Here in Washington, DC, we’re recognizing again one of the classic rules of effective messaging: when conditions change, messages usually must, too.
The Congress that starts work next month will have a lot of fresh faces. Republicans have replaced Democrats as the power in the House of Representatives. And some of those Republicans are Tea Party folks who don’t march to the same drummer as other Republicans.
In short, there will be a lot of new people with different desires than the people they defeated. And when the desires of your target audiences change, your message must too. Otherwise, you won’t connect with your audience long enough to persuade them to act on your behalf.
Some groups miss this fundamental reality. They figure less advantageous conditions simply require them to talk louder, so they bombard legislators with activist emails, hoping that 100,000 emails with the old wrong message will be more effective than 10,000 with a new better one. Others get caught up in the “should” snare: they don’t change their message because they insist others should support them for the “right reason,” which is what they put forward in their message.
Savvy message makers know better. Here are two examples of how some experienced Washington advocates are re-designing their message:
- One environmental leader has suggested changing the environmental focus on global warming to a public health focus. Instead of arguing for legislation to combat global warming, advocates will urge the legislation as a way of saving children from asthma or pregnant women from mercury poisoning.
- Groups working to prevent child abuse may switch from promoting strengthening families as a prevention strategy because conservative legislators often see that as a private responsibility. A more effective argument might focus on the costs to government – more juvenile delinquency, increased demand for social services etc. – of failure to prevent abuse.
When dramatic change occurs in your sphere – whether it’s internal or external – look again at your message. Do you still want the same action? Have you targeted the right audiences? Do you know what those audiences want? If there’s a new answer to any of those fundamental questions, you probably need a new message.
P.S. Learn how to strengthen your nonprofit’s messaging with the all-new Nonprofit Tagline Database and 2011 Tagline Report.