The Golden Rule Of Communication

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Every once in a while, a tweet really gets my attention, proving that 140 characters really can convey a complex message.  That’s what happened when a friend retweeted this gem from Fred Cuellar:  “There is Always An Audience, Even If You Don’t See Them.”  So true, because without an audience, there is no communication.  And those 11 words work nicely with my own Golden Rule of Communication, that the most important part of any message is the receiver.

I work in a world where audience is everything.  TV ratings determine how my work is judged, and how much CBS gets paid.  But I believe focusing on audience is the key to success in all kinds of communication – and beyond that, I believe the communication model reaches far beyond the standard definition.

Many channels of communication

Like most writers, I spend a lot of time analyzing other writers’ messages, and over time, I’ve come to realize that just about everything falls under the broad umbrella of the communication model.  Sales, marketing, customer relations, coaching, teaching, managing people, running a website – even raising children – all require effective communication.

I’ve also noticed that the common bond between most successful people – whether they are coaches, politicians, salesmen or marketers – is that they are excellent communicators.  Their styles may differ, but they all understand how to connect with their audience – whether it’s one person or a million.  And I believe their secret is audience awareness.

Trump’s trouble

Still, some of the best make mistakes.  I’m sure Donald Trump is furious about this week’s episode of Celebrity Apprentice.  In fact, I bet he’s mad enough to fire somebody.

The show featured country star Trace Adkins and two emerging singers in a clear attempt to attract country music fans.  But the strategy failed, because the show ran against the Academy of Country Music Awards on CBS.  How could this happen?  An opportunity was lost, and a smart strategy was ruined, because somebody forgot about the audience in the middle of their planning process.

Audience awareness

Don’t worry, though, I’m not suggesting style over substance.  Far from it.  I’m simply suggesting that the best style, strategy and substance will all be wasted if you lose sight of your audience.  Create your strategy, choose your channel, and craft your message, but always remember the receiver.

For example, if you’re designing a website, prioritize the user experience, even if that means dialing back some of the bells and whistles.  On the other hand, if being on the leading edge of technology is your ultimate message, those bells and whistles may be the best way to convey it.  In other words, always look at your message through the eyes of the audience – throughout the process – because what the user understands on their end is what defines how much of your intended message actually gets through.

Learning from Zappos

This is very similar to the ICEE theory of Twitter, a popular concept created by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. He says all Tweets should either Inspire, Connect, Educate or Entertain, which resonates for me, because it’s so similar to my own ideas about writing for TV.  For years, I’ve taught writers that they should use all of their writing and video production techniques to inform, interest and entertain our viewers.  Each theory is simple, focuses on the audience, and can be easily applied to other communication platforms.

In fact, Hsieh’s success showcases this communications cross-over. He’s successful in e-commerce because of an easy-to-use website, and customer-friendly policies.  In other words, his success is audience-based.  So, it’s no surprise that he’s also good at social media, and just about everything else.  He’s simply a great communicator, who realizes that focusing on the audience works across the spectrum.

Born communicators

In reality, most of us do this instinctively.  Even as kids, we knew which parent to ask for something special, when to ask for it, and how to word it.  As adults, we realize some people respond better to a phone call, others to an e-mail.

Yes, it’s just common sense, but that’s really what communication is, isn’t it? You’re simply creating a message to get past any interference and connect with the audience.  So, if you anticipate the interference, and adjust to avoid it, your results will be even more successful.

What do you think?  Do these theories apply to your business?  Or are there times when audience should be secondary to your point?  I’m always interested in my audience, so please let me know what you think.

    • keithprivette
    • April 19th, 2010

    Gregg you nailed it! I find that I chat with people and their personal channel management when they are communicating. I was just on the Karin Housley’s show ( talking about how to communicate effectively across platforms then into real life. Each social platform from twitter to facebook to reviews on eCommerce site has it’s own culture and communication techniques. RT’s and # don’t play real well on facebook. @ replies work well in twitter, but when you use a platform like Hootsuite an @ reply from there to twitter and facebook does not work the same. So to your point knowing your audience and how they want to be be communicated to should always be top of mind when strategizing then executing your content to your particular audience!

    • KEITH: Thanks for the comment. You’re absolutely right about the various social media platforms, particularly the points about culture and style. It’s Interesting how subtle those difference can be in social media, and how much of a difference the right (or wrong) choices can make.

  1. Good thoughts Gregg,
    In a number of conversations lately, (including a good one with Mr. Privette of the comment above) there aren’t a lot of situations where everything is absolutely black and white. Most people live in a space filled with varying shades of gray. When seeking to communicate with them, you have to be able to understand their perspective. It’s not always easy to do as we all bring different life experiences to a situation but it’s the best way to try and connect with someone.

    One of my great mentors, Bob Aronson, used to say “If communication is not your top priority, all of your other priorities are at risk” and it’s true. When trying to connect with a group, you have to find a way to make sure they’re getting the message that is relevant and important to them if you expect them to engage or take action.

    It sounds easy but it takes consistent effort, constant learning, and a dedication to understanding what really motivates any individual.

    • DAVE: Thanks for the comment, and I love that line from Bob Aronson. Trust me, I’ll keep it in mind on many future projects.

  2. Great post, Gregg!

    I’m often asked what to look for when looking to hire someone for an online marketing position and my standard response is: “Just because someone uses Facebook, doesn’t mean they know HOW to use it.”

    The point is you can use Facebook a great deal without ever giving a thought to how others use it, how messages flow through it, and how those messages are ultimately received.

    I preach over and again that we need to put ourselves in the head of our intended audience and see through their eyes, if we want to be effective communicators.

    As Keith points out, standard conventions in one venue may simply annoy when used in another. Or not make any sense at all. In any event, the message becomes ineffective.

    • DAVID: That’s a great point, and a great example. I think it’s very easy to get too focused on the the tool itself, like Facebook, and lose sight of the underlying strategy.

  3. Well said, Gregg!

    Regarding my personal blog, knowing my audience is something I have been working on since its inception. I find that posts I write over and over, making sure it is polished and professional drive the least amount of views, comments, retweets, etc; whereas a post I write in 20 minutes about someone disagreeing with me, and it gets over a thousand views in two days with around 30 comments.

    I find that timing is a huge component of knowing your audience and knowing your surroundings. Your Donald Trump example is perfect.

    Glad to see you blogged again; looking forward to your next post!


  4. I enjoyed your insight Gregg. I too believe that the audience is your first priority. The problem is knowing your audience or, a better way to put it, is thinking you actually know your audience.

    This is why start-up companies get it and many marketers do not. A start-up company launches a “beta” version of their product and then measures user experience until they get it right or “final”. Companies assume too much. They assume that their traditional marketing can move right over as if reformatting a billboard for a banner ad. This is wrong. You must test your message on your audience and expect an honest response. What is an honest response? Many times it is no response at all! So many companies try to push out a message and “engage” an audience but then when they get no immediate return they assume this channel (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, etc…) is broken and go back to what worked in the past and when they turn around the traditional marketing they were doing is no longer as effective and it’s confusing for them. These aren’t “Status Updates” or “Tweets” these are PEOPLE and deserve to be treated to as such. Brand will need to grow up considerably in order to have some social influence otherwise there is always buying a list of addresses and printing tri-fold mailers. That still works but it won’t build you advocates. Back to my start-up analogy; the ones that succeed built the most advocates (Foursquare, Digg, Twitter, Facebook, etc…) while the ones that spent the most money not as relevant as they assumed they’d be (AOL, MySpace, Palm, etc…).

    I like when you said “So, if you anticipate the interference, and adjust to avoid it, your results will be even more successful.” Absolutely, be true, be nimble and most of all be like water. Bruce Lee said it the best: “Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way round or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.”

    • KURT: Thanks for the great input. “Water making its way through cracks” is a wonderful analogy – and although “nimble” is quite a buzzword these days, it really is crucial.

  5. Interesting post Gregg.

    I really enjoyed the Apprentice audience analogy… Fascinating. With regards to one of you last points about common sense, I think common sense is a small component of a strategic communication plan. Inherently some people/companies are better at certain communication channels than others which is in part the person and part the channel. For example (as you can probably see from this comment.) I am not a big writer so I really enjoy Twitter, video etc. With that said, I do practice writing compelling or engaging content. Having a team of people yes with common sense but more importantly understand how, when and why each channel should be used is key. Forcing yourself or your company into a channel because it’s a buzz word or everyone says you should be is when I believe companies do more harm than good. A little marcom strategic planning goes a long way! – Ready, aim, fire, not fire, ready, aim. 🙂

    Great post.

    Mike Rynchek

    • MIKE: Thanks for the great insights. I think we’re on the same page regarding common sense, though. I agree that it’s a component of strategic planning, not a substitute. I think common sense helps improve your “aim” in the “ready, aim, fire” analogy.

  6. Your writings and tweets make me think – I appreciate that in you Gregg! Love the comments posted above.

    You are spot on: AUDIENCE is key in connecting any message.
    Yet most people start with content.

    Delivering content without a keen understanding of audience, results in disconnect or flatlining rather than relationship-building (which is really the ultimate goal of any communication, right? Oh wait, it can’t be that simple! 😉

    When I work with clients who are trying to be better speakers, we set the content aside, and think about the audience.

    Not only WHO the audience is…more importantly: HOW DO WE WANT THEM TO FEEL…and…WHAT DO WE WANT THEM TO DO…as a result of receiving our message?!

    Altho we’ve only recently met on Twitter Gregg, I already like WCCO/CBS better knowing they have you leading behind the scenes. You inspire me!

    Be Inspired. Be BOLD! Keep Going…
    Ann Ulrich

    • ANN: Thank you for the kind words, and thoughtful comments. I’m so glad you linked this to public speaking, because that is one of the places I notice the different between good and bad communication strategies the most. Because audience reaction is so obvious to both the speaker and everybody in the room, it can change the dynamic right in the middle of the speech. As a result, audience awareness may be even more important in public speaking than many other forms of communication.

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