How to Make Sure People Recall Your Message

By Heather Campbell

John Lewis 2013By Heather Campbell >>

One of the first signs that Christmas is nearly upon us? The John Lewis Christmas advert on TV. Schmaltzy, sentimental, tear-jerking, heart-warming – however you choose to describe this ad, it holds important lessons for any leader who has a message to share and needs to make sure it sticks.

What follows are straightforward techniques, yet far too often leaders ignore them in the rush to prepare their communication. This is a big waste of time and energy – if you don’t do these three things, your message will quickly be forgotten.

Forget Christmas, note the communication! Here are three of the big take-aways for me.

1. Stand out from the crowd

Every big retailer has ads on TV in the run-up to Christmas. The John Lewis ad will stand out from most of them in terms of creativity, style and quality. Look at your business communications – and compare them to those of your leadership colleagues. How much do they really stand out from each other? Too often the use of the ‘corporate style’ means that all communications blend into one another. There is nothing to capture imagination or interest.

A few years ago I was helping a business group prepare a message about the importance of protecting IP – not the most exciting topic in the world as far as the rest of the organisation was concerned. In one of our discussions, they were planning to put up posters as part of their communication. These posters had to be in the corporate colours and style. I asked them to walk along to the noticeboards nearby and count how many other people were also trying to communicate their message – using the same style.

The answer? 53. Yes, 53 other messages on the noticeboards, and all in the same corporate style and colours. Nothing stood out.

2. One clear message

With the John Lewis campaign, there is one clear message that gets repeated over and over so that people will remember it – “Give someone a Christmas they’ll never forget”.

That’s it – just one key message. Too often leaders cram multiple messages into their communications. This overwhelms people rather than helping them to recall more.

Good practice is to summarise precisely what you want people to remember (or do) as a result of your communication, and then stick to this. Don’t add more in the hope it will be remembered – it won’t.

The Golden Rule here is that people typically recall a maximum of three points – so that should be the maximum number of  ‘take-aways’ that you should include in any message. And each point should be brief – not a paragraph of lots of different points all pulled together.

3. Repeat the message, and use more than one communication channel

The John Lewis ad will be repeated many times and is available on different media. John Lewis doesn’t simply run their advert once and then expect the Christmas shoppers to pour into their shops or log in to their online store.

Leaders in business need to be much more patient about repeating the same message many different times. Far too often leaders shake their heads in disbelief that, even though they told their team about a change at last week’s briefing, they still haven’t got the message. Of course they haven’t – if people are going to remember a message, they need to hear/see it many times (preferably via several different channels) so that they can fully recall it.

These ideas aren’t rocket science and they don’t require much extra time or energy to follow. And ultimately – to paraphrase another big brand – your message is “worth it”.

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