The alarm – a digitized-siren-sound of some sort – was wailing. No one able to hear could have missed the intended warning. Yet no one in the 40-story high-rise was concerned. There was no panic. No rush to the nearest exit.
It was mid-morning, mid-week; and the persistent alarm notwithstanding, it was business as usual in our downtown office building. There have been so many false alarms that no one believed the message.
We were right. There was no emergency. And the experience reinforced the continued tuning-out of the warning message.
Each day brings scores of new examples of this phenomenon — the impossible-to-miss, even in-your-face-message that inspires no action. So jaded are we, thanks to broken promises and false claims that the message is relegated to noise, and tuned-out at will.
Here’s the question every marketer — every leader — must consider; has our market become oriented to instantly categorize our message as doing little more than adding to the noise?
A message that cannot be avoided can still be ignored. Ubiquitous does not equate to connection. It certainly does not guarantee action.
Rising Above The Noise
In the (compelling) book Start With Why, Simon Sinek suggests that the common thread running though effective communication is that connection occurs around the idea of Why. Why we do what we do; why we’re asking others to buy, follow, join, or become an advocate; why anyone should pay attention. Or care.
At least part of what Sinek is getting at is this: the easy thing to do is build a message around what we do and how we do it. These are familiar; there is (we think) tested and proven language to describe this. So this is where messages begin. And in all but a very few instances, we might as well be sounding a fire alarm that will be predictably ignored.
Whether the communiqué is around a service, product, strategy or platform, when a message looks, sounds or feels like every other message, it is doing little more than increasing the din in an already noisy marketplace.
What can be done to cut through the noise? Here are 3 ideas.
1) Adopt an Outside-In Perspective. The temptation for any subject matter expert or product marketer is to communicate from the Inside-Out – detailing process and enumerating features. And in so doing, sound like every other message. The quickest way to inspire action is to make contact around what the audience cares about – the concerns that occupy top-of-mind…what will drive the market to stand up and pay attention.
2) Allow for some Imagineering. Old time radio producers knew and relied on the fill-in-the-blanks power of the theater of the mind. If allowed to, one sound effect could conjure an entire scene in the mind’s eye of a listener. This begins with the understanding that words can’t accomplish everything. Resist the temptation to attempt to articulate an entire story. Communication is a two-way proposition; and an engaged audience wants to participate. Afford the opportunity, and watch the market become involved, and take action.
3) Listen to the Sounds of Silence. Sinek’s focus on beginning with Why is based on the idea that the things we feel and believe most deeply are often those things that cannot be put into words. These are the things we “feel in our gut.” Inspiring communication spurs the imagination, finds residence in the heart, and – in the words of Paul Simon, “echoes in the wells of silence.” In a noisy market, strategic silence might just be your greatest asset.
In an increasingly noisy marketplace, effective communication demands fresh perspective. Building around once effective language, tools and strategies is a dangerous proposition. At some point – a long time ago, before it became little more than noise – the fire alarm represented effective messaging.
Prompting today’s market to take action requires rethinking message creation and delivery.