When I started my own business I read a load of marketing books. The one thing they all told me, was that I needed to find my ‘message’. This elusive ‘message’ held the key to my success, and once I found it, these fonts of knowledge would tell me how to communicate it, and the world would flock to my door. Awesome!
I spent days, weeks, months, years, searching for my message. Surely something this important should be complex and profound? I searched and searched. And chopped and changed. And crafted statement after statement. Eventually I recognised that ‘the message’ is a bit of myth.
I’m going to go out on a limb here, and declare that despite the books devoted to the subject, you don’t need a complex, profound ‘message’. You need to know what you stand for, what you do for people, and how you want your life to progress. Once you know that, ‘the message’ becomes so clear that it’s not really a stand alone thing: it’s just what you do.
During the Edinburgh Book Festival, I went to see the playwright, Peter Arnott, discuss his first novel. He made a very simple, and yet profound point, that whether they’re a TV or movie audience, or the reader of a book, people tell themselves their own version of the story they’re watching or reading. He used the opening scene from Pulp Fiction as an illustration. If you’ve seen it you’ll know that it features the besuited pair: Samuel L Jackson and John Travolta, in a smart car, talking about hamburgers. Specifically, the differences between fast-food hamburgers in the USA and those in Europe. You know you’re watching a Tarantino film, and you know these two are important characters, and the whole time they’re discussing hamburgers you’re wondering what’s going to happen next. You start asking questions, and you start to tell yourself the story of the film.
The point is this: people hear or read the same words, but tell themselves a different story. Which makes sense when you consider that we all experience the world differently, even if we’re in the same place at the same time. How many times have you been in a restaurant and noticed something happening right next to you that your companion hasn’t? How many times have you watched a TV show, and discussed it the next day with someone who doesn’t remember what you do? We all receive the same information, but because of our differing values, beliefs, and life experiences, we process it in different ways. And so those aspects also influence how we process what we read.
So when you craft a complex message and broadcast it to the world, chances are it’s going to be understood differently by different people. But if you consistently talk about what you stand for, how you help people, and show people why they should choose you, they’ll decide what your message is. One that’s simple, and clear, and which you didn’t need to waste countless hours agonising in front of a flipchart to find.