Meaningful is More Powerful than Powerful

If you think sending a more powerful message is the best way to get a rise out of your audience, you’re probably wrong.

Oh, it’s a popular request, and people tend to equate popularity with effectiveness – just look at most presidential elections. But following the herd is rarely the most intelligent approach, and that’s especially true when it comes to communicating with your stakeholders.

I hear it time and again, from all sorts of organizations. We want to send a powerful message. The website needs powerful graphics. This ad needs a powerful headline. I want the brochure to have powerful visuals.

Those organizations apparently believe that making their messages powerful will also make them more successful. They think that they’ll stop their stakeholders in their tracks, force them to pay attention, and burn the messages into their memories.

And when that doesn’t work – because it rarely does – they’ll assume that the message just wasn’t powerful enough, so they’ll turn it up a notch.

There’s a central flaw to being powerful (beyond the fact that the very word means different things to different people). Power focuses on the message, while the most effective and productive communication focuses on the audience. That isn’t theoretical mumbo-jumbo; it’s common sense. If you really want to get someone’s attention, you need to deliver a message that interests that person.

Powerful messages are actually a form of communication by intimidation. They’re the equivalent of the guy at the trade show who steps into the aisle and blocks your path so that you have to listen to his pitch. Of course, the whole time he’s barking, you’re scoping out escape routes – and once you succeed, you make a mental note to never do business with his organization.

Sometimes power can be convincing, but too often, it’s little more than puffery. Once people peel away the layers and realize that, they move from interest to disgust and anger. That’s especially true with Gen Xers and Millenials, who have no appetite for hype.

If you really want to connect with an audience – whether that audience is consumers or industrial buyers – the best thing you can do is make your message meaningful. Instead of standing on a mountain and shouting a powerful message in their general direction, stand among them and discern what they see as important. Understand their concerns and desires. Talk to them about their experiences with your competitors.

Then frame your message around what’s meaningful. If your customers are frustrated by competitor’s widgets that fail once a week, don’t rely on “powerful” messages like “our widgets embody superior quality construction.” They’ve become meaningless through overuse. Instead, share factual, benefit-oriented messages such as “lower failure rates allow you to concentrate on production, rather than widget replacement.”

Sharing what’s meaningful is far more powerful than “powerful” words will ever be.