Every student of communication theory is familiar with the concept of Shared Experiences. This is the coveted sweet-spot where barriers fall, gaps are bridged, and — thanks to commonalities — communication takes place.


It is a beautifully simple theory. But in practice, it is far from simple.

A recent Seth Godin post, The People Who Came Before You, points to one of the complicating factors for marketers. Godin reminds that everyone we pitch has been pitched before. Market analysis that relies solely on slicing metrics and dicing demographics to identify or predict shared experiences almost always misses the real communication sweet spot — the intense experiences of the moment. This is likely the context for the drivers your target is losing sleep over.

For that matter, every conversation you and I have today — personal and professional — is shaded by the conversations of all of our yesterdays. Individual fields of experience are dynamic. Ever changing. A moving target.

It is a wonder anyone connects with anyone!

In the real world, no two individuals share exactly the same compilation of experiences — the same business drivers, or the same equation of tears and laughter. Every member of a target audience processes a message through a unique set of filters.

As if this were not grand enough a challenge, the problem is magnified when we actually attempt to consider those who came before as we craft and deliver a message. Often, the result of an effort to factor everything that might impact the interpretation of a salient point, presentation or pitch, is an homogenous message. Predictable. Boring, if not meaningless. Connecting with no one. 

(Need a case-in-point? Lend an ear to the rhetoric of a political campaign.)

Can Creative Genius Bridge the Gap?

When it comes to advertising and marketing, the content side of the house has long held that creative genius is the key to connection. But as magical as it can be (and as much as I personally subscribe to its value), mere innovation of language, design, production and delivery is no guarantee of connection. Award winning creativity can strike a disconnect or miscommunicate as efficiently as unimaginative repetition.

Whether one agrees with advertising guru David Ogilvy, who said, “if it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative,” it is difficult to argue that failure to connect constitutes failure to communicate. Name the venue — personal relationship, team collaboration or marketing and sales — job one is to connect with the target.

When You Share, Beware The Experiences You Think You Understand

The principle of couching a message in the context of shared experiences is an issue of perspective. And gaining perspective is accomplished through strategic and intentional listening – seeking to learn and understand in advance of any expectation of communication. Much less, changing, selling, or converting.

Bottom-line: without respect to perceived commonalities, articulate delivery or creative genius, meaningful connection and communication that changes things begins with the act of intentional listening.

Just as the accumulation of individual experience is a work-in-progress, the identification of the experiences as well as the hopes and dreams that facilitate communication is on-going. Proactive. Intentional. And it begins with listening.