Your Messaging Approach Stinks: Talking to Multiple Realities in Today’s America(s)

By Joe Miller

This past Friday, Tony Kornheiser, who hosts his own podcast (the tongue-in-cheek slogan is “this show stinks!”) as well as co-hosts ESPN’s wildly-popular and long-running Pardon the Interruption program, was talking with Ann Hornaday, film critic for the Washington Post, about the new movie, Thank You for Your Service. Thank You for Your Service portrays an American soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) returning to the United States and trying to reintegrate into society.

I bring this up because Kornheiser and Hornaday both used this as an opportunity to talk about the fact that there are a variety of Americas today – each with its own reality. The America(s) of 2017 stands in stark contrast to America in the 1950s/1960s, when there was generally one accepted reality. We had a limited number of media outlets, which we all read, watched or listened to, and usually no more than two points of view on any given issue.

Today, Internet-based social media platforms (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn) make multiple (if not infinite) points of “expert” view extraordinarily accessible. If you’re in a demographic niche, odds are you will find a viewpoint online that speaks to your environment, lifestyle, ethnicity, age and/or political stance.

Messaging that Resonates with New Realities

For a corporation, institution or organization that has widespread reach and, hopefully, widespread appeal, connecting with today’s diverse stakeholder audiences presents a particular challenge: we’ve begun referring to this challenge as “micro-customization.” In short, how do we ensure we’re connecting with our target audiences in a consistent but custom-tailored manner? There are three key considerations for micro-customizing messages effectively in today’s Wild West.

1. Know where your stakeholders live. Different segments of your target audience consume media differently. Know that geographies and demographics (e.g., friends and family) play a major role in determining where and how your customers (or investors, or competitors) get their news.

2. Understand what they eat. While traditional media still has a heavy impact (hello: NBC’s Today Show, The New York Times, USA Today, talk radio, NPR), new media, especially Facebook and Twitter, are increasingly driving the bus. Furthermore, Facebook and Twitter experiences are highly personalized.

3. Make your message matter. When you do communicate with your stakeholders, it’s vital to demonstrate – in this age of heightened skepticism – that you “get them.” Take the time to explain why the news you’re making/announcing matters to their lives, or is relevant within the world at large.

It’s a confusing time to be in the communications business. Lines are increasingly blurred and the impact of unclear messaging can be swift and brutal in today’s instant news cycle (that’s right, instant: it’s not even 24/7 anymore). So proceed with caution in all communications, stay mindful of multiple perspectives, and don’t underestimate the value of third-party perspective when it comes to gut-check time.

Joe Miller is the Founder and Principal of Vermont-based Miller Clearly LLC, and a Senior Advisor with the Westmeath Netsortium.