We’re constantly bombarded with messages on TV, the radio, cable news, social media, magazines, advertising, and podcasts. How do you separate good messaging from the noise? Message Artist Deb Goeschel, creates websites and visual branding for businesses and organizations, spoke with me last week on my Embark podcast to share what goes into an effective message.  Turns out, it starts with asking questions. Lots of questions. I had a few of my own.

These are edited excerpts of our recorded conversation.

So how is messaging artistry different than, you know, run-of-the-mill messaging?

It’s a great question. I’ve worked on myself over the years and…let’s face it, there’s a lot of things that fall into marketing out there today. When I talk about message artistry, it’s really about how do we make it as true as possible? How do we make it as authentic as possible?

Messages can be true, but what makes the message effective, because in the end, we put that message out there. It’s kind of like the tree in the forest. If nobody knows where we are, how to get to the message, is there really a message? Can you break an effective message down into elements?

When I start work with a client to develop their messaging I don’t immediately ask ‘what is the point of your business?’  Although that’s underlying everything, I want to go down deep, ‘What are the core values that drive your business?’ ‘How do you define them?’ ‘What’s your unique value proposition?’ People really need to know their big why: Why are those values the ones you choose? If we stay true to our values, mission, vision, all of those things, then we deliver something that’s genuine and helpful, not just adding to the noise.

So we’re talking about the substance of the message. There’s also the style of the message. Do you see a trajectory as to how companies and even individuals talk about COVID-19? Or talk about themselves through the prism of COVID-19?

What’s been interesting to watch. I’m seeing certain companies who didn’t come out of the gate right away with any kind of message about it, which left some people confused. You know, are you running business as usual? What are you doing?  Then I’ve seen people really step up and say, Okay, we’ve got this situation, here’s how we’re handling it. And they’re really clear about it. And then I think there’s some folks who have jumped on a bandwagon they don’t need to be on, if that makes sense. I’ll go to a website that has nothing to do with COVID. But they’ve got links to COVID relief and COVID funds. And it’s like, why would I even come to you for that?

There’s a lot of performative messaging out there, whether it’s on social media or websites. Are they really fooling anybody?

That’s a phenomenal question. If you’re a business owner… it’s important not to get involved in those conversations online. If your business has nothing to do with the hot topics of the day, don’t engage, because you have no room in that conversation. It becomes performative if your organization isn’t directly impacted or directly involved in some way. For instance, with the Black Lives Matter movement.  If you have a diverse employee base in your organization, this is an important topic to you. It makes sense to say, ‘This is where we stand, and we support our employees.’ I’m a solo business owner…and a white woman from the burbs, so they don’t need to hear from me. My voice isn’t the one that’s important in that movement, other than supporting and being the best ally I can.

Deb, these last few years have been so polarizing, and our grievances have sometimes been stoked by media outlets, like cable news. messages, When we started to have that 24-7, constant information cycle, it became more about collecting information and not about the deep dive into what it means or how it’s applicable. There’s power in messaging, and we can send the wrong messages and disinformation. So much of it is ‘I got [the story] out there first, so I won the information war,’ right or wrong. I think it started with people just being sloppy about their sources or repeating something that wasn’t true. Now it’s difficult for many people to separate what’s reality from what is just false.

 Yeah, and because information is repeated and spread so rapidly, it’s incredibly challenging for someone to dig down and find out if this is true or not. There are few news sources or websites you can trust and let’s face it, no matter where you fall on the spectrum, we all think we know where we can go for information to trust. And I do agree in the 24-7 [news cycle] people are being bombarded with information all the time in so many ways…Words have power, our message has power. And I think we all forget that a little bit sometimes.

Where do you see people getting in trouble getting their message across? Aside from any kind of disinformation, or half-truths? What are some ways people sabotage their own messaging?

Honestly, I think they don’t always ask for help when they need it. One of the things that I find as I’m taking [clients] through this process, and asking them all these questions, to truly learn what they do and how they do it…it’s almost 100%, the client learns something about themselves and/or their business. Sometimes you don’t see when things are so close to you, especially if you’re very passionate about what you’re working on. We don’t always see ourselves or our businesses as clearly as we think we do. And it’s mostly because we’re in the weeds.  And you really need somebody to help.

So many messages on so many platforms, but a lot of it is the same old, same old. If you go from site to site to look for somebody who offers a service or product, so many of their modifiers are exactly the same. You could lift some of it verbatim, and, you know, overlay it on someone else’s message. Are people and­­ companies playing it too safe with their messaging?

Sometimes people move too fast, so they don’t take time to do their homework, to really dive into the brand messaging, which is the foundation one’s business is built on. Perfect example, I moved to a new area about three years ago, I needed to reestablish everything. Where am I going to shop? Who’s my new my new doctor? So, I was online…trying to find, who’s the expert, I’m going to go to for this or that. And I ran smack into what you just said, I looked at a bunch of chiropractors. And either they didn’t have a site, or they only had a Facebook presence, which had barely any information, or activity. If they had a website, I swear they bought a template for chiropractors, and it was the exact same for three different chiropractors. And I thought, how does anybody make a decision when faced with this…just throw up a coin, pick one? And that bothers me. Because all of these people are doing something that they love and invested time to learn and become an expert. And yet, they’re not talking to their customers, so they’re not telling their story.

Great point. And our story is really pretty much all we got. Changing gears, how and when do you decide your business might need to change its messaging?  

That topic came up with a lot of my clients in the past year.  It’s like, ‘Okay, what do we change on your site? What’s actually going to be a lie if we don’t take it down? Are you helping? Are you just silent? When things happen, whether it’s a crisis situation, like the pandemic or perhaps your business is growing, and you find this new opportunity, how do you fold that into your overall messaging? Does it change? Does it just tweak a little?’  Look at what needs to be added, what needs to be removed.  And you know, it’s an organic thing. It’s a living, breathing piece of your organization or your business.

 So, it’s knowing when to change, knowing what to change, and then remembering to tell people that you changed?

Exactly, exactly.

What are some of the trends you see [in communicating messages]?

I’ve seen businesses really step up in terms of putting out content and using the virtual platform. They chose what they said and where to say it, rather than trying to be everywhere at once. Others tried to be everywhere at once and didn’t do a really great job of it. To put out a message, persona, a brand that’s cohesive, you have to be strategic. Think about who and where your audience is, and who you’re talking to. [Keeping a brand consistent] could be a little bit of a trap because they’re not reading the room for each of those platforms where they’re trying to be consistent. If you sold a product that appeals to an audience on TikTok, that’s great. But that same audience may not be on LinkedIn. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be on both. On TikTok, you may be talking directly to your customers. On LinkedIn, you’re talking to your referral partners, colleagues or vendors. How you present [your message] has to be different to those two different audiences, but the core is the same. And that takes effort, more work and more time.

Any further words of wisdom?

Whether we consciously acknowledge it or not, we compare ourselves to other businesses. if you’re looking at other people who are doing similar things to you, and kind of mirroring them or trying to sort of mimic them, it may be aspirational. But more to the point, that’s not a great way to go because you’re not sitting in your own authentic space. You have to find your own path. You’re not reinventing the wheel… It’s really just making sure that you’re super clear, make sure you have a vision, make sure you have a mission statement, a pretty fleshed out ideal client profile.  Know what you are offering that’s unique. Take some time and figure that out. So, when you’re putting information and content out there, you are really standing firm in what it is that you are trying to do and say. And that that comes through.


Learn more about Deb Goeschel at messageartist.com