10 SIMPLE STEPS TO SUPER STICKY MESSAGES
WABT Strategy Director and MD Dee McNaught studies the steps that make messages stick.
If you’ve worked with me before, you’ll have heard me talking about sticky messages. If you haven’t, you’ll hear it early on in our relationship. So now’s a good time to explain what it means.
There’s no great secret — it just means messages that stick. Communications that act like little Post-Its for the mind, constant reminders of the key messages we’re trying to get across.
Sounds simple enough. But it’s not always easy to do, particularly if you’re trying to change embedded behaviours or inspire new ways of thinking or behaving.
There’s a process to follow if we’re going to achieve that, a defined set of steps we need to take. And we take them every time, for every client and every project. Because without them, we end up back at square one, and that doesn’t work for anybody.
1. STUFF THE STATUS QUO
If I had a pound for every ‘that’s not how we do things’ I’d be able to retire. Or at least take a really long holiday. So we need to make sure that people understand why change is needed. That it’s for a distinct purpose and benefit. That it’s okay to turn ‘how we do things’ into ‘how we do things now’.
2. GRAB 'EM BY THE HEARTS AND MINDS
To massively paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, when you have them by what interests them most, their hearts and minds will follow. So think about the audience. Not in terms of what you want them to do, but in terms of what they need from you. Show them you can deliver that, and you’re more likely to get the buy-in you need to make your messaging stick.
3. COMMUNICATE THE GOAL AND THE UPSIDE
You want people to understand the end goal. That means giving them a clear and unequivocal vision of what the goal is, with a strong focus on the benefits. People don’t just want to know where they’re trying to get to. They also want to know what’s in it for them. That helps to create a collective mindset that shares and promotes what you’re trying to say.
4. LIVE THE VISION
This isn’t rocket science. It’s just common sense — people are more likely to do what you want them to do if you’re doing it too. So getting your message to stick means bringing leadership and management on board. Make sure they understand the vision, communicate the vision, and deliver and demonstrate that vision in everything they do.
5. LEADERS BEYOND LEADERSHIP
Leaders don’t have to be supervisors, managers or C-suite. Leaders are simply those who— well, who lead. People who can influence their peers by helping to educate and inform them about the messages you’re trying to deliver. Recruit those people. Make them part of the message delivery team. They’re crucial in helping to create real change.
6. TRUST IN PEOPLE TO TRUST IN THE VISION
Clearly showing people what you want them to do is great. But you also need to give them confidence. They need to know you’ll have their back if they, for example, intervene in an unsafe situation. Or if they make a mistake. If they think they need more training or support. If they know they’re acting in a supportive environment, they’re more likely to act as you want them to.
7. BUILD ON QUICK WINS
Think about your business strategy. It’s not just one massive goal. The long-term aims are reached by a series of short and medium-term goals. Same thing with messaging. Show people the long view, yes. But give them some short/medium-term wins too. These not only get you closer to where you want to be, they also show people that what you’re doing works. And that encourages them to keep going.
8. FOCUS, DON'T FALTER
On a related note, keep your eyes on the prize. Make it part of your overall strategy. That way you’ll stay focused. And if you stay focused, so does everyone else. You’re bound to hit the occasional obstacle, and that’s okay, provided you work around it. If you let it stop you, you change the message to ‘this doesn’t work’. And that makes it hard to get going again.
9. CULTURE, CULTURE ALL AROUND
When you’re adapting your culture, you focus on what’s in front of you. But people come and go. They move between roles. They take long-term leave. They go and come back in new positions. Build culture messaging into every stage, from induction to development, from career moves to returning to work. Keep it flowing throughout careers, and it’ll keep flowing throughout your company.
10. STAY REGULAR
Like any long-term strategy, you need to review the way you’re delivering it on a regular basis. Messages stick better if you refresh the delivery method often. Reviewing what you’re doing and how it’s working helps you tweak and pull where you need to, as well as to plan out new ways of keeping your messaging fresh and front of mind.