M-A-M™: Focusing on the Message

So we’ve looked at the overall view of M-A-M™ (Message-Audience-Medium), and discussed about how too many people try to work their way backwards and how that simply doesn’t work. In order to start your way down the funnel, we need to begin with the Message, because it’s from this point that your persuasive marketing strategy (whether it be for yourself, your company, or your product) must flow.

Michaelangelo used to say that the statues already existed in the marble; he was just setting them free. Sculpting your message is exactly the same. The beginning of the process is where you have the ability to brainstorm wildly and throw anything that looks relevant into the hopper. You’ll chisel away the parts of the message that are extraneous over time, but to begin with you’ll need to start with the largest piece of marble you can.

There’s no beating around the bush – the Message is the hardest part of your task. It takes constant refinement, a lot of work, and a lot of re-thinking. As you work your way down the M-A-M™ model, keep this general guideline: your Message isn’t clarified or defined well enough if you ever have to give yourself the answer “It depends” as an answer.

While it is the most difficult and the most frustrating part of your task, it is also the most rewarding. When you identify your Message and have it solidified in your own mind and in your plan, the rest of the process will go much smoother and faster than without.

Let’s begin. Grab your chisel. (Say, “Yes, M-A-M™! Okay, that was really cheesy, even for me.)

Nouns, not Adjectives or Verbs

The first thing to examine is the what of your message. Ultimately you may want someone to do something, persuade someone to buy your product, promote your company, or even hire you for a job. But while that is part of your message, it is not all of your message.

For the purposes of this post, let’s take an example of the job hunter (in this economy this seems as appropriate an example as any): we talk about “branding” yourself in order to give a clear image to your potential audience, but what does that mean in real terms?

All too often you will see people be uncertain as to what their message is or should be, so they start with descriptions, or descriptions of actions. For instance, you’ll often hear people describe the process by which they do things, or the past activities.

“I’m process driven.”

“I’m efficiency focused.”

“I’m interested in healthcare.”

All of these are expressions of a description without examining an actual identity first. What this means is that you will have to backtrack – having said the adjectives first – in order to give a context for those descriptions. This hopscotch approach does not work well for leaving a clear image in your audiences’ minds.

Let’s face it, you don’t want to force your audience to play 20 questions (especially if they don’t have the ability to ask them, depending on whichever medium you choose). If you do it wrong, you’ll wind up with an uncomfortable and awkward game of “I, Spy” which winds up being no fun for anyone.

The key element, then, is the ability to characterize what your message is, rather than attempt to identify it by describing attributes and characteristics.

To that end, it’s much more efficient (not to mention parsimonious) to say, “I’m an expert in process efficiency for healthcare” than to force someone to come to that conclusion by giving them descriptive clues.

Identity, not Action

The reason why people will describe their past actions or accomplishments is because they unfortunately see themselves as a product of their past actions, rather than the other way around. Individuals who see themselves as defined by their past tasks or duties often fail to see that while they were busy doing those things they weren’t doing other things that they could have also accomplished.

Within the prospect of marketing yourself, remember this axiom:

You are not what you do, you do what you are.

Your message needs to focus around that identity, rather than your past actions. Once you have successfully based your message around your identity, then all of your past actions are logical subsets of that identity.

What you've done is only a part of your identity

Think of it this way: look at the diagram above. When we discuss only the aspects of our identity in terms of what we have done, it’s a much smaller portion than what we are actually capable of doing. In fact, by characterizing our message in terms of the duties of the past, we have chosen the smallest possible component of our identity to use as the basis for our message. It is also the most limiting and the most backwards-facing, as it fails to take into consideration those aspects that we have yet to do, let alone things we already can do but simply haven’t had the occasion to do yet.

Now look at the diagram below. See how that – if we continue to progress as we have in the past – our realm of knowledge and capability will expand and yet still be within the domain of our identity.

You will learn more and be able to do more in the future.

You’ll notice, also, that it doesn’t make sense to have a realm of what you will be able to do that’s greater than your identity, and yet we all too often consider that identity to be a product of our past and try to argue that somehow we can still do “anything” that someone tasks us to do:

Describing your identity as a subset of what you've done is backwards.

Obviously, this is a bass-ackwards way of thinking, and one of the reasons why the messaging is so difficult. You can’t expect to make progress if your approach is focused backwards.

The Power of One

You want to reduce complexity when conveying your message. Simplify, simplify, simplify. You’ve heard of the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) method? Think of this as more than just a KISS: it’s a Make-out Session.

You’ve no doubt heard the expression, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.” While it’s axiomatic, it does lend itself to a very important corollary: you only get one message to leave with people.

People don’t like to hear this. Whether they’re trying to market an idea, a product, or themselves, they feel that they have to mash up every possible aspect, characteristic or description into their message in the expectation that people will remember all of it. Or, worse, they expect that people will remember “enough” to keep the gist of the message. In other words, they attempt to heap as much information onto their poor unsuspecting audience as possible in the hopes that something will stick.

In short, people don’t want to know that overloading their audience with multiple messages simply won’t work.

The Russians have a phrase for this: toughski shitski.

Ain’t gonna happen. Nope. Nuh-uh. People simply don’t have the capacity (unless they’re some sort of savant) to memorize details in that capacity. If you have more than one characteristic or message then you’re going to get lost in the shuffle.

If you think about the filtering process humans have, it’s pretty sophisticated. Look at all the messages that they are bombarded with each day, each minute. From advertising to warning labels to multiple conversations there is a lot of noise competing for their attention, not to mention whatever internal distractions they’re coping with. At best you will only get a single message to stick in amongst the competition.

The bad news is that whether you like it or not, your audience will take away a message – it just may not be the one you want them to take! If you’re scattered or complex, they will remember that. If you’re unfocused and (seemingly) evasive, that’s the message they will take away. We’ll focus more on Audience in another post, but it’s important right now to recall that you’ll only get one message through in the best of times.

The good news is that the clearer and simple your message is, the more likely it will push out other messages that aren’t.

So, since that’s the case, make it as clear as possible. If you have two or more “messages” look to see if they’re possibly describing the same attribute that could be redefined into one simplified image. If they’re incongruous (which is the alternative), consider abandoning one of them for the sake of clarity and simplicity.

Let’s return to our hapless job hunter. Suppose that she’s got an eclectic background that seemingly can’t be pinned down based upon the tasks: she’s worked as the head of a multinational nonprofit organization of technical professionals, worked as a sales executive for high-tech firms, worked as a liaison between doctors and administration in healthcare to improve reporting and information exchange.

Immediately we can see the problem. Any one of these past duties cannot adequately emphasize her identity or her message. More importantly, none of these roles are something that she wishes to pursue in the future. So what is her identity? What’s her message?

The key to successfully creating a message is to find the coherent thread through all of these roles as they relate to who she is, where she wants to go. In her case, by focusing on two key elements: relationships and technology, she can identify herself in an umbrella form that makes these past activities seem less unfocused:

“I’m an expert in technical business relations development.”

Obviously, the statement in and of itself doesn’t stand on its own, and needs examples. At that point she can take the examples of her past duties as examples of her identity, not the other way around.

More importantly, the message flows from her identity to the examples, rather than the need to backtrack and redefine as she goes along, which is much more likely to engender confusion and possibly prevent her audience from holding onto her message.

Summary

Sadly, space limitations prevent me from moving beyond just the broadest of focus here, but there will be additional posts forthcoming of how to refine the Message as well as a discussion of the Audience and Medium.

While we used the example of the job seeker, the process of examining the identity as it relates to Message is applicable to a broad range of subjects; the subject of marketing ourselves was deliberately chosen first because it is often quite difficult to target ourselves as a subject of promotion, but it doesn’t have to be impossible.

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M-A-M™ and Yes, M-A-M™ Copyright 1999-2010 J Michel Metz, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.

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