When you are sharing your knowledge management or technology insights, do your colleagues listen attentively and then do exactly as instructed? No, I didn’t think so. Why is this? They may be suffering from information overload and you are just one more unwanted input. Or, they may be multitasking and simply can’t focus on you. Or they may be absorbed in something and cannot spare the bandwidth necessary to process what you’re saying. In fairness, our bodies are complicit in this. Our brains sort through all the incoming stimuli to identify those that are most critical to survival in the moment. Chances are your message about law firm knowledge management or technology just doesn’t make the cut when it comes to survival.
Don’t feel bad. Often even messages that are critical to survival get screened out. A prime example are those safety announcements that are made at the beginning of every flight. If you take a look around you, you’ll see that other passengers are involved in matters that apparently are more pressing to them in the moment: listening to music, flipping through the scintillating inflight magazine, napping. Priorities, people?
Madison Avenue’s approach to capturing attention
Madison Avenue faces its own version of being ignored. In fact, advertising experts have been working for over 100 years to increase the chances that we will hear and act on their messages. Back in 1885, Thomas Smith wrote Successful Advertising in which he provided a formula for how many times a consumer would need to hear a message before that message had the desired impact. In his view, the magic number was … 20!
The first time people look at any given ad, they don’t even see it.
The second time, they don’t notice it.
The third time, they are aware that it is there.
The fourth time, they have a fleeting sense that they’ve seen it somewhere before.
The fifth time, they actually read the ad.
The sixth time they thumb their nose at it.
The seventh time, they start to get a little irritated with it.
The eighth time, they start to think, “Here’s that confounded ad again.”
The ninth time, they start to wonder if they’re missing out on something.
The tenth time, they ask their friends and neighbors if they’ve tried it.
The eleventh time, they wonder how the company is paying for all these ads.
The twelfth time, they start to think that it must be a good product.
The thirteenth time, they start to feel the product has value.
The fourteenth time, they start to remember wanting a product exactly like this for a long time.
The fifteenth time, they start to yearn for it because they can’t afford to buy it.
The sixteenth time, they accept the fact that they will buy it sometime in the future.
The seventeenth time, they make a note to buy the product.
The eighteenth time, they curse their poverty for not allowing them to buy this terrific product.
The nineteenth time, they count their money very carefully.
The twentieth time prospects see the ad, they buy what is offering.
Smith’s formula is one response to the challenge of effective frequency: “the number of times a person must be exposed to an advertising message before a response is made and before exposure is considered wasteful.” Others have settled on the less extreme number of seven. In other words, they believe that you have to repeat a message seven times if you want it to penetrate the noise and have the desired impact.
The airlines’ approach to capturing attention
Does this mean that every piece of KM or technology guidance you offer must be broadcast seven or (heaven forbid) 20 times? I sure hope not. In fact, I’d go so far to say that if you simply repeat the message, your audience will tune you out from sheer boredom. But don’t be dismayed. There may be a path out of the darkness. Going back to those boring airline safety announcements, have you noticed what’s been happening lately? I saw it first on a Delta Airlines flight. Their safety warnings sounded exactly as they had for years. However, their video was suddenly peppered with visual jokes designed to catch the passengers’ attention. And, to avoid boredom, those visual jokes change periodically so that there is always something new to tickle your funny bone. Smart!
Going even further (physically and metaphorically), I draw your attention to Air New Zealand. I wrote earlier of their clever transparency campaign in which they claimed they had nothing to hide. They have now added to their collection a wonderful safety announcement presented by characters from Middle-earth. Once again, the audio is nearly conventional. However, the video is a feast for the eye. It’s filled with visual jokes and sure to please a Tolkien fan.
Taking a leaf out of the Air New Zealand book, think about how you might present your message so that it captures the imagination as much as it captures attention. Can you use color? Can you use humor? Can you use metaphor? Our standard forms of corporate communication are excessively constrained. Worse still, too many within our organizations are expert at screening out those communications. So if you want to break through, you’ll have to break out of those constraints. Using this middle-earth approach, you’ll still have to repeat your message, but you’ll do so in a manner that avoids rather than encourages boredom.
If you need some encouragement, take a look at the Delta Airlines video below. It’s almost corporate — but with a twist. And, if you’re ready for a bolder approach, look at the Air New Zealand video below. As the official airline of Middle-earth, they have a method of communicating that would enliven any law firm!
[Hat tip to Claudia Batten for pointing me to the Air New Zealand video.]
[Photo credit: Tim Sackton]
Very nice piece, Mary. This reminds me of a time when a grad student was interviewing me about change management for her thesis and I told her the best at change management were advertising agencies – they ‘change’ our mind about something (except, we didn’t call them anything as plain as that 🙂 ). LOVE the ads you shared – perfect examples of how creativity can go a long way to engage an audience.
Thanks very much, Vishal. You’re absolutely right that good communication is key to change management. In fact, some successful teams I know include a marketing/communications expert on every project that requires change. In this way, they bake the communications strategy into the project plan itself.