Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Power of Effective Messaging

This essay is an excerpt from a longer article on Story/Message Theory, originally published November 14, 2010. To read the original article in full, click the link. Links to other excerpts follow at the conclusion of this entry.


Image By Mate Airman Michael D. Blackwell II
Can Message alone –sans Narrative or 'Story World' cues– possibly be an effective way to connect with people?

Yes! It happens all the time. In fact, it is often by Message alone that many connections are made. Narrative usually develops afterwards as a natural evolution stemming from reciprocal signification. We see evidence of this all the time with introductions, salutations, hand and facial gestures, gang signification, air traffic operations, –in fact, every time we simply say 'Hello' and shake someone's hand.

By this measure, in 'Real Life', Narrative proceeding Message appears to be the artificial construct of the Storyteller.

The alarm clock goes off; that's a Message. You get up and go to work; Narrative begins; that's a journey. If the alarm clock goes off after you get home, it's too late. In Real Life, Message drives Narrative. Or lacking an objective, Life feels meaningless, and while a meaningless life may suit some people, it does not make for a compelling Story, although the lesson derived by one's eventual demise certainly might in the hands of a capable biographer.

That said, the image of a life in free fall, though it might be brief, might also indeed send a powerful message to a passerby, and that message might fuel their own story. This is the power of Message sans Story, to impact lives and initiate a journey.

Therefore, if one's assignment is to create a means by which to influence behavior and drive action, a Message Lead model may be more practical, more effective and less costly than attempting to tell a Story and hoping customers will hang around long enough to hear your Message. Indeed, in a fast paced world, Message may prove a more acceptable interaction with consumers than pushing a 'Story Squeeze'. That's because:
  • Messages influence Behavior 
  • Messages Trigger Connectivity.
  • Narrative follows Message (in the real world)
  • Shared stories that follow reciprocal signification (Message) lead to relationships.
Bear in mind Message is not synonymous with Introduction, except insofar as an Introduction may be facilitated by Signification.

No doubt the day will come when video commercials will be produced at lengths even shorter than 15 seconds. Network Television and cable already create 5-second 'bumps' and IDs. What is the message here? With apologies to Marshall McLuhan: The message is the message. 

And while the notion of a 5-second or even 1-second product or service commercial may seem like science fiction now, the use of a gif or gif like video to communicate branding is quite conceivable, as is the notion of printed video; how else might we describe video signification on electronic billboards and signs?



It’s not that people lack patience for stories (though it may seem that way to content makers), but that given the multitude of distribution channels, a rapt audience is no longer guaranteed. So, people have lots of time for stories. They just don't have time for yours.

Narrative, it turns out, is no longer –or at least not always– the bait for Message. Therefore, rather than charge consumers a pitch after watching an entertaining Narrative,  it might be a better strategy to reward consumers with Narrative if they've accepted an enticement to connect (Message). In other words, shift Story in time and purpose, and possibly space, from print or TV to Interactive Media, by way of a chain of initiating Messages themed together by Narrative, and keep skipping across as many screens as one's budget allows or a given demographic demands).

In this way, Narrative is presented as a reward to consumers and audiences for responding to introductory signification. Are customers interested in your story? Probably not; why should they be? However, a compelling Introduction might make some curious.

Notwithstanding the Super Bowl when some consumers tune in to watch the commercials, advertising is considered an interruption to most people's lives. So, how do you get customers become advocates? One way might be to reward response to signification with something of value to a customer, and thereby begin if not a shared narrative, an opportunity to play a role in their Story.

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Articles in this series:

Story/Message Theory (Original full length article)
What is a Story?
The Parable/Fable Framework as Story Algorithm
The Story/Message Theory Construct
So It Goes: Vonnegut's Law
The Power of Effective Messaging
Create Engagement with Compelling Signification
Elevator Pitch: Speed Dating Signification
Static Symbolic Accentuating Triggers
Story is Dead
Leading with Message Signification
Non Linear Cross Platform Transmedia Storytelling
Mythology and Messaging

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