Are We Communicating?

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Communication is a wonderful thing... when it works. Our society has some issues today when it comes to expression of our feelings and attitudes and much of it is related to the non-verbal communication. It could be time to take inventory of yours.

In communicating feelings and attitudes, Dr. Albert Mehrabian, a Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA became well known for his publications on the impact of verbal and nonverbal messages. To no one’s surprise he found three elements to any face-to-face communication:

  • Words
  • Tone of Voice
  • Nonverbal Behavior

Mehrabian reportedly didn’t intend his findings to be applied as freely as they have been to all communications.  Instead, his study focused on feelings and attitudes.  He found the way we feel about a person delivering a message to us is influenced in the following ways:

  • 55% of message is in the facial expression
  • 38% is in the way the words are delivered
  • 7% of the message is in what is spoken

While certainly not his intent I think one might be able to transfer certain aspects of his findings to how our publics feel about our marketing messages.  In working with organizations of all types and consulting on raising funds for many of them I often find they are missing the communication “feelings” they desire, by focusing in the wrong areas or not paying enough attention to others.  Let’s take a look at these three key components of that messaging and related examples.

The Words

In Mehrabian’s study he found the actual words and message to be the least important of the communication. However, it is not unusual for projects to be delayed, fundraising letters bantered around, words analyzed, until the point of analysis paralysis.  Sure, words can be important but there has to be a point where some well-informed person says enough is enough.   The time utilized in crafting the “perfectly worded” message might better be utilized in designing the proper look.  As long as the words are accurate and concise, the rest really doesn’t matter that much.  Let’s face it, whatever the medium, it might not even be read, or at least put to the same tests the author does anyway.

The Tone

The second most important piece of Mehrabian’s study relayed that feelings and attitudes in face-to-face communication is more influenced by the “way” the message is delivered.  Think about the marketing implications of your appeal’s tone and unwritten messages.  Your marketing message might not work for all audiences or in all mediums.  The campaign may need to be adjusted slightly to have the desired impact.  What works in social media may seem down-right rude in a customer service setting.  Finally, your “tone” needs to be reinforced as people walk in your place of business where consistency and professionalism need to be on display at all times.

The Look

The communications study states facial expression is the most important influencer of feelings and attitudes toward verbal messages.  So how does that impact the marketing counterparts?  One has to recognize the graphic design, fonts, colors, and overall feel of the pieces are going to say more than you’ve ever given credit.  Take a note from the psychology of color, it will make a huge difference in how prospective customers “feel” about the message.  Strong and bold messages need to use the colors that convey the same.

Lastly, first impressions are the facial expressions of your business or community.  What type of “expression” is being portrayed in yours?   Community gateways and main arteries leave lasting impressions and so does the exterior of your business.  How many people drive by your location each day but have never been inside?  Will they be enticed to enter when they’re in the market for your service, or will they only remember the dead landscaping or trash-laden parking area?

In summary, Mehrabian’s study was about feelings and attitudes resulting from verbal communications. However, there are similarities to your marketing messages, which you must know, are prone to blind spots.  We all need to locate that objective party or consulting firm who can provide you with real feedback and identify the messages being delivered, intentionally or not.

David J. Fry, CTP, CDT, MPS is CEO/President of Effective Advancement Strategies in Greensburg.

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