M-A-M™: Identifying the Message, Step 1

In Marketing by J Michel Metz2 Comments

Okay, so you’ve seen that your Facebook Fan Page doesn’t have many fans, your Twitter followers are anemic, and you’re starting to think that people just. don’t. like. you. Of 400 million Facebook users you can’t seem to grab 40? Maybe it’s time you re-examine your assumptions and learn exactly what message you’re sending (or, more importantly, they’re receiving).

After all, “if they didn’t hear it, you didn’t say it.”

That’s one of my all-time favorite quotes from Marshall McLuhan, and it’s worth repeating to yourself over and over. There are two explicit questions to be examined in that phrase, and one implied:

What: What is “it?” What is the thing that is supposed to be said?

Who: Who are “they?” Who is supposed to be hearing it?

and implied:

How: By what means is the “who” supposed to hear “it?”

If they didn’t hear it, you didn’t say it. – Marshall McLuhan


You need to understand how all of these things relate. Simply focusing on the “how” is utterly pointless.

Why? Because there’s more to delivering your message than choosing a specific medium.

Clear Message

Suppose you are driving down interstate 80 in Iowa, a very long road which has almost nothing for miles other than pig farms and cornfields. On the horizon you see a single billboard beginning to loom. Having nothing else to look at your curiosity begins to grow. What could this be?

The billboard looms closer and you see that it’s a gigantic sandwich, telling you that Flo’s Diner is just five miles ahead and is the last stop for the next 45 miles. Cool. You’re hungry now. Time for food.

Where's Waldo's Message?

Now suppose you’re driving down I-5 just outside of LA (or Tuscon, as in this photo), and Flo’s Diner has a billboard with the same sandwich. Your first instinct might be to realize that hey, no one will believe the “45 mile” claim. But if that’s the case you’re missing the point.

The greater likelihood is that Flo’s billboard won’t even be seen in the cacophony of noise that is I-5.

So, whereas the billboard’s message might be effective without any competition for eyeballs in rural Iowa, the same message would be drowned out completely given a different audience and competitive landscape.

This doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to change your message. On the contrary: your message should have been created first and the medium (and its location) should have flowed from there. That would have allowed you to tailor the message according to the appropriate media and still retain some consistency and coherence.

Working Backwards

It boggles my mind how many people come up with their social media messages. Generally the thought process goes something like this.

1. I have a Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn account.

2. People that I know and like also have an account.

3. There are other people here. They must also be like me.

4. My product or service interests me, so it must also mean others like me will be interested.

5. Even if I get X% of Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn users I’ll be successful.

6. I’ll create a web site/fan page/profile and fill it with keywords and optimize for search engines, so that people who think like me will search like me and I’ll be found!

7. In the meantime, I’ll put an “Under Construction” or “Watch This Space” page to let people know I’m working on content.

Does this in any way sound familiar? You can see very quickly that the process is backwards. It starts with a social media then makes gross (and grotesque) assumptions about an audience, and then attempts to force-fit the message into that very constrained infrastructure.

Worse, they have no idea how to move to different media. If they try at all, they simply repackage the same message that they shoehorned into the previous media outlet and expect it to work (and it usually doesn’t). If they are successful, they have no idea whether it was a result of good planning or just dumb luck.

Creating the Message

Whether you’re selling yourself, an idea, a product/company or a process, you need to understand exactly what it is that you are selling.

Look at it this way. Social Media is about affiliation. It’s about wanting people to consider themselves affiliated with you, product, company, etc. But you have to understand that people don’t simply become affiliated with you because you’re you. They need to have something that they can understand and affiliate with.

That’s your message.

Ask yourself the question: what is it about me (ideas, products, etc.) worth affiliating with? The answer to that question is your message.

What is it about me and my message that’s worth affiliating with?

The Messaging Process

As I’ve mentioned before, coming up with your message is the most difficult part, and it’s something that can take a very long time. It’s an iterative process, and one that will require responding to feedback and reactions (and understanding what doesn’t work as well as what does) and then re-examining your premises and assumptions.

Keep things simple, easy-to-understand and clear: clarity is far more important than brevity. If you get to the point where you have to say “it’s complicated,” or “it depends,” then you’ve gone too far too fast and need to move up a level. That is to say, you need to take another step back and grasp a bigger picture than where you are at the moment.

I’ve used this example in the past, so it’s probably appropriate to return to it again now. Whether you’re employed or you’re “in transition,” you will eventually be asked to “tell a little bit about yourself.”

It’s a vague question, and one that confounds a lot of people. They genuinely do not know how to identify themselves – so they begin describing themselves instead.

"Tell me a little about yourself..."

“I am a hard worker who is very passionate about his work and work to…(Oh crap I’m repeating myself!) partner with executives to improve ROI for complex projects (is that official-sounding enough?) and reduce operating expenses…”

Stop. Just stop before you hurt yourself and those around you. Step away from the buzzwords.

Your audience is supposed to affiliate themselves with that? And you think putting this on Facebook will help!?

Step 1: Brainstorming the Identity

Start by sitting down and listing off all of the characteristics of the object of your messaging. You’ll want to concentrate on its identity rather than its description (i.e., a noun rather than an adjective). Try to focus on what it is, rather than what it’s like.

Identify what you’re talking about.

It may sound silly and obvious, but this becomes crucial later on for being able to correctly approach various audiences. Look at the terminology you use; are you jargon-filled? Do you rely on specialized knowledge? If so, that funnel is pretty narrow to begin with; the narrower the top of the funnel the more narrower the end – the smaller the block of marble the smaller the statue. Try to be Michaelangelo when all you have is a pebble to start from.

Thinking outside the box yet?

Brainstorm all the characteristics you can think of. Size, shape, color, texture, flavor, smell – pick a sense. Be goofy. Think wild-ass thoughts. Don’t restrain yourself and whatever you do, don’t lie. You’ve heard of “thinking outside the box,” well this is how you do it. This is the part where those wild, wacky and creative ideas come from. Go for the stream-of-consciousness, follow the links where they may take you.

These are the ingredients for your creative recipe. Understanding all of the attributes and characteristics of your message does two things. First, it will allow you to mix-and-match aspects of your message that you hadn’t thought of before. Second, it will help you identify where some challenges may be coming from (e.g., other competing messages that are clamoring for attention from the same audience you’re attempting to reach).

Identify why it’s important.

In technology marketing, one of the main criticisms is that the focus invariably rests upon “speeds and feeds.” For example, a new networking card has certain attributes associated with it, such as how much information can be passed per second, how fast it gets sent, etc. Effectively, these are very important tools for calculations that can have significant meaning for the intended audience.

But there are also other, more intangible characteristics that need to be identified as well. It’s here where the emotional aspects of your message become readily apparent. If you’re Ford and you are selling the Mustang, for instance, can you ignore the emotional characteristics of being a ‘stang owner versus a ‘vette owner (or if you’re Chevrolet for that matter)? To return to our previous example, what does it mean that you have the fastest networking card? What does this provide in terms of significance?

You need to identify and understand both in order to determine how to reach specific audiences.

Identify the limitations.

Most people have a very, very difficult time with this one. For all the networking events I’ve been to, I can’t count the times I’ve heard someone answer the question “what are you looking to do” with “I’m looking for anything.”

Match your answer to the question

No, no you’re not. Unless you’re an astronaut, you’re not looking to be one if all you’ve ever done is HR.

There are a number of issues with such an approach, not the least of which is the simple fact that it means you don’t have a good idea of who you are versus what you can do. When you’re asked the question you need to be able to match up the intention of the question with your answer. In other words, looking at the diagram you need to identify the circle that’s being asked (usually green) with your response. If you respond with orange, there’s a mismatch.

You may have noticed that this means that you need to be aware of questions relating to each of these Venn circles, which means four different messages, right? The answer is yes, you must be aware, but no, there’s only one message but focused for the appropriate question. This involves matching up your message with your audience which we’ll return to at a later date.

There’s a similar issue with products, philosophies and companies. For any message there are characteristics and the significance of those characteristics. You must understand precisely how appropriate your message is and is not.

Identify the environment.

Just like Flo’s Diner, it’s important to understand what competitive messages exist, not just in the location where you wish to place your message. This competitive analysis is important not just for products and corporations, but for individuals as well.

Recently I attended a networking event where the structure was to have everyone stand in a circle and give a short 30-second “elevator speech.” Obviously most of these individuals were in similar situations and as a result the speeches were mind-numbingly similar. By the time we heard the fifth “I’m an Project Manager who works in High Tech,” it became glaringly obvious that the majority of people had no clue about where their message fit into their environment.

It’s the risk of commoditization that threatens any message overall, in fact. It’s very difficult with people to affiliate with your message if they place no significance or value upon it. Why would they hire you, join your fan page, follow you on Twitter, etc., if there is no additional value to their already oversubscribed social connections?

It is very difficult for people to affiliate with your message if they place no value upon it.



Before moving on, you need to go back over what you’ve assembled and place everything you’ve done into context. Most of what you generate for your message will not be used in the final analysis. In fact, some of the most brilliant ideas you come up with for messaging will need to be regrettably and painfully omitted in the ultimate plan for one reason or another. Perhaps the appropriate audience is too small to justify the expense. Perhaps the medium cannot convey the message properly. Whatever the reason you will begin to chisel away at the marble in order to create your statue; often that will mean necessary changes that you will hate to lose.

Nevertheless, at this point you want the mouth of the funnel to be as wide as possible and you want to have as many ideas as you can before you start eliminating them.

Brainstorm the Message by:

  • Identifying what you’re talking about
  • Recognizing why it’s important
  • Understanding the limitations, and
  • Placing it into its environmental context

Once you have done this, it will be time to move on to the next step. For now, however, you may be a bit overwhelmed by the work involved so far. But in a world where you often only get one chance to be successful, when are you going to find the time to do it over if you can’t find the time to do it right?

Where This Leads

We’ll be examining the transitions between steps in future blog posts, but for now let’s just summarize what we’ve done for ourselves.

We have assembled the parts to build the compass to lead us in the direction we wish to go.


First, we’ve established the building blocks for not only the identify of our message, but also have prepared ourselves with the ammunition we’ll need to address our audience – especially if that audience happens to be segmented.

Second, it means we’re proactive in our approach, as opposed to reactive. It means that we’re better prepared to have our message guide us to the appropriate medium, rather than using the medium to dictate our identity.

Third, we’ve provided ourselves with the scope and scale of what we are and are not willing to present. We’ve begun to place boundaries around our message so that we can help focus properly and not be distracted by any new piece of information that comes our way. It helps us identify our opportunities and concentrate on higher probabilities of success.

Fourth, but definitely not last, we’ve managed to establish a program of successes, creating strategic campaigns as opposed to tactical hit-and-runs. It allows us to create a metric by which we can ultimately measure our success (or failure), because now we can place clear images of what “awareness” and “ROI” truly means.

In other words, we have assembled all the parts to build a compass we can rely on to lead us in the direction we wish to go.


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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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