Messaging Still Fails

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One of the greatest triumphs of the social web remains the open citizen revolt against marketing messages (bored image by Samael Trip). Note how well the Apple iPad name flew yesterday online (ahem, let’s not go there). Nonprofits experience the same disinterest from their stakeholders as companies due.

In fact, a recent report by marketer Nancy Schwartz (hat tip to Beth Kanter for forwarding me these stats), 84 percent of 915 nonprofit leaders who completed the survey last month said their messages connect with their target audiences only somewhat or not at all. Nancy’s post includes comments from survey participants explaining why their messages fail to connect:

  • “Our messages need to be more succinct to communicate how effective we really are.”
  • “We don’t move our base to action.”
  • “We have individual elements that are ok solo, but no unified path.”
  • “Our messages aren’t hard-hitting or targeted enough. So they fall flat.”
  • “We need to shape messages that are simple enough for staff to remember and feel comfortable in repeating it to others.”
  • “Too much jargon. I can’t even understand what we’re saying.”

Maybe, but… Let’s be frank as I’ve written about this over and over again in the past on the Buzz Bin: The Cluetrain Manifesto was right! “There’s no market for messages.”

It doesn’t matter if you have a compelling cause or a public interest, or if your company contributes to society. If you drill people with messages, they will absolutely turn their back on you.

And you know what? You deserve it. It’s like entering a party and spamming people with solicitations, stale lines, and hucksterisms. Thanks for talking about yourself and what you want from me all night. Cause or not.

The 20th century approach of communications is over, regardless of medium. Mass communicating at people no longer works. Even Super Bowl ads are starting to fail now, thus Pepsi’s $20 million (troubled) social refresh program.

Whether its social or not, cause and corporate communicators alike need to stop and retool their strategic approach towards messaging. What we learned in business or communications school has changed. The old dynamics of media, specifically the concept that there are limited channels of media that people get information from, no longer applies.

Look at messages as conversation starters (see this post I wrote on the starter message premise). You won’t control the dialogue, but the fact of the matter is you already lost control and some argue, you never had it. Instead let’s have real interesting conversations that matter to us (organization and person), and society, in general.

19 Replies to “Messaging Still Fails”

  1. So true. In fact, this goes for most businesses. For non-profits, it could be the lack of paid staff or people associated with the non-profits who understand how social media and the new world of new media works. Instead of simply broadcasting a message or putting up a web site and then enticing people to see it by old media methods (direct mail, phone calls etc.), why not engage the community where they are? Facebook pages are an example of new media that can act like old media, by the way, where people are flocking to build a page and are then stumped as to how to get people to take a look – even a “fan” may be a “fan” in name only, not engaging with the entity. What value is there in that sort of action/inaction?

  2. Stories, metaphors that help people to understand new ideas and thoughts are the way forward I think.

    This is one of the reason I am not a huge fan of “contrived” networking meets or god forbid “speed networking”.

    I feel that the truest form of networking comes from spending time doing what you love with a passion and those people you meet along the way.

    @mikeashworth
    Also, love to serve others with no expectation as the universal is reciprocal and what you put out there will return, many times over.

  3. Absolutely. Information doesn’t tend to change behaviour; behaviour changes behaviour. It’s what companies and people do that shapes things.

    Remember the old adage, all character is action?

    BTW you might like to get hold of this award-winning market research piece which makes the case against “message-advertising”: http://www.mrs.org.uk/awards/2007/conference.htm

  4. ==> BUT- Orgs Need Effective Messaging to Start the Conversation

    Thanks for such a thoughtful response to the findings, Geoff. I agree with you 150% in that orgs aren’t in control of the conversation — and imagining that they are only puts them further out of touch.

    But (and this is a big but) the conversation has to start somewhere. And if the org can reach out, for that first (or reminder) interactions, in a way that meshes with interests/concerns of its network, that’s going to work a heck of a lot better than casting out self-interested words all about the org. That’s what I’m saying.

    Remember, voicemail, websites and print do continue to live. So there’s content there. Not to be drilled in or forced on….but to reach out with and engage so the conversation gets started.

    Your thoughts?

  5. OMG, I stopped reading and hammered out my comment before getting to your id-ng of messaging’s validity as a “conversation starter.”

    Great minds. Thanks too, Geoff, for adding your very valid point about the priority of the conversation, once there’s a relationship with a member of an org’s base.

    BTW, couldn’t agree more about the possibility of org’s needing to adapt messaging based on input from networks. I always recommend that org’s reach out to their network before crafting messages, and then test it with them before putting them to work broadly. Even with that kind of input, messaging does needs to evolve over time as do the environment in which an org works, its impact there, and the wants and interests of its base.

    C’mon, jump into this conversation.

  6. Thank you Gina, Mike, “herdmeister,” and Nancy for your thoughts. Nancy, I think input is critical because organizations are the one’s seeking a relationship. How can you relate if you don’t understand what the other parties needs or wants are? We have to move from silos and ivory towers to networks and hives, metaphorically speaking.

    I think a lot of nonprofits — causes in particular — try to avoid this on moral premise, assuming the cause speaks for itself. Wrong. Thus the American Cancer Society finds itself surrounded by new competitors from LIVESTRONG and Alex’s Lemondate Stand to Blame Drew’s Cancer and @stupidcancer.

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