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Say As You Do: Credible Communications

Connecting with audiences by matching your message to your actions

June 2005

It’s not enough to speak, but to speak true.
–William Shakespeare

Effective marketing has long depended on clarity to convey memorable messages. But as audiences become more resistant to marketing efforts, being clear is no longer enough. Successful companies market themselves not just with clarity but with direct messages that ring true to customers.

Hard to be heard

In a crowded marketplace, it’s a challenge to be heard. Attention is splintered. People dismiss or tune out messages that sound contrived or strain credulity, letting in only those messages that conform to the way they see things.

How does one break through the noise, get past the entrenched views?

Communications research suggests that people are motivated to listen when a message is:

Ironically, while a formal, rational approach to marketing might seem more effective, appealing to people’s emotions can feel more “factual,” more “real” to them – as long as the emotional appeal is supported by the actions of the person making the appeal.

Direct messages connect

Consider Apple Computer’s brash – if grammatically creative – command to “Think Different” or Nike’s well-loved directive, “Just Do It.” These campaigns express identifiable aspirations that have clear, direct emotional appeal.

A direct message doesn’t even have to be brash; it needs only to be clear. HSBC’s recent campaign, “The world’s local bank,” employs simple language to express a fairly bold concept: that a multinational firm can credibly maintain a local presence in each town in which it operates.

The aspirations behind these messages drive those delivering them as much as those receiving them. They reflect the bold strategies of the companies, by speaking to their operating principles in a credible, tangible way.

Such messages have the power to connect emotionally with audiences. They do not have to be sappy or grandiose. Ideally, they simply resonate, by suggesting persuasive storylines: Breaking from regimented thinking. Being spontaneous in a controlled world. Staying close to your roots while being worldly.

Tell it like it is

Analysts command us to “walk it like you talk it.” But we find that our clients often have the opposite problem: they need to talk it like they walk it. They have a vision for their business, and they really may be living up to it; what they need is the conviction to communicate that vision directly.

When an organization and its people are not only aligned behind a core vision for doing business but also can express it outside of their borders, they get attention in the marketplace. When they tell their story clearly, credibly, and directly, they gain the trust of their key constituencies.

So, be clear, be credible, and be connected – tell your story.

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