Artwork Credit: Heinz Alvarez – Visual Artist
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THE ART AND SCIENCE OF COMMUNICATION: MEANING IS IN PEOPLE
Communication is central to success in any relationship. This truth holds across both business and personal realms. Master communicators make the communication exchange appear effortless. It is sometimes perceived as an intuitive, elusive skill, and an elite “art” that requires an innate genius bestowed upon a “gifted few.” In reality, being a master communicator can be learned. It is both art and science.
The topic of deeply tapping into the meaning and thoughts in the minds and hearts of a listener or audience is central to this chapter. “Meaning is in people, not in words” is how Ogden & Richards (1932) (1) stated it in The Meaning of Meaning. Simplifying this, we can paraphrase this way “meaning comes from the pictures in the receiver’s head that motivate someone’s thinking and behavior.” Basically, when communication is effective, it lands inside someone else’s mind and consciousness as the sender intends. It is tempting to think it is an automatic, crystal-clear transmission. Nothing is further from the truth.
Being effective in life and in business is often mistakenly simplified into being excellent at sending messages. This paradigm is flawed. Communication is never a linear transaction, in which a message “lands” with the same meaning as a sender intends.
It is time to leverage these insights to tune in and adjust our own style so we can be better communicators. Strength and success in business leadership is tied to how we communicate and influence others. Three high impact areas in business communication are: Marketing, Leadership and Sales.
Listener Priorities: From Epic Failure to Marketing Hall of Fame
Let us look at the cost when there is a failure to tune into the priorities of an external audience. This illustration demonstrates the financial impact of doing it poorly as well as doing it spectacularly well. Both illustrations occur within the life of one historical figure: Steve Jobs.
While at the helm of Apple, Jobs and his brilliant team of engineers pioneered and launched the Lisa Computer. It was revolutionary; it was among the first personal computers to have a graphical user interface. Jobs decided to communicate the information that mattered most to him about this new computer. He wrote a massive treatise to convince consumers to purchase the Lisa computer. He took out a nine-page advertisement introducing the computer, in The New York Times (Apple, 1983). (2) It did not land with the audience; the Lisa computer sold only 10,000 units worldwide.
This epic failure in marketing ultimately paved the way for Jobs being booted out of his own firm. As we look at his outgoing message, it clearly displayed what mattered to him. He spoke in his own preferred style and completely missed the importance of focusing on what mattered to the receivers of the message. Take a look:
This stunningly expensive ad space was replete with details about the hard drive, the interface, RAM and more. Feedback from this failure to communicate was impossible for him to miss. During his exile from Apple and his stint at Pixar, Jobs made a massive course correction. Jobs clearly and thoroughly revamped the entire paradigm at his next opportunity to communicate with Apple’s consumers.
There is no technical jargon. Apple’s revamped marketing message was a massive pivot.
It relied on two words: “Think Different.” It was simple, clear, and focused on solutions with emotional appeal. It went even further than emotional appeal; the message and implied stories effectively tapped into aspirational wishes in the minds and hearts of audiences worldwide.
Sales that resulted from this new marketing message were credited with turning around the fortunes of Apple and its’ subsequent valuation, which is currently in the top tier of most globally dominant firms.
This storytelling mastery and simple message that began more than three decades ago continues. It is considered a hallmark of the Apple brand. Steve Jobs communication brilliance is now studied in communication and marketing university courses worldwide. His place is firmly entrenched among the global hall of fame master communicators. The two words “THINK DIFFERENT” now create a wealth of stories, images, and feelings in the minds of the Apple audience. This message is considered to be significantly responsible for its stunning stock valuation of today.
Ask yourself if you are falling temptation to the most common marketing blunder of early-stage business leaders. Review your own marketing plan and ask: “Does the message reflect what we care about most (owner, sales leader etc.)?” If the answer is anything close to yes; change it. What YOU are focused on will NOT be what the customer cares about most. Potential customers and clients care about SOLUTIONS to problems they face, not features and benefits of what is being sold. Big difference.
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