The Seven Rules of Marketing Communication

by Bill Purdin

If there is anything we have learned in all these years of professional advertising it can be summed up in a few words: everything works. But having said that, it is also clear that some things work better than others. And, that the underpinnings of what we say — how we say it — remains far, far more important.

Here are a few things to always remember.

1. Credibility: Communication begins in a climate of credibility, built by the advertiser. Without it, communication will not occur. Credibility comes from honesty, sincerity and putting customers first. There are no corners to cut.

Performance is the key. When Alexander Graham Bell said, “Come here, Watson,” the resulting action confirmed the communication. So, the “climate of belief” is trust.

2. Context: An advertising/communications program must square with the realities of its environment. Your daily business activities must confirm, not contradict, the message. Lack of context, even occasionally unsells your customers.

This means, take a long, hard  look at the behavior of your company, as well as the “sizzle” of the advertising. How many times have you called a company and heard the operator say or do something that made you wonder, “Why do they have this person answering the phone?”  Or worse, “Why do they always answer with voice mail.” The conduct and professionalism of the company precedes and handicaps or accelerates the marketing message. Your context is who you are.

3. Content: The message must have meaning and relevance. Content determines the audience not vice versa. Content is and always has been king.

Be careful what you ask for; you might get it! Too many times, clients have insisted on messages that pleased their Board of Directors and people around the president or around the decision-makers. The only litmus test for the message is how it impacts the target audience. Be strong on this point. Your board of directors, your president and officers are probably not in the same demographic setting as your customers.

4. Clarity: The message must be put in simple terms. Words used must have exactly the same meaning to all involved. Complex messages must be distilled into much simpler terms, and the farther a message must travel over time and demographically, the more its basic meaning dissipates. The stone makes a splash but ripples are soft on the shore.

The primary definition of the word “simple” is: “consisting of one thing” and does not of course imply stupidity or lack of creativity. The fakirs of India fell asleep on a bed of nails. But no one has ever fallen asleep on a bed of one nail. The message’s simplicity is its penetration power.

5. Continuity and Consistency: Communication is an unending process. It requires repetition. Repetition contributes to learning. Studies have shown that human beings take on average 27 repetitions to fully integrate a message. 27 times. Communication is an unending process. It requires repetition. Repetition contributes to learning. Studies have shown that human beings take on average 27 repetitions to fully integrate a message. 27 times. Or did I say that already?

Long after you’ve completely tired of a campaign and are “sick to death” of seeing it, the general public is just beginning to hear it. That’s when it starts to pay off. That is, if you haven’t already cancelled it at great expense to your company, at great loss of response, and out of ignorance. Give things time, and reap the rewards of patience and professionalism. Listen. Give things time.

6. Channels: Use established channels of communication– channels the receiver uses and respects. Creating new channels is difficult. risky, and fraught with failure.

This applies to “special promotions” and “special sections” by the print and broadcast media as well as start-up venture media, including social networks and online advertising. Too often the “special” in the special section means more to the publisher than to the reader. There are exceptions, but follow the rule and you won’t be sorry. Be innovative in your statement of the message, but conservative in your choice of channels used to communicate it. Don’t be afraid to experiment but remember it is just an experiment.

7. Capability: Communication must take into account the capability of the audience. Communications are most effective when they require the least effort on the part of the recipient, and certainly one they are fully capable to doing.

“Effort” can sometimes be defined as a combination of physical effort and incentive. Be sure to include a fulfillment for the reader/customer/viewer/listener. Don’t assume that they are all just waiting for you. Institutional advertising is a great idea (if you’re an institution). Coupons are seductive for result-oriented advertisers, but what are you asking a person to do? (a) buy the product because is less expensive or discounted, (b) to reform whatever opinion they had of the company to a new “special” opinion, and (c) look for more discounts in the future. Good luck! Sometimes it’ll work but what you’ll get are increasingly disloyal customers. Grocery stores love it, but if you’re not behind a deli counter, think about other avenues of response generation. There are plenty. Be imaginative. Use a great advertising agency.

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