The Universal Paradox of Messaging
The narrower your focus with your message, the broader your reach with your target audience. If that sounds counterintuitive to you, you’re not alone. However, this is often referred to as the universal paradox of messaging. The most effective messages feel like they were made just for you.
Unfortunately, most messages we send out are “one-size-fits-most.” The truth is on one side, there are the people who will always connect with your message because you share values, and on the other are those who will never do that because you don’t. It’s the people in the middle who are your target audience.
To connect with that target audience, you need to identify the values you share and then focus your message on that. Ask yourself: What do they want? What do they value that I also value? And third, what’s the struggle that’s complicated what they value and what they want? The answers are hard, but they give your message a crystal-clear focus for your target audience.
- EP060: Solving the One-to-Many Message Problem
- Simon Sinek TED Talk – “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”
– Some call it the universal paradox of communication. I put it this way: the narrower your focus, the broader your reach for your target audience. Sounds pretty counterintuitive, doesn’t it? But it’s true. I’m Tamsen Webster of tamsenwebster.com and that’s what we’re talking about this week on Find The Red Thread. Don’t forget to like and subscribe.
Imagine the last time you bought something that was one size fits all. And even when they say one size fits most, I mean the range is somewhere between like cavernous and ickingly tight. And just in the middle is something like, this’ll do. But did that one-size-fits-all thing ever feel like it was yours? Like it was made for you? Could you identify it blindfolded? I’m guessing not.
Now imagine instead that you had something that was tailored to fit you perfectly. Like a jacket or a pair of pants. Done well, that should fit like a glove. You should be able to know in an instant that it was yours, that it belonged to you.
Messages work the same way. And we want that sense of belonging all the time. And that’s part of why we do marketing and branding and communication in the first place. We want our target audience to feel like the idea belongs to them, that the brand belongs to them. And we want them to feel like they belong to us. All of that is necessary.
And yet, what do we do? We send out one-size-fits-most messages. Now this is really counter intuitive for a lot of people. Because if we feel like if we’re trying to reach a whole bunch of people, shouldn’t we broaden the message? Shouldn’t we put out a message that’s for everybody?
I’m going to argue that everybody is not your market. In fact, your market is going to look a heck of a lot like a bell curve. In one corner, people are going to be rabid fans of yours always and forever— your target audience. And you have to really screw it up in order for them to not wanna be part of you anymore.
At the other end are the people who would never be part of you in the first place. They just don’t share your values. They don’t need what you’ve got. They’re just never going to be there. And in the middle, you have the people that can go one way or the other depending on how well you talk to them.
Now the reason why this universal paradox of communication actually works though is the same thing that’s happening when you’re in a wedding reception. And everybody’s talking and chattering. And you’re hearing all this sound and noise. Then all of a sudden, you hear someone clink a knife against a glass. That you can hear.
Why can you hear it? Because the sound is so focused that it carries. And that’s what we need to be doing with our messaging too. When sound is focused, it carries. When a message is focused, it carries. The narrower your focus, the broader the reach.
Now it doesn’t mean that you’re going to make individual messages for individual people, but this is where the power of your audience’s mindset comes in. Because if you can think through well, for this idea, or this product, or this service, or our brand, it really serves people who want a certain thing. And that they’re struggling with something about getting that thing.
Go to the people that we need, your target audience. And the people to make sure that they’re not in that bad category over in the bad end of the bell curve, we need to make sure that they share values with us.
So for instance, I have a client that is a medical device manufacturer. And when we were talking about what their customers want, one of the things that they said the value was that they shared was credibility. And I asked for other people trying to pursue the same goal, was credibility always important. They’re like, “Yeah, no.”
There’s plenty of people out there for which credibility isn’t important, but for us the brand, it is. And when I pointed out that right now that they were marketing to everybody and assuming that credibility would be a message that would appeal to everybody, it was like a light went off. And I said, “Oh, we’re never going to convert the people who don’t believe in credibility.” No, you’re not.
So you can either decide to do something else and message something else for them. Or realize that the more you focus your message on the people who do share your values, the more successful your messaging is going to be.
And here’s the thing, one of my best examples of this is the Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” talk. But the title of that talk is, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” Now, most people by now have heard of this idea of “Start With Why” and it’s gotten adoption on so many different places. In fact, when I went back to a Weight Watchers meeting recently, that’s the whole part of the program is talking about what’s your why.
But the talk originally was written for leaders. The reason why that idea spread, why that idea carried, is because the message was so focused to begin with. So when you’re trying to figure out how do I make sure that my message spreads, the first thing you need to do is make sure that it’s focused on the people most likely to hear it.
And those three simple questions again that you should ask yourself about your audience is: What do they want? What are they actively pursuing right now that they know that they want? Second, what do they value in that pursuit that we the brand that I also value? And third, what’s the struggle that results? What is the struggle that’s getting in the way or complicating what they value and what they want?
Those sound like simple questions, and they are. But they aren’t going to be that easy to answer. And what you’re going to find is that one answer can kind of float around in between. But if you do the work to figure out what is the right pattern of those answers for you, for your brand, for your idea, then you’re going to have a crystal clear perspective on exactly what your audience needs to hear. And your message will carry just like that crystal glass in a noisy room.
I’m Tamsen Webster of tamsenwebster.com. Thanks so much for watching and listening to this week’s episode of Find The Red Thread. Do remember to like and comment if that so inspires you. Otherwise, I will see you next week.