The voice on the other end of the line was stressed. Very stressed. I could easily imagine the caller’s white knuckles on the hand gripping the phone. I guessed she hadn’t gotten more than a few hours sleep in the past couple of days.
She talked in a rapid stream of loosely connected thoughts. I wanted to interrupt and say. “Stop! Just take a deep breath and relax. Start at the beginning and tell me what happened.”
Here’s what was going on. The caller was in the process of needing to announce a rate increase. The public meeting would follow 45 days later. She was stressed. We talked through the situation and the problem became quite clear.
There was too little information going to the ratepayers and it was happening too late.
It happens more often than you might think. People underestimate what is needed to get the message out, and then don’t repeat that message often enough to get the desired response.
It always takes a series of contacts to get a message across and to get people to take action. (All right, I’m exaggerating. It only takes a series of contacts 98.7% of the time.)
If you have children, you already know that you need to repeat a request several times to get action. Information programs act in much the same way. You need to repeat yourself many times before people will get the idea and respond.
Why is that? Is it stupidity? No. Not at all. It’s a simple fact that people are bombarded with information like never before.
Statistics show that the average person sees an average of 3,000+ advertising images every day. A decade ago, that was a mere 2,000 advertising images every day. According to Internet giant Verisign, that number is likely to increase by an additional 25-50% per year.
In the days before the Internet and the explosion of television channels, people were not bombarded with information as they are now. (Are you old enough to remember when there were only three television networks? And that to change the channel you had to get off the couch and walk across the room?)
In that era, media experts thought you had to deliver your message at least three times to get a response. Today, many marketers are finding that it takes seven to ten “touches” to get people to take action.
Call it “information overload” if you like. The hard yet simple reality is that it takes more effort than ever to get your message across.
And that brings me to the idea of baking a cake.
(The type of cake doesn’t really matter for this illustration, so imagine your very favorite type of cake. Mine is a three-layer carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.)
First, to make a successful cake, you need a good recipe. It tells you what ingredients you need and gives you instructions on how to combine them for the best result.
“Lack of a recipe” is a much more common problem than you think. Without it, key steps are missed. Opportunities are lost. It is probably the most common cause for community information program failures.
Next, to make a successful cake, you have to have enough of the right ingredients to execute the recipe. If you don’t have enough flour or eggs, you just can’t make the cake.
The communications program equivalent is to have the resources to create and mail the brochures, send the e-mails, make the calls, etc. These resources might be financial or people based. Often they are a combination of both.
What if you don’t have the resources needed to make the cake? You have two choices: Go and get the ingredients you need, or decide to bake a different kind of cake that works with the ingredients you have.
Finally, creating a cake takes time. Even after all of the ingredients are properly combined, it needs time to bake. It needs time to cool. It needs time for final decorating.
Community information programs work the same way. It takes time to prepare the right message. It takes time to get the message out. It takes time for people to respond. Even with the speed of the Internet, an effective program needs time to work.
Next time there is a cake in the oven at your home, turn on your oven light and look it over after about 15 minutes of baking. It is not yet appealing and it certainly wouldn’t taste very good if you served it as-is.
The cake, however, is not a failure. It simply needs more baking time. Give it the correct amount of time to bake and the proper finishing touches, and you’ll have a wonderful dessert.
So, here are the cake baking steps that can assure your information program’s success:
1. Have a good recipe
2. Have the right ingredients to produce the recipe
3. Provide enough time for the recipe to be a success
Now, when you are planning your next community information program, give it the cake test. Do you have the three steps above? Do so and you’ll greatly increase your level of success.
Need some help getting a great communications recipe for your district? Call Sentium Strategic Communications. We can help you create an information program that’s right for you. Call (800) 595-1288 to arrange an appointment.
To Your Business Success,