Thursday, May 22, 2014

Does your message bite?

Recently I was talking with a client about all the distractions prospective customers now face from a myriad of sources and the challenge to gain their attention. 

Certainly I'm not the first to post on this.

Family life in general moves very fast.  Add in a healthy dose of Internet and Social Media, that mobile device on your person and that bigger tablet on the table/desk/nightstand to normal advertising exposure from the various media we consume and the noise is becoming almost overwhelming.

When one then tries to get a point across in their messaging, even if face-to-face or on the phone, we're fighting on these distractions that the recipient's brain is trying to process.

Cognitive Overload

There is a science behind all of this which is well documented in Nicholas Carr's fascinating and Pulitzer nominated book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. Shallow is the key word here.

One of the salient points is for information to be retained and acted upon, humans must be able to transfer information from short term memory to long term memory and back again in an organized fashion.  Short term memory can only hold a very small amount of information.  When the load on the short term memory exceeds one's ability to store and process the information, it is not retained.

Carr goes on to reference experiments that "indicate that as we reach the limits of our (short term) memory, it becomes harder to distinguish relevant information from irrelevant information - signal from noise" 

In Torkel Klingberg's The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory , he says that when our brain are overtaxed, we find "distractions more distracting". Real and imagined Attention Deficit Disorder can be tied to overloaded short term memory in some studies.

So if your own experience and observation supports this premise of scattered attention,  as sellers, how are we going to deal with it?

Sound Bites

Having a media background, that's my answer.  

The media figured this out a long time ago.  From politicians to eyewitnesses to on-air teases, the nature of their news format requires them to be succinct.  And by being succinct, they get the point (story) across.  Look how John Stewart and Steven Colbert use sound bites to paint their nightly canvas.

Today 140 characters in a Tweet and the (expected) limitations of a text message are trying to keep the cognitive overload of each message in check.   Of course, the quantity of these short messages consumed has a detrimental impact.

There's a reason why Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest and most recently Twitter are focusing on photos.  YouTube provides all lengths of videos, but think about how long you're willing to watch!

Best practices for traditional outdoor billboards are no more than 7 words

It's just easier to digest a short message or a picture and the odds of the message transferring to long term memory and lining up with other information stored there increases.

If you're going to have meaningful and memorable impact on a prospect, you've got to be succinct and speak in short sound bites.

The rule of 3

A couple of years ago I read The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience.  A master presenter and communicator, there is a whole book that analyzes how he did it.  There is an entire chapter citing the power of the rule of 3.  Study and after study shows that humans learn better, retain more and are able to process information when presented in threes.

Think about how many concepts are presented in three.  From the 3 Stooges to Gold/Silver/Bronze to "Ready/Set/Go" to the way US Marine Corp divides it's troops, the rule of 3 is a proven effective way to communicate. 

The author reminds us that when presented with disorganized non-familiar information, the listeners' brain is working overtime and while listening to you is also "conducting their own internal dialogue"

Think ahead about the conversation you're going to have with a prospect.  Borrowing from Steve Jobs' success, write down the 3 messages you want the prospect to come away with. When you've gotten those 3 points across, and depending where you are in the process, consider ending the conversation so the prospect can digest and contemplate your messages.

When I was responsible for franchise sales and development, I had a number of sound bites made sure I injected into each step of the sales process.  Some of my favorites that I thought could flow through from short term to long term memory included:

"We don't sell franchises, we award them"
"Go into business for yourself but not by yourself" 
"We're looking for 'Frantrapreneurs' - Independent individuals who can follow a process"

I also tried to use analogies to help explain more complex ideas and/or important points I wanted to get across, but always tried to end the analogy with a memorable sound bite I hoped the prospect would retain.


So here are the 3 things to take away from this post:

1.  Sound bite your key messages
2.  Test the messages on others to ensure they resonate and are memorable
3.  Plan ahead for each conversation and try to limit your key messaging to three.

There's a ton of noise out there.  The adult human brain can only process so much information at a time and only a fraction will be retained.   You've got to work harder than ever to make sure your signal punches through.

Here's my parting sound bite:

Be Succinct, Be Meaningful, Be Memorable

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