compatible beats consistent

Every time.

Consistent communication is often tossed out as "should" for executive leaders, program directors, division chiefs, parents, and other bossy-types. Whether we're talking to our staff, our teams, or our clients, part of the idea is that we hit the same points over and over again-- so, consistent messaging. The other part of the idea is that we build expectations around when and how-- so, consistent delivery.

The rationale is that repetition (especially when the message is coming from a variety of sources) increases both understanding and the perception that the team has it's act together. Maybe but...

I met a prospective client recently who was looking for some advice on how to revamp their communications strategy. From their own admission, they have been recycling the same PowerPoint slides for years. Over time, their message has been refined and edited and polished to perfection.  Except, at almost every turn, they get pushback from "the field".  So the response to date has been-- tell 'em again.  They have achieved consistency! Unfortunately, consistency does little to increase resonance-- especially with a broad, diverse audience like many of our federal clients address through their programs. 

By picking only one message and one delivery mechanism, we certainly check the box on consistency but we're likely to reach a portion of the audience at the exclusion of others.  We miss the opportunity to shape the message to meet multiple perspectives and use all available channels. 

Instead, message compatibility has a far better chance of moving an audience to action or changing beliefs.  The goal is to create messages that share a common platform but are free to take whatever shape needed to be most compelling.  So, instead of striving for consistency, an alternative approach would be to:

  1. Take a quick but honest look at communication efforts to date.  Where have there been missed opportunities to reach someone because we were afraid to veer off message and lose consistency?
  2. Next, create a handful of personas that represent the various viewpoints within our target audience. 
  3. Consider each one and craft messages around our key points that best address their issues. In some cases, the message might be similar but require greater variety in delivery.  In other cases, the messages might be wildly different. 
  4. Get immediately comfortable with running multiple related but unique messages simultaneously through every available channel. (Pssst, this is happening anyway!)
  5. Periodically test capability by reaching out to a couple of recipients.  Nothing fancy, just call and ask.

Message compatibility has a much greater chance to change minds or compel action-- especially for a diverse audience-- because we're proactively addressing the viewpoints they care most about.