Get one’s message across … keep on message … get our message through …
When it comes to media training, marketing, corporate communication, PR and the like, there remains an annoying and unhealthy preoccupation with the idea of ‘the message’. The very idea of crafting a message and then ‘getting it across’ is, in the information age, a little out of date.
One can have the finest message, distribute it widely, have it heard by millions, even understood by many of them but this merely scratches the surface of the human psychological condition. It may, at best, stimulate the cognitive process – as in the audience may well become aware of the message. However, mental activity is a little more nuanced than that.
The great philosophers of ancient times, including Plato and Aristotle, recognised various levels of mental processing, mostly founded around three levels. These levels became philosophically clearer in the 18th Century – to be known as the three-faculty concept. As Immanuel Kant observed “There are three absolutely irreducible faculties of the mind, namely, knowledge, feeling, and desire”. Put another way, three levels of mental faculty can be explained as:
Cognitive – in which we possess thought, intellect or cognition
Affective – in which we feel pleasures, emotions, passion, affection, sentiment
Conative – in which we have the will to act as directed by our feelings
All clever stuff, which many, many clever men and women have researched, ruminated over and written about. However, for the simple communicator there is also much food for thought. The cognitive level allows for awareness of and thought about a message. This is good as far as it goes. But the mere message does not guarantee a specific affective condition, i.e. an attitude. Nor does it necessarily encourage a conative response, i.e. an action.
There are a multitude of defintions of what communication is but, at heart, communication is defined by the response one gets from it. By concentrating on the message, you are aiming at a cognitive response. But if you want the audience to do something – by a product, stop drink-driving, support a charity, lay down their weapons – then the communicator has to go way beyond thinking in terms of a message, and focusing much more on desired action.
Now, most good communicators are well aware of this – although they may use other terms, couch it differently, present an alternative framework. But even in its simplest (but important) manifestation of media training, most are concerned heavily with the message and not the level of response. Going on camera or on radio or in print, one can indeed be trained to get one’s message across loud and clear. But 99.9% of the time it is a response, not just the knowledge or awareness, that an interviewee is after. That is the objective.
An example, cited by Ogilvy’s Rory Sutherland, is of Frederick the Great’s attempts to get the Prussian people to grow potatoes, in order to create a comprehensive economy less susceptible to famine – the response required being the extensive growth of potatoes by the population. The practice was made compulsory via edicts, orders and legal procedures – the message being ‘grow potatoes’. However, the average 18th century Prussian much preferred bread as a staple dietary requirement, growing wheat instead, and took little notice of the King’s demands. A change of tack resulted in the King then proclaiming the potato to be a Royal vegetable, planted only for Royal consumption – the message being ‘potatoes are for Royalty only’. Needless to say, within months there was a huge underground potato market which eventually became part of the mainstream economy – the response initially desired. Now, this is fairly marketing-centric but the notion that the response is more important than the message is adequately highlighted.
CB3 is keen on taking this approach, especially in media training. Speaking clearly, looking at the camera, not picking your nose, bridging to your message etc – the usual components of media training – is all very well but focusing on the objective (the response), via the three-faculty concept, and less on the message goes a long way to achieving one’s actual aims.
But if you merely want to get your ‘message’ across … well, that’s your business.