How to Tailor Your Communication So Your Audience Actually Hears You
You’ve probably heard that riddle about a tree that falls in the forest… If no one is there to hear the tree fall, it doesn’t make a sound.
I think of communication the same way.
Words are always more about the receiver than the sender. How people take and interpret our communication is the meaning of it, regardless of its intention.
This comes up a lot in crisis communication, but it applies to general communication, too. Our clients often worry about whether they’re “doing it right.” They’ve just read the latest article signaling the death of one form of communication or advertising, or the “hottest new thing” that will transform their business if only they took it on without hesitation.
Either way, they’re being conned if they fall for the extremes.
Tailoring your communication to your audience is as simple as these three steps:
- Don’t get stuck on the latest, greatest thing. Beware of those who only want to sell their product or service.
- Blend message consistency with diversity. Without getting hung up on the exact communication channel, consider how you can tailor your words to the strengths of each medium.
- Depersonalize. It isn’t about you, but the people to whom you’re trying to communicate. Place your audience at the center of everything you put out.
Don’t get stuck on the latest, greatest thing.
“6 Reasons Traditional Advertising Is Dead,” one blog headline blared. “The Death of Traditional Advertising and the Rise of Originality,” declared another thought-provoking piece in Entrepreneur a few years back.
It seems logical that with technological advancements continuing unabated, some marketing and advertising mediums will become obsolete. But it isn’t simply influencer posts that can go too far. I’ve had debates with friends and business peers convinced television advertising and billboards will be thrown away before we know it.
Don’t let these debates completely scare you off from strategies that will build your brand and draw in new audiences, while retaining your current customer base.
Television ads aren’t as big as they were in the 1980s. But depending on who you are appealing to or what you’re selling, buying a slate of TV ads may be a wise investment, whether or not this counts as the latest-and-greatest thing.
It’s always worth considering whether someone showing off that latest-and-greatest thing stands to benefit from you making a decision about it. There’s no shame in that, but not every communication idea or tool will be best for you. Much in the same way that I don’t need a six-slice toaster. I’m not knocking it, but the one I have is just as effective.
Blend message consistency with diversity.
Sifting through the seemingly endless number of ways you can engage an audience and deciding on a method can seem complicated. You have a number of avenues to choose from — email marketing, traditional ad space like billboards, digital ads, your website, and organic content on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and so on.
I find that clients these days, with a trove of industry-specific data and consumer research at their fingertips, are connected with their target audience enough to know which channels will work for them and which won’t. Where many struggle instead is figuring out how to deliver the same message tailored to the strengths of each channel.
Sometimes, the same content idea or verbatim copy is used across all social media platforms, for example. Or their Twitter feed has little to do with original brand identity and consists of sharing only articles and blog posts other people wrote. It’s an easy trap to fall into (and a fine approach if you have data to back up that it actually works for your brand).
A few years back, professional speaker Dorie Clark wrote an interesting piece in the Harvard Business Review about giving the same speech different times to different audiences. She talked about a balancing act between delivering your “greatest hits” — the stuff you’re known for and are sought-out as an expert on — giving the same, word-for-word speech every time. The latter gets pretty boring, with even good one-liners starting to feel a bit worn, particularly if anyone’s heard them before.
A few of her tips are great communication takeaways to think about, even when you’re trying to decide when and how to use Twitter vs. email (or maybe both) to deliver a message. She suggested that speakers think of some parts of their standard speech as “modules” or segments they can shuffle around, depending on the needs and responses of an audience. It’s imperative to understand your audience by doing background research, so that the modules chosen apply directly to their life experiences and thus grab their attention more. And of course, clarify a specific, desired outcome to the audience. Why are they listening to you, when they could be listening to someone else?
Depersonalize. It isn’t about you.
Okay, it is, in a way. You are trying to draw people into a particular message or attract them to a product or service. But the synthesis of the first two tips — not getting stuck on the latest, greatest thing and blending message consistency with diversity — is making communication decisions that are centered on your audience’s interests.
I love YouTube, and frankly wouldn’t mind putting out most if not all of my messaging on that channel. I don’t watch a lot of television and my inbox is too full to reliably reach me with email marketing. If I think too much about myself, though, I might start to make decisions and get stuck in a loop of what I think is best and what I want to do.
Which brings us back to the tree parable. Unless you’re spending your life talking to yourself, what you say and the way you say it needs to appeal to other people. Otherwise, like the thundering sound created by the falling tree, you’ll spend your business life flowing with great products, concepts and ideas that no one hears.