Making Sure Your Message Gets Through

A recently found World War II carrier pigeon's skeleton, with a message canister still attached, can teach modern businesses something about communicating effectively.

Making Sure Your Message Gets Through

I’m somewhat of a history buff. For this reason, I was fascinated when I recently read an article about a man in England who, while cleaning his chimney, found the remains of a World War II carrier pigeon. A canister was still attached to the leg of this bird’s skeleton that contained this secret, coded message:

The message content is the subject of great public curiosity. I too would love to know what it said, and with the war long over, secrecy is no longer an issue. So the message was presented to modern day code breakers in the British intelligence community, but they were unable to crack the code. Apparently the codebooks used to encode and decode these messages have been lost, and with them, the ability to know what the message says.

This curious story has me thinking about the messages that businesses emit everyday in an effort to influence someone or some group. The messages are certainly quite clear to the sender, but even if they are delivered, are they understood? It might shock those of us who are sending the messages to know the frequency with which they are not effectively received.

Before we explore this topic in more detail, it’s important to establish exactly what messages are in marketing terms: they are the essence of what needs communicating. They become the core building blocks of slogans, advertisements, and other forms of promotional communication designed to influence. For example, if a service business decides that “Reliability” is a core message, it might transmit it through a slogan like “we do the job right the first time.” The message, then, is not necessarily the actual set of words used in communication, but the essential meaning behind whatever words are used. A single message may find expression in multiple ways and forms of communication.

When businesses communicate, they prefer that their messages are received and understood, but that is only one of three possible outcomes; the other two are bad: the message is never delivered or it is not understood (alas, the carrier pigeon in our story produced a double whammy in this regard). To avoid the negative outcomes, businesses should approach with great care the determination of core messages that will serve as the basis for their communications. A great tool to help accomplish this is a Message Map.

Most businesses have a litany of messages they wish to communicate, all of them important. But some messages are more important than others. A Message Map will help an organization objectively filter all potential messages to determine which are most impactful. It’s a simple tool that enables evaluating each message across three key dimensions: effectiveness, credibility and resonance. Those messages that score the best across these dimensions are ones to feature more prominently in your communications.

The importance of messages is often underestimated. A business may take a cavalier approach to crafting and communicating its messages, never fully appreciating that their messages convey their values. For this reason, it becomes very important to get both the content and delivery right. It appears that we will never know the message that the wayward carrier pigeon was meant to convey. With the right planning, we can ensure that our messages don’t suffer a similar fate.

About the Author

Jerry Rackley

Jerry Rackley is Chief Analyst for Demand Metric, a community built around the needs of marketing professionals and consultants.  It provides premium content, consulting methodologies, workshops, and advisory services to over 17,000 members in more than 75 countries.

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