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Is Your Message Relevant?

When was the last time you bothered to read, watch, or listen to a message that wasn’t relevant to your needs? Great leaders understand the power, influence, and leverage created by relevant messaging. Put simply, relevant messages are engaging because they connect – they add value. Great (relevant) messages usually contain one or more of the following aspects: they are timely, informative, actionable, revealing, ground-breaking, inspirational, challenging, empathetic, truthful, cautionary, or even rebuking.  They have some sort of emotive, intellectual, or instructional appeal to the audience being addressed. No appeal equals no relevance. Perhaps more importantly, no relevance erodes influence (real or perceived).

Do you ever find yourself sitting back and marveling at those leaders who always seem to have the right thing to say? Contrast this with the feelings you have when you hear an awful sound-bite that makes a leader look either uninformed, disconnected, or unintelligent. The difference between the two aforementioned examples is that great leaders have mastered the art of finding the right message (the relevant message) regardless of the medium, market, or constituency being addressed. Relevance is the greatest barrier to obsolescence.

Few things are as annoying as those who can’t get to the point, don’t have a point, or have the wrong point. If you’ve ever found yourself adrift in a daydream because you were being told how to build a watch when all you wanted was to know the time, then you understand the importance of relevant messaging. Fact: It is simply not possible to have a well received message that is not relevant. That said, I’m always amazed at those who believe that just because something matters to them, that it must matter to others. Remember that just because you have something to say doesn’t necessarily mean that other people want to hear it.  Furthermore, just increasing the volume or frequency of the message doesn’t make it any more relevant. When a message isn’t sticking, smart leaders don’t raise the volume of the rhetoric – they improve the quality of the message.

So why is great messaging so important? In the business world, as a chief executive officer or entrepreneur, corporate messaging is the key to both your personal and professional positioning strategy. A leader’s message has a direct impact on their personal and corporate brand equity, how they manage a crisis, marketing initiatives, investor relations, press and public relations, team building and employee engagement, customer loyalty and virtually any other mission critical area of chief executive responsibility.

The reality is that your messaging will often times have a greater impact on your career than your performance. I have witnessed on numerous occasions CEOs with average, or even sub-par performance histories fare well because they possessed great messaging skills. Let me be clear that I’m not advocating form over substance here…I’m simply pointing out that they understood how to message their shortcomings and flaws, while engendering confidence around their planning for corrective measures to critical spheres of influence. The message was on target, it was relevant, and therefore it was believable.

By contrast, I have also watched CEOs with excellent performance histories not do so well because they did not possess the messaging skills necessary to keep stakeholders engaged. They did not address the needs or concerns of the audience they were addressing, and therefore the message was irrelevant and subsequently ineffective. Simply put, the relevancy, savvy and sophistication of your messaging will have a direct impact on the sustainability of your tenure as a chief executive.

CEOs who become recognized as great leaders are prepared, articulate, consistent, and crisp in their messaging. They speak with authority, clarity, and certitude because their messaging is relevant. In fact, it is the relevancy of their messaging that engenders confidence and serves to inspire and unify. Perhaps most importantly, a great leader’s message is never in conflict with their values. They will not compromise their core beliefs simply to manipulate the outcome of a specific situation. They rest in the comfort that doing and saying the right things will ultimately put them in a favorable position, and if not, they are comfortable in assuming any negative consequences that may come as a result of right thinking and decisioning.

When it comes to the construction of messaging, I have found that people will tend to fall into one of the four following groups.

  1. The Medium “is” the Message: People that fall into this camp believe that the medium will do the work for them…They believe in the reach and power of the medium to overcome any flaws in the message. This view of messaging constitutes a numbers based approach where the business logic states that if you reach enough people with the message some acceptable percentage of the people reached will embrace the message.
  2. The Market “is” the Message: This view of messaging values the target audience above all else. The message is so targeted and niche specific that it is sometimes almost unintelligible to those who fall outside of the intended target market.
  3. The Message “is” the Message: This group believes that content is king…The emphasis here is that if the message is creative enough, or valuable enough, nothing else matters. This view of messaging is all about the teaser, the hook, the calls to action, the design, the concept, etc.
  4. The Messenger “is” the Message: This is the branded approach to messaging…If the person delivering the message has enough credibility and influence, nothing else matters. This iconic, ego-centric approach to messaging places a high premium on the spokesperson.

My view of the aforementioned four theories is that their sum total value is greater than their independent stand alone value.  Other than in matters of character and principle, I don’t tend to be an absolutist…Over the years, and especially in the genres of marketing, branding, positioning, and messaging, I believe a collaborative and cross-disciplined approach to be the key to success…

While content can create credibility, credibility can also enhance the view of content. Furthermore, the best content or spokesperson in the world communicating to the wrong audience, with the wrong message, or through the wrong medium is likely to miss the mark. It takes a blending of approach to craft the right message and this will not happen when operating in a vacuum. Following are a few final thoughts for your consideration when crafting your message:

  1. It Must Be the Truth: The truth always comes out in the end…If your message won’t pass public scrutiny over time, then you have the wrong message.
  2. Use a Cross Media Approach: Long gone are the days of one size fits all media…the best messaging campaigns take place across media platforms and channels creating multiple touch points to various constituencies and demographics.
  3. Know Your Talking Points: Don’t allow the message to get lost in the medium. Remember that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. You must be consistent and convicted in your opinions and your positions. Be clear, concise and don’t compromise on key points.
  4. Know Your Audience: All messages should be tailored to the audience being addressed. This does not mean you should compromise your position, rather it means your message needs to relevant, timely, and of significance. While your talking points need to remain the same, they also need to address the concerns and areas of interest of those being communicated to. The message must be relevant to be successful.
  5. Don’t Forget Your Critics: The tendency is to believe that your audience is comprised of friends and allies. You need to assume that every message given will find its way into the hands of your worst critics, and furthermore, that they will attempt to use your message against you.

Keep the message relevant and real and you’ll stand apart from the masses. I invite you to add your feedback and insights by submitting a comment below…

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    September 6, 2011 at 8:19 am

    Mike, this brilliant writing. You have covered everything. You are the message.

    Meredith Bell

    September 6, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Mike, I love this post and especially, “It is simply not possible to have a well received message that is not relevant.” At the core of your post is that leaders must put themselves in the shoes of their listeners. Otherwise, how can they connect with those individuals they wish to influence? One of our deepest needs as human beings is to feel understood, and leaders who connect with that deep need are instantly relevant. As a result, they engender attention and loyalty.

      Mike Myatt

      September 6, 2011 at 12:29 pm

      Hi Meredith:

      Your comment really resonates with me. There’s an old saying that people have a deep need to “feel felt” which lends credence to yet another old saying: “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Thanks for sharing Meredith.

    Mahdad Taheri

    September 6, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    Mike thanks for this great post. I’m currently working on a new venture which is content driven. I know the medium and I know the messenger. I’ve got a good direction for the message too. I guess I’m sort of working backwards because all of this should be to deliver the right content to the right market which is looking for the message and who will find it valuable. The challenge I’m facing is finding the right market. Do you have suggestions of best practices to determine the right niche market for a content business? Focus groups, landing page tests, etc.

      Mike Myatt

      September 6, 2011 at 6:24 pm

      Hi Mahdad:

      I don’t typically give specific advice via this forum for the simple reason that I don’t have enough information about your individual situation and fear that offering advice in a vacuum is a dangerous thing. That said, when it comes to market definition all the methods you mentioned will help you discern the validity of a market. Additionally, I would focus on the depth, breadth and potential for growth of the market (total market size, search volume, competitive landscape, etc.). Spend some time looking at how difficult it will be to create an engaged community around your content. What does the existing conversation look like on the blogs and social networks. I would also look at delivery methods that include assessing partnerships that could help you increase velocity out of the gate. I would also closely examine the cost of acquiring and developing new customers. Lastly, I would ensure your content has a perceived and actual high benefit value to the end user. I know this was generic, but I hope it helps in some way. 

        Mahdad Taheri

        September 6, 2011 at 6:51 pm

        Thanks for the quick response Mike. These are great tips as well. Much appreciated! I’ll keep you posted as I fine tune for  product-market fit.

    Tanveer Naseer

    September 7, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    Hi Mike,

    In the interests of being timely, relevant, and clear about my thoughts on your piece, I just have one thing to say  . . .  bravo.

    Not only do you provide a clear map of how to effectively deliver a message to your audience, but you once again demonstrate how leadership is not about focusing on what you care about, but on what matters to those you lead.

      Mike Myatt

      September 7, 2011 at 8:07 pm

      Thanks Tanveer. I always appreciate your kind words of support. Your comment points out the importance of focusing on those you lead rather than upon yourself. When it comes to messaging, I’ve always said that a message that only meets the needs of the messenger isn’t really a message – it’s a mandate. As you remind us, neither is it leadership. Thanks Tanveer.   

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