These are no mashups. Here we're talking about mishaps. When what you say does not achieve the desired results, nor it reaches your intended audience -- that's when your messages fall flat. In Words that Work, Frank Luntz talks about the importance of preventing message mistakes. Language is in constant flux, so the words you choose need to work in the context of your audience.
The meaning of what you're saying today in a marketing message for example, may change tomorrow. That is because our frames of reference change. How your words are understood is highly dependent upon the experiences, biases and context of the listener. There are a few pointers in the book.
Never Assume Knowledge or Awareness
"Too often, corporate chieftains have used language as a weapon to obscure and exclude rather than as a tool to inform and enlighten." [Frank Luntz] Since we're talking about an age where conversation is becoming increasingly important, we can take cues from our clients and business associates, if we're willing to listen.
To note is also te technical nature of some of our talk. I have been astounded by the number of acronyms in existence and use by American English speakers. Take for example the AMA: it can stand for the American Marketing Association, the American Management Association, and the American Medical Association. Well, which one is it? Sometimes context is not *that* obvious. Although I would probably have a hard time passing myself for a medical doctor -- I don't know any of the words, even if I've seen one played on TV (rarely, on occasion, when the set was on by chance).
Get the Order Right
The mind takes the information it receives and synthesizes it to create a new whole. All of the elements of your presentation -- "the order of your words, the visuals that accompany them, and the way they relate to what the audience knows of your personality, your history, your character -- all of these elements blend to form a single impression. If even one of these elements is off, if they don't work together seamlessly like the pieces of a puzzle... you risk losing control of your message or, indeed, sending the wrong message altogether."
So remember that using the right order will provide the right context.
Gender can Obstruct Understanding
"The more personal the context, the greater the interest." [Luntz]
There are differences in how we take in information. Women tend to respond better to stories, anecdotes and metaphors, while men tend to be more statistical and fact-oriented. One example that comes to mind is how you give directions to a place. If I talk to a woman, I provide many references to landscape: a store or an unusual house, a mail box at the corner.
Here's the biggest takeaway from this point: women generally prefer to be for something instead of against it. When a company articulates what a product is about, it reveals something of itself. This is important when you consider marketing to women. Another strong point is listening. Companies that communicate a listening proposition to their products, services, and how they do business are more in line with what women want.
It's About the Children
Parents have a need and great desire to please their children, and smart marketers have figured out a way to provide value in that sense. How many ads have you seen the pull at the heartstrings by showing the tension between work and being with the family? Or maybe they are designed to have the kids bring along their parents. What would happen "If kids ruled the world..?"
There has been some discussion around marketing directly to children, especially in the realm of fast food. Yet I constantly hear reports from parents who say how sophisticated their children are about advertising and marketing messages. I do wonder if it is the marketer pushing the message, or the kids smirking at the obvious attempts to connect.
How you Define Determines How you Are Received
This is the trickiest point of all. We do not want to be seen as manipulating and calculating, yet we do want our message to get across. "Positioning an idea linguistically so that it affirms and confirms an audience's context can often mean the difference between that idea's success and failure." [Luntz]
Before you raise an objection, let's think for a moment about when we state that we want to send our message in a way that agrees with the worldview of our customers. This is essentially the same kind of statement. Yet, when we inject the word "positioning" somehow we feel that something wrong is going on. What this means is really pointing to the desirable results of a product, service, or situation.
The process, how you get there, is your internal dialogue, the result is the external conversation and worthy of focus.
Being receptive to a message means we can still choose to join the conversation in real time. What we can contribute is our desire to stay informed, active, and even skeptical -- it is a good thing to require that the official story explains itself. That's how the journalist I know and admire tell me they operate.
Did you ever experience message mistakes? Where you on the receiving end? How was the mismatch corrected?