This blog was written by Brodeur Partners’ Jerry Johnson and Evan Parker. Jerry Johnson is head of Brodeur Planning. Evan Parker is head of Brodeur Digital.
We both spend a good part of our time at Brodeur helping clients figure out their messaging.
What are the key messages your audience needs to hear? What words, metaphors and images should you use to convey them? How do you structure your story so that it is relevant to the people you are talking to?
Recently, we were leading a client workshop going through an inventory of audiences.
It was a typical exercise. Who are our target audiences? What do they look like? Where do they hang out? What are the values and cultural norms that influence them? What matters to them? What do they find relevant?
As we moved through the exercise, we kept coming back to two questions: would the messaging be relevant to our target audience AND how would those ideas be filtered through the web “machine?”
Why? We interact with the digital world through its machines — specifically the search engines and web applications that people use to find our digital selves. Once found, you’ve only a few seconds to establish relevance and influence the individual – or your opportunity could be gone forever.
That got us thinking. What are the differences between messaging for people and messaging for machines? What do they have in common?
Both have dominant traits.
For people, emotion rules. We know from the latest behavioral science that emotion will always trump reason. Always. We are all less Spock and more Homer Simpson that we’d like to admit. So find the hot button. And step on it.
For machines, algorithms rule. Machines look for a “match” based on numbers and coefficients. For machines, you don’t appeal to the heart, you feed the formula. Decipher that and give it what it is looking for and your little bit of content will be found.
Both are predictable.
People, in the words of Daniel Aiely, are “predictably irrational.” They come to conclusions first and then look for facts and data to support them. At Brodeur, we map messaging through a relevance model built on the latest behavioral science where rationality is just one (small) part of how an individual responds to a word, an idea, an image.
Machines are predictably calculating. For them, predictive response is based on how fresh the content is, how well is it tagged, inbound and outbound links, etc. If you have the key characteristics of the content, you have a reasonable shot at predicting how well it will perform online.
Both can be “tricked.”
While you may not be able to fool everyone all the time, there’s no doubt that you can fool a lot of them for a short period of time. We live in Washington D.C. We know. We see it everyday. All tricks work, but few work for long.
The same is true for machines. Everyone knows the “10 ways to …” trick you can use to boost visibility of an article or post. Indeed all the search engines have a running battle with the SEO experts who are constantly trying to exploit the latest algorithms and then “trick” the search engines to get their content to the top of the list.
Both reward people who can “own” something.
In the world of branding, we refer to this as “differentiation.” We look for messages that will help establish some unique positioning of that brand in a person’s mind. In this differentiation, we make our case, and stake our claim in the landscape of thoughts, products and ideas.
Similarly, the online world rewards those who can establish an identity (or sometimes, a category) that makes you easily “findable.” For example, being found in the category of “marketing” is a big lift. Making a dent in the area of “search engine marketing” is more reasonable. And establishing a presence in the art of “tagging” in “search engine marketing,” even more so.
Both look for validation.
People generally don’t trust big institutions. Most hate marketing-speak. The most powerful messaging for people often is not from the brand, but is from a friend or colleague. Search does the same thing, but in a different way. Online, the validation comes from third-party links to your content, tweets, and references in blogs and chat rooms.
There is one big difference between man and machines. Machines don’t lead. They follow. Machines don’t make value judgments. They simply execute the algorithm. Machines typically don’t correct or pardon flaws, they expose them.
It is hard to get a machine to change its mind or form a new opinion. A good example is climate change. You can talk about climate change all you want, but if more people are searching for global warming, the web machinery can’t be relied upon to help people figure out the difference.
In today’s world we need to message for BOTH man and machine. If you don’t do it for the latter, you won’t be found. If you don’t do it for the former, you won’t be believed. Which means it’s time for us to dust off our 2000’s era passion for SEO, and rediscover the digital messaging age.