Marshall McLuhan — a godfather of 20th-century communication theory — characterized one of the challenges inherent in connecting when he coined the phrase “the medium is the message.”

Seth Godin hit on it from a different angle in his timely post today, Get Over Yourself.

Given the timing — the 1960’s, in North America — many interpreted McLuhan’s theorizing as particularly pertinent to advertising and the increasing reach of mass media. The idea — that the channel is not just a carrier, but part-and-parcel of the message — has been the subject of countless debates and scholastic examinations.

On far less lofty ground, marketers, advertisers and media types have for decades hypothesized about McLuhan’s precise inference, and the implications for which medium best fit what message.

And in the process, we often theorize right over the real point.

Communication At The Personal Level

McLuhan’s point — that it is difficult to separate medium from message — is particularly true the more social the context. This is one of those good-news-bad-news scenarios. Good news for the self-aware.

The greater the role personal interaction plays in efforts to communicate (or market, teach or lead), the more critical everything about the individual delivering the message. Right or wrong, as subjective and unfair as it might be at times, when it comes to my attempts to connect and communicate at any personal level, the medium is me. Or you.

To paraphrase my dad — when what I say does not align with what I do, the message is likely to miss the mark. No matter its profundity or eloquence.

These days this issue of personal alignment with message is often referenced in the context of personal branding. And there are few issues that impact personal communications, business development and marketing more.

A Test: Who Is The Message About?

One simple way to test the alignment of medium and message at the personal (social) level is to ask two questions that demand a bit of self-awareness:

  1. Is the communication more about me, or connecting with the intended audience? Hint: to the degree a message is all about you — your product, your service, your insight or genius — check alignment.
  2. If the target takes away only one thing from the communication, will it be about the message, or about the medium?

Or, as Godin’s post suggests, if the objective is to connect, build relationship, serve and lead, we do well to begin by getting over ourselves.