a request can be too vague to result in a desired outcome that could be described as success. (Clearly defining success would be the first step in crafting a request that would lead to a desired result.) Therefore, I propose altering and simplifying the equation:

TML Formulas.jpg

But that equation still leaves room for redundancies and inaccuracies. First of all, starting with "what" isn't necessarily going to attract and retain your audience. There are probably a lot of people who are doing what you're doing, and the details of that "what" may not matter to those who aren't sure they should invest their time/interest in the first place. Instead, your initial message should engage your audience's emotions, which is best accomplished through the element of "why"--go ahead and tell them why they should care. Furthermore, your "what" could be stated directly in your request. For example, if you're a landscape photographer who wants to make a living selling landscape photography prints, instead of starting off your message with, "I sell landscape photography prints," you could end your message with, "Buy my original landscape photography prints by visiting my virtual gallery."

The element "why" can also be simplified. If you want to capture emotion via the expression of your personal reasons for doing what you do, you should avoid saying something like, "I specialize in landscape photography because I enjoy taking pictures of unusual geography." Why would strangers care about your likes and dislikes? It is much easier to tap into emotions by stating an authentic belief: "I believe that capturing and promoting our planet's unique beauty can inspire people to make conscientious environmental choices."

By sharing your personal belief, you can connect emotionally with people who share your belief, the people most probable to respond to your request. But before getting to that request, you should squeeze in a persuasive, audience-centric "why." Your audience's "why" is not about you. It should not be a list of features: "My landscape photographs are printed in black and white, so they will match any decor." Instead, it should be presented as a benefit: "Viewing stunning landscapes everyday in your home or office can reawaken your appreciation for nature and motivate you to do your part in making Earth a healthy, thriving place for generations to come." Better yet, make it both informative and emotional: "With stunning black and white landscape photography greeting you everyday in your home or office, you can reawaken your appreciation for nature and find motivation to do you part in making Earth a healthy, thriving place for generations to come."

Below is the final equation:

Put it all together and you've got this message:

"I believe that capturing and promoting our planet's unique beauty can inspire people to make conscientious environmental choices. With stunning black and white landscape photography greeting you everyday in your home or office, you can reawaken your appreciation for nature and find motivation to do your part in making Earth a healthy, thriving place for generations to come. Buy my original landscape photography prints by visiting my virtual gallery."

The equation below indicates what each element should aim to do.

Ta-da!

Notes from Sinek

start-with-why.jpg

Here are some essential takeaways from Simon Sinek's Start With Why, a book on business marketing and strategy that has deeply influenced my practice and philosophy.

  • To influence people's behavior, you can either manipulate or inspire.
  • WHY = the cause represented by the company, brand, product, or person; it's what inspires loyalty and it's what you should use to guide your decisions. "It’s not a debate about better or worse anymore, it’s a discussion about different needs. And before the discussion can even happen, the WHYs for each must be established first." (p. 49)
  • Humans crave the feeling of belonging, a sharing of beliefs and values. "The reason gut decisions feel right is because the part of the brain that controls them also controls our feelings." (p. 57)
  • Start with and focus on the 2.5% of the population that believes what you believe.
  • Innovative companies give their people something to work toward, not on. "If people do not trust that a company is organized to advance the WHY, then the passion is diluted. Without managed trust, people will show up to do their jobs and they will worry primarily about themselves." (p. 111)
  • Leader's job: ensure that team members believe what he/she believes and know how to build it. "Your role in the process is to be crystal clear about what purpose, cause, or belief you exist to champion, and to show how your products and services advance that cause." (p. 126)
  • Employees' job: clearly demonstrate the WHY to the world in what they say and do
  • The key to instilling trust and the perception of value in customers is to communicate WHY clearly through marketing, branding, products, and services
  • The hard part is to trust one's gut, stay true to one's purpose/cause/belief, and remain authentic/balanced, especially during periods of growth.

For more, I recommend watching Simon Sinek's TED talk on the subject.