Last week I was at the Inc. 500 Conference and caught a session with Michael Sheehan, CEO of Sheehan Associates. His company helps businesses, people, and government officials craft messaging. At this session he was discussing how hard it has become to get your message right and get it understood by your audience in a world where we all have information overload.
Michael stressed that your message isn't your brand. I'll admit, at first I was a bit confused by this. But he went on to give a couple of great examples, one of which was Nike. When Nike got bad press for working with overseas companies that employed young children that were barely paid, "Just Do It" was not their answer. With Coca Cola and the health debate, the "Coke Side of Life" isn't their answer to childhood obesity. So he stresses that there is a concentration on branding but not necessarily messaging.
In Michael's eyes we've got what he calls the "4 Horsemen of Contemporary Communication"; I call it "What we're up against."
Finally, first impressions are lasting. Opinions are formed quickly and take forever to change.
What We Can Do About It
Michael must like 4's because he also has 4 Principles of Bressaging (Brand + Messaging). I like that one BTW.
Michael ended his session with the advice to watch your language! No, he doesn't mean cursing and swearing, he means watching the specific words you use. Do you use words that calm people down or create attention? One good example was an HMO he was working with who used the term "subscriber" instead of "patient," and "provider" instead of "doctor". It was off-putting to both sets of customers, so they changed how they were communicating. Another great example was the "surge" that President Bush was touting versus the "escalation" that the Democrats were using. It all depends on the message you're trying to send.
It sounds to me like we all need to carefully watch what we write and how we speak. As entrepreneurs we're all moving so fast that from time to time we should step back (pull back the camera as Erika Andersen was telling us to do at her session) and look at our key messages to make sure they make sense to everyone we talk to. I know I'm going home to do that at my company VerticalResponse.