As much as the beguiling, expensive TV car ads featuring Shaquille O'Neal are memorable, a cheaply made public service announcement I heard on the radio years ago has stuck in my mind as much.I heard it when I turned on the radio in my rental car. A halting, urgent-sounding older male voice began, "One in three women in Louisiana who are murdered (long pause) are murdered by their husbands. If you suspect that someone's life is in danger, call right now for help." A woman said a phone number quickly, anxiously. She then repeated it slowly and calmly. The man added, "I wish I had called. It might have saved my sister's life." He said the number.
Hint: The significant sequence of specific details in your message makes more of a difference than the amount of money you spend or even the celebrities you involve to create or distribute it.
1. Make Your Message Feel Almost as Vital As Air
This PSA had all the elements of the A.I.R. formula that you can use to craft your messages: Actionable. Interestingness. Relevant.
Make it Actionable: Like offering a number to call, advocate some concrete action to take.
Give it Interestingness: Just as I got pulled into the story by the startling statistic and stayed involved to the unexpected ending, you can generate suspense via the element of surprise by giving an unexpected sequence of messages within your message.
Be sure it's Relevant: Ensure that anyone who has been in the situation you describe, will go on high alert as they hear you suggest something specific that can help them. As Jay Baer suggests, that's being highly helpful.
Here's another example of starting with a specific detail that pulls us in, followed by an unexpected twist and ending with a relevant action to take: In the height of the dot-com day trading spending frenzy, I passed a billboard on busy Lombard Street in San Francisco with this message, "Someone is going to win the lottery this week. And it is not going to be you. When will you finally turn to E-Trade?"
2. Make Your Body a Moving Billboard for Your Message
In fact you can actually become a billboard to depict your message, as this biotech CEO did, in the way he moved and gestured to, and in keeping with his unfolding message, to captivate an audience, and make it the most frequently-quoted characterization at the conference. Not that his announcement was the most significant one made there, just the most sticky.
Hint: Whoever most vividly describes a product, situation or choice usually determines how others view it, feel about it, discuss it and make decisions about it.
3. Make the Tone of Your Message Match the Personality of Your Brand
Virgin America could have touted its specials in emails with headlines like "Fares starting at $49." Yet, as Porter Gale points out in her book, Your Network is Your Net Worth, "The ones with the highest open rate leveraged the witty Virgin tone of voice plus a clear fare message. Consider several examples sent for holiday sales:
• Our resolution? Slimmer fares. San Francisco flights from $49.
• No tricks, just treats. Sweet fares from $34
• Book by 11:30AM PDT: Treat yourself to tricked-out flights"
4. Get Specific Sooner
Notice how all three of the examples about started with a specific detail? Like the later Bourne Identity movies that start in the middle of an action scene. Upfront action is a form of specificity. It jumpstarts your interest. You don't have time to get bored.
"To generalize is to be an idiot, " wrote William Blake and John von Neumann noted that, "There's no sense in being precise when you don't even know what you're talking about." Yet we actually can't be precise until we peel away the many layers of detail to reveal the core premise and promise that we want to say to stand out in the minds of the people in our lives.
That's why we speak and write in generalities most of the time. It isn't easy to figure out the most essential part of what we most want and have to offer, as an individual or an organization. Yet getting specific about what you stand for, or are asking for or suggesting to others creates a context in which it is easier to make choices about how you spend your time and money, and with whom to engage and how. It is probably one of the most life-changing, energy-giving exercises you can do for yourself or your organization.
Specificity also spurs credibility and interest. Many firms brag that they put their customers first. That's a familiar and bland generalization. Instead, a restaurant on a busy commute route began offering three choices of early morning Breakfasts-in-a-Bag for curbside pick-up with a minimum of 30 minutes in advance call-in orders for drivers who paid for at least 10 breakfasts, upfront.
Being specific also increases the chances that those with whom we work or live actually understand what we mean. That's priceless for communication, cooperation, collaboration and closeness. As Lily Tomlin ruefully remarked, "When I was growing up I always wanted to be someone. Now I realize I should have been more specific."