Thoughts from Ciana

February 17, 2009

Good (or bad) messages impact $$

Filed under: Messages — cindeemock @ 8:30 pm

Oftentimes people don’t fully realize just how important it is that their company (or product) messages or “stories” are simple, distinctive and appealing.  Sounds  intuitively obvious, but it’s not always put into practice (e.g., on websites, in collateral, etc).

Suppose you had $1,000 to spend on a charity. We posed this question to participants in a recent workshop and asked them to look at the messages from two charitable organizations’ websites and vote their dollars based on how the information is presented – not on the merits of each charity. We asked them to use this criteria:

  • Is the information easy to understand?
  • Is it compelling?
  • Is it clear how your dollars will be spent?

Charity A

URF/USA is a registered 501(c)(3) non-charity (Tax ID: 20-41181xx) founded in 2005. We are an international and grassroots Community Based Organization that exists on non-political, non-denominational, and non-sectarian principles.

Our vision is based upon bringing together all interested individuals and groups to join our efforts in ensuring that AIDS orphans, needy children and marginalized communities are empowered and reintegrated into society as we develop and maintain thriving, productive and sustainable communities.

What do you think?  This is useful information, but it reads more like a 10K (not exactly riveting stuff). Several people found Charity A’s use of formal language impersonal.

And while having a vision is good, it wasn’t obvious to everyone how their contributions would be spent  — what exactly does “…empowered and reintegrated into society as we develop and maintain thriving, productive and sustainable communities” mean?

Sometimes our natural tendency is to inflate our language to sound important. But this simply muddles the meaning and clarity of what we’re trying to express.

Let’s take a look at the other choice —

Charity B

Each night in northern Uganda, tens of thousands of terrified children leave their villages at dusk and walk to town to avoid being kidnapped by the Lord’s Resistance Army – a brutal rebel force that has abducted more than 30,000 children to serve as soldiers and slaves in its 20-year war against the Ugandan government.

Once in captivity, boys are forced to loot and burn villages and torture and kill neighbors. Abducted girls are routinely raped and become sex slaves or “wives” of rebel commanders. Many do not survive.

We provide counseling, emotional support, food and medical care for the children who are able to flee, while working to locate their parents and arrange family reunions.

This begins like a good novel — Charity B uses the power of stories to tap into our emotions and inspire us to act.  And the third paragraph outlines how this group helps children – by providing “counseling, food and medical care,” among other things.

So, what’s the moral of this story?

Ineffective messages can impact your bottom line.

If you can’t express your value to your customer persuasively, customers will put their money elsewhere.

While these are both worthy organizations, in our most recent workshop, the $1,000 we “gave” to each participant was split this way: Charity B received $9,800, while Charity A received $3,200, based on the messages we showed them.

It’s worth repeating:

Your value proposition and messages aren’t simply marketing exercises — they can dramatically impact revenues.

So make sure you get it right (i.e., targeted, relevant, unique, & evidenced value propositions and messages) before you invest in marketing activities.




  1. I agree stories are better. Do you have any pointers on how to become a better story teller?

    Comment by Michael Procopio — March 21, 2009 @ 9:04 pm | Reply

  2. From fairy tales to urban myths, stories have long been used to persuade, teach and inspire people — they’re concrete and memorable.

    Effective storytelling reflects incidents that occur in our lives, so the best storytellers are those who have had rich, memorable (good and bad) experiences in life, work and play. Think of stories as a conversation rather than a one-way broadcast of our messages.

    When telling a business story, your key messages (e.g., engagement message, value message, personal anecdote, call to action, etc) should be woven into a story that piques the curiosity of your listener, gains their trust, or provokes further discussion.

    Meanwhile, a great book worth reading is called Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (Random House, 2007).

    Stay tuned, as we’ll be talking about the power of stories and giving examples in an upcoming blog.

    Comment by cindeemock — March 23, 2009 @ 2:05 pm | Reply

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