10 rules of successful communication

1. Simplicity – use simple words!

Supposedly, it’s important to many people that they receive messages from eloquent and educated people. The numbers however speak differently in the US. Don’t use words whose meaning people will have to look in the dictionary -> the chance is they WON’T! You’ll simply be misunderstood. According to Luntz, the reason for this is that educational stats reveal that only 27% of Americans have a college degree!

According to the Serbian Statistics Bureau, every fifth citizen of Serbia hasn’t completed elementary school, while only 6,5% have a university education. The latter also applies to Bosnia & Herzegovina, while this number is somewhat higher in Croatia (18%).

Advice: use simple and comprehensible words using a shorter form if you wish for the majority to understand you!

2. Brevity! – use short words.

When we talk about effective communication, short words win over long ones while simple ones win over complicated ones.

Luntz says: “Don’t use sentences when phrases can do the job. Also, don’t use four words when three can suffice!”

Most of us don’t have the patience and/or the educational background for long speeches. That’s how it is.

We tend to say AT&T instead of American Telephone and Telegraph Corporation, CNN instead of Cable News Network, IBM instead of International Banking Machines, we shorten telephone, use bike instead of bicycle…

I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead – Mark Twain

3. Credibility – People have to trust (you) in order to “buy” your message!

In order to be trusted, you must gain credibility through your activities, corporate policy or consistency. By saying that you have the newest and most competitive credit/arrangement/offer on real estate/promotion/action doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have credibility.

Test: How would you react to MTS’s (Serbian mobile operator) new message: “New! We offer the fastest and most quality customer service!” or Mercator’s (Slovenian supermarket chain) flyer saying: “Lowest prices in town!” or if Đilas (mayor of Belgrade) announces that: “Belgrade will be ready for all participants taking part in this year’s Pride parade”?

Luntz advises to first build a relationship of trust -> tell people who you are and what you do and then be the person that you were and do what you said you would do!

4. Consistency – repeat, repeat, repeat!

Consistency not only builds efficient communication, but loyalty as well! Repeat your slogan, political message or three primary product characteristics over and over again, synchronously from one channel to another. Conceptualizing a good message and then repeating it over and over is no easy business but it pays tenfold, says Luntz.

5. Innovation – offer something new!

Deep inside our nature lies the quest for new things – destinations, flavors, challenges. Surprise and intrigue are two magical ingredients, the so called “compelling message” – a message that sticks in our minds and is later repeated within our social circle. You’ll know if your message adheres to this rule if the answer to it is: “hey, I didn’t know this!?”

6. The sound and rhythm of the word – we remember tone better than words!

This certainly applies to slogans, but why not apply it to regular communicational messages.

The first thing that came to mind were three rhythmical slogan-messages: “AIK banka, domaća a jaka” (AIK bank, domestic but strong), “Maggi, magija ukusa” (Maggi, the magic of taste) and “JUL je kul” (JUL is cool). The message doesn’t necessarily have to rhyme, but its sound should stick to examples from ADSlogans:

  • It’s good to talk – British Telecom (1994),
  • I’d walk a mile for a Camel – Camel cigarettes (1921),
  • The Citi never sleeps – Citibank (1977),
  • If you want to get ahead, get a hat – Hat Council (1934).
7. Motivate with the message

Promotional messages are often motivating, unlike public announcements, political speeches or news articles. People remember emotions.

“People will quickly forget what you said, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel” – F. Luntz

Take a look at the few quotes and citations taken from an interview with Steve Jobs:

  • It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy.
  • We think the Mac will sell zillions, but we didn’t build the Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research. We just wanted to build the best thing we could build. – Playboy, 1985.
  • Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me – Wall Street Journal, 1993

Here’s a quote from an interview with Boris Tadić:

“My goal is to finish my mandate as a man who has left the people with something concrete [what?], not just empty stories; not only with the story of how we will secure jobs, but create a situation where we really will have new jobs; not just a story of building new infrastructure like the government under Vojislav Koštunica and Velja Ilić said it would – but build actual kilometers of highways and real modernized parts of our railway system. This program will continue in the next two years, until the end of this government’s mandate, plus another four years [too vague]. It is planned out to secure a completely developed infrastructure that includes telecommunications, road networks and railways until 2015… [bla, bla, bla, bla, bla… at this point I’m as motivated as a dead horse]

It is clear how much one can feel the energy and the vision of speaker by the words they send! We are not selling products, services and ideas to the people. We are selling what they will become if they choose us! We are selling them versions of themselves that they can become as users of our products and services. We are selling them the better them! That’s what people buy. The solution to become better themselves. Motivation plays a key role in this. The precondition to this, of course, is that you are what you sell and that you know how to do what you promise.

8. Visualize – a picture is worth a thousand words!

Play with the images in written messages and the vivid terms in spoken messages. A few interesting examples of the use of images in a message that literally leaves no one indifferent can be found in Aljaž Maher’s post on Zavarovalnica Maribor’s corporate blog.

9. Ask questions

Do you live like you deserve to? Do you think progress is taking place fast enough? Do you feel secure enough? Or do you ask questions such as: Does your hair really shine? Are you providing your little one with the very best?

Questions as elements of a message attract and activate our attention. Even rhetorical questions call for an answer, and answering by definition is interaction. Luntz points out that interaction strongly links senders of the message with its recipients. How often do you use questions?

10. Deliver the context and explain the relevance

If a politician says: “these guys are crooks, vote for me” we have a message in which a certain problem is isolated -> the opponents are immoral. Isolating a problem isn’t as effective if you don’t have credibility [rule number 3], as well as if you don’t offer a solution for it. For example: “these guys are crooks, for the past 10 years the budget has been cut by half [demonstration/argument], therefore we’ll be putting all crooks up on the wall of shame regardless if he’s one of us or them, and in addition, an “x” number of people will be responsible for controlling the budget and corruption at the highest level [solution]! They better watch out! Vote for me!”

According to the first model, the message should be lowered from a general to an individual level, and then to an even lower -> personal level: “[continuing the latter imaginary message] with the money that they steal, 100,000 students will have access to free textbooks, 10,000 will receive the best scholarships, and 1,000 will be employed in our factories, as well as be granted an apartment which will give them peace of mind! Among them are your children and grandchildren!”

Why do you write messages? For whom do you write them? How do you wish for the recipient to feel and what should you do when they get it? How many times have you answered all these questions while writing a statement, a bulletin, an interview, a flyer, etc?

These too are some of my rhetorical questions… but they call for an answer. You always answer to yourself. That’s how other will receive the best answer, without even asking the question.



P.S. The book Words that Works was recommended to me by my friend Kruno Vidić, a colleague from StrategoPR.



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