Great communication is not just about what you say but how you say it. Who says it also matters. You won’t always be the best vehicle for your message. It helps to know when someone else can deliver your message more convincingly than you can.
A messenger who embodies the message is always likely to be more persuasive and more engaging. Some of the most effective pieces of communication released by Animals Australia didn’t come from Animals Australia—they came from children, investigators, shoppers, and animals. Great messengers are powerful. They can lower resistance to challenging ideas and cut through to new audiences that might normally be out of your reach.
Signs that you might not be the best messenger for your message
- When it’s not your ‘bread and butter’. If you know you’re not the authority on a topic, chances are your audience knows, too. Animal organizations aren’t health experts—and yet health is a valid reason to reduce meat consumption. Does this mean animal advocates should never encourage health-conscious people to eat fewer animals? No. But this audience may be skeptical of health advice unless it comes from a health professional. When you’re not the authority, listen to those who are, and bring their voices forward.
- When your target audience cares more about the opinions of someone else. What does your target audience care about? Who serves their bottom line? If you want to influence a politician, they’ll have more time for a voter than an activist. Schools listen to faculty, funders, and students. Businesses listen to customers.
Finding the right messenger
- Seek authenticity. Who has the authentic story behind your message? People who serve on the ‘front line’—investigators, first responders, carers—aren’t known for being ‘professional communicators’. That’s actually a good thing. Authentic voices telling authentic stories can take your audience ‘behind the curtain’ and build connection to your cause.
- Give victims a voice. Can you give a platform to those directly impacted by your issue? This is easier for some of us than others. Even when victims literally cannot speak, there are creative ways to give them a voice.
- Don’t expect ‘celebrity’ to get you all the way. If you’re fortunate enough to have celebrity connections—lucky you! Celebrities can help draw attention and ‘normalize’ what might otherwise be considered ‘fringe’ issues. But you’ll still need a compelling message and a solid promotional strategy. Celebrity on its own is rarely enough to achieve reach and impact.
- Find influence. Influential voices are relative to your topic and your target. A voice that might be useless for one message might be perfect for the next. To find unconventional voices that hold unique influence, try power mapping your topic. This is how children—a major target market for McDonald’s—were identified as a power holders in this successful campaign.
- Avoid tokenism and gimmickry. If there’s not a compelling, self evident reason why your messenger should be speaking up, they will have a hard time selling your message. Try to avoid re-using messengers just because they worked that one time. That time isn’t now. Context matters. Reality check that your messenger is truthfully positioned to embody your message.
What we can learn from Tony Abbott
Tony Abbott is best known for eating raw onions and wearing budgie smugglers. He was also known as Australia’s Prime Minister from 2013 - 2015. The Abbott Government was relentlessly (and fairly) criticized for its underrepresentation of women. In fact, women candidates within his party’s leadership were so scarce that when it came to filling the position of “Minister for Women”, Tony Abbott appointed himself.
In terms of authentic representation, it’s hard to get it this wrong. No amount of spin could convince the Australian public that women and gender equality were priorities for his Government. People saw straight through it. Learn to recognize when you don’t have the authentic voice. Also, don’t be Tony.
Don’t just put your words in their mouth
When your messenger is the message, authenticity elevates impact. Don’t unravel all that by turning a genuine messenger into an ‘actor’ or forcing them to speak inauthentically. While it’s tempting to control every aspect of your message, find ways to integrate the thoughts and words of your messenger, too. Seek input. Let your messenger be real. Instead of a script, choose an interview. Candid moments, genuine insights, and natural language are communication gold. Don’t miss out on that!
Other voices that can elevate a message
Whether it’s a billboard, a social media video, or an email to your supporters, different voices can amplify messages in different ways. Let’s look at some of them.
- Community leaders. These people are recognized and respected and can broaden your audience.
- Community members. They may be unknown, but their power comes from being ‘just like me’. They are unpretentious and relatable.
- Experts. Scientists, doctors, teachers—any experts in their field who have earned community trust and embody legitimacy.
- Victims. People, animals, or Mother Earth. Get creative!
- Adversaries turned allies. Transformational stories are irresistible. People who have come from ‘the other side’ are seen as uniquely unbiased and persuasive. For example, animal industry allies turned animal allies.
- Celebrities. These influencers are next best thing to having someone’s best friend advocate on your behalf.
- Donors. A donor shares a similar journey to your non-donor supporters with one simple difference—they donated. This gives them a relatable story that can inspire others ‘like them’.
- Volunteers. Like donors, volunteers embody the journey towards deeper engagement. Celebrating volunteers also builds rapport and connection to your supporter community.
- Staff members. Different team members with different backstories and experiences can bring your organizational values to life in new, compelling, and relatable ways.
From: Top 10 ways to turbocharge your digital comms