5 Marks of a Mangled Message

As the late Stephen Covey demonstrated during presentations of his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we often can best understand a concept by studying its opposite. So, in the spirit of understanding what it means to effectively “manage the message” all the way from strategy to real customer conversations, let’s look at the characteristics of a poorly managed message.

Having seen the smoldering rubble of many organizations’ messages over the years, I developed five primary indicators that things are truly mangled:

  • The message is not honest or believable. This may involve dubious data, misrepresentations, or obvious omissions.
  • The message is detached from marketplace reality. How often do we hear companies tout their commitment to customer service, for example, when our eyeballs and ears are telling us consumers something very different?
  • The message is overly focused on the sender (organization) rather than the receiver (consumer).
  • The message is inconsistent across different communication channels. What are companies saying onsite versus over the phone versus advertising or social media?
  • The message is delivered clumsily, and perhaps by the wrong people for the situation. This “messenger problem” can range from grammar and spelling to a poor choice of spokesperson.

Here’s an example. For months, my local dry cleaner had a sign on the counter which read “Having fun while we’re getting it done” (along with a plea to like them on Facebook). This message bore little resemblance to my typical customer experience, which was more mechanical than joyful. Some of the young employees at the counter go through the motions of service and frown at the quirks of their registers’ touch screen (they appear to be part-timers and students) while the crew in the back is generally silent and sweating.

Checking against the list above, I’d say…oh for five. Besides, as a customer I care a lot more about the “getting it done” reality than the “having fun” veneer.

Just last week I noticed the sign had been removed. When I asked one of the employees about it, she rolled her eyes and said, “Oh yeah…we used to laugh about that here. No one cared.” We can only guess that the owner thought it would be a good idea and did not bother to take the pulse of the customer-facing employees before plopping signs on the counters. That’s a mangled message.

Are your messages attracting customers and employees to your side…or turning them away?


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