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    A Failure to Communicate

    Too often we use the Magic Football Theory of Communication when preparing marketing messages. We rush to throw our marketing message downfield, believing that an excited receiver is actively trying to grab it. In reality, our receiver is more like a fleeing hot dog vendor trying to avoid getting hit. You can complete a poor pass to a willing receiver, but you'll never hit that hot dog vendor with anything less than a great pass.

    To help you understand how others think about your product, let's assume for a moment that YOU are a product. As a product in the public eye , you communicate with others whether you want to or not.

    You send out messages over different channels -- sight, sound, smell. You send messages by your presence and your absence. You send messages with your clothing, appearance, hygiene, sex, race, build, voice, age, laugh, expression, gestures, breath, etc. As Shakespeare wrote, "There was speech in their dumbness, language in their very gesture."

    Every public aspect of your being sends out messages which lead to their perception and image of you. Likewise, every public aspect of your product, company and industry sends out messages which influence your customer's perceptions.

    People make judgments about you based on the messages you send out to them. These judgments will influence how they treat you, your popularity, job success, marriage, and even your success in raising your children. If you dressed badly, didn't bathe, and swore constantly, people wouldn't think of you in the same glowing terms they do now -- even though the person inside was the same! Likewise, if your marketing messages leave the wrong impression, your buyers won't think much of your business.

    The Danger of Assumptions

    Many communication failures occur because of unfounded assumptions. We assume the other person shares our outlooks, meaning of words and images, even the importance of certain ideas. How often have you said to a loved one or co-worker after an argument, "What we have here is a failure to communicate." Of course, what you probably meant was "You have failed to properly interpret what I said." After all, you knew what you meant to say, and said it clearly, didn't you?

    Here are some questions that will help you craft marketing messages to successfully communicate your ideas.


    You won't offer the same message in the same way to different groups of people. Messages should be tailored to fit the motivations of each target group.

    What to do: Write down a detailed description of each group you want to reach. Then write down why they should care at all about your product. What could you say to them that would attract their attention and hold their interest? What are they afraid of? What would they find boring? This is part of your Psychological Marketing analysis. Remember, to communicate effectively, you must first get their attention, then present your message in a manner which seems simple and persuasive to THEM, not you.


    The goal of communication is to transmit a message from your mind to your receiver's mind with as much fidelity as possible. That is not easy to do. The first step is knowing exactly what "picture" you want to create in your buyer's mind. That image is your springboard to the sale.

    For example, if you want buyers to see you as a low-cost, value-driven company, you must work to create one picture. If you are focusing on an exclusive, high-end buyer, then you want a different mental picture. Different words and images will create different mental pictures. That's why it is often dangerous to use the same ad in publications appealing to different readers, especially if you're just assuming it will create the same mental picture.

    Write down the best motivating image for each of your target audiences. It is those images which lead the consumer to conclude that your product can satisfy their true buying motivations.


    Images are like flowers, they grow from seeds planted by facts and ideas. Some seeds are already there in memory, while others you plant with marketing messages. You must carefully select the facts and ideas that will produce the mental images you want to grow.

    Ask yourself before writing anything, "What facts and images does this specific group of customers need to motivate them?" Imagine a buyer saying, "I'll take it." What is the image inside his or her mind of your product? What would it take to grow that image out of the available facts and ideas you have? Write down all the seeds needed to grow this image - facts about quality, price, guarantee, company reputation, etc.

    Finally, remember that your personality colors the way you write and present your message. Don't let your prejudices or stereotypes distort your message. Also allow for the natural distortion of your message's meaning produced by the receiver's personality. Understand the receiver's outlook, motivations and prejudices. These prejudices will be influenced by the receiver's s impression of you, your company, and your industry.

    In summary, your best defense against "a failure to communicate" is to carefully structure each word and idea of your message for the minds of your target audience.


    (c) Gary Witt, 2001

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