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Want a Better Meeting Message? Get Three Cows, a Ladder and a Can of Paint!


Three cows, a ladder and a can of paint – it’s a classic success strategy for creating a powerful message that helps people to understand and value your event, trade show or marketing campaign. How do you create a powerful message? We’ll talk bovine business plans in a minute. First, let’s talk message.

If you had to pinpoint the single, irreplaceable part of your communications, the message is it. The entire event, meeting, trade show, workshop – you name it – begins and ends with the message you present.

What’s the Big Idea?

That’s what every member of the audience and your entire organization want to know. They don’t want long speeches, a press release or something chiseled on stone tablets. They want the shortest bridge between their needs and expectations – and your desired results.

The message isn’t content. Content is how you communicate your message.

“The medium is not the message – the message is the message.”

Penn Jillette

I’ve never understood why something so powerful is overlooked so often. Having a strong, simple core message is one of the most important aspects of a brand strategy. It’s the hook that holds all the marketing. Best of all? You can take the same technique and use it for your events. Here’s how.

The Bovine Business Plan

In 1995, the Chick-fil-A fast food chain came up with a simple core message that resulted in an award-winning marketing campaign. On highways and interstates around the country, what looks like guerilla squads of desperate cows appear to be hijacking billboards and painting three words: “EAT MOR CHIKIN.”

Can a message be any clearer than that?

It’s memorable advertising and an even more durable corporate message. Their corporate team recognized that their long-term success depends on convincing consumers to do one thing – eat more chicken. It gave everyone at Chick-fil-A the answer to “How” and “Why.” Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A’s senior vice president of marketing, explained how that those three words actually reshaped the corporation. “The Cows started as part of our advertising campaign, and now they have become part of our passion and our brand.”

Short & Simple

To develop the core message of your event, marketing, or communication, start by writing a simple, declarative sentence that states the most important thing you want people to remember and to do. It lets you quickly and confidently communicate the purpose, objective and intent. It tells everyone why they are there.

It’s harder than you think. So here’s a head’s up – key point coming up here! Do not write a Mission Statement, a Vision Statement, Value Statement or any of those other Statements that start with capital letters and are so on-trend right now. Just state what your event is all about. If you had to boil the whole thing down to a single sentence – this is it.

The USA Today Technique

Now use this tip. After you have written your statement, play USA Today. If USA Today was covering your event or your marketing, what would the headline be? Write that down and see how it matches your message. Shuffle ideas, toss out the confusing terms and anything that’s vague or ambiguous. Then, take a look at what’s left.

•  If it longer than a “tweet,” about 140 characters, think again.

•  If it has bullets, think again.

•  If it is full of corporate-speak and long words instead of people, think again.

In Short, Pass The Message Test

1. Does your message suggest one clear, specific idea?

2. Is your message a short, simple statement and not a paragraph?

3. Do people clearly understand the message without additional explanation?

4. Does your message clearly represent the direction and goal of the event?

5. Do people see themselves in the message?

If it clearly communicates the key ideas, intent and direction, congratulations! That’s your core message. Your purpose isn’t to be creative, cute or catchy. Your purpose is to deliver that message throughout the event, in the marketing, communications, in every medium and everywhere.

Just in case you think you can’t do it, here’s another example to inspire you. The Home Depot 25th anniversary was a huge celebration with a complex planning process that began months in advance. Messaging came first. Everything began with this statement from then-CEO Bob Nardelli:

“All that Home Depot has been, is today, and will be in the future is the result of people, pride and passion. This is who we are and what we stand for.”

Thirty-two words became the foundation for an entire year of successful events.

Now that your core message has given you the Big Idea, use it as the structure for all the business, policy and emotional messages. Your goal is to tie all other supporting elements back to the Big Idea. It’s the Super Glue that holds everything else together. Let any other secondary messages explain and enhance it.

And Milk It for All It’s Worth

This is the final part of a four article series on what makes your event or trade show relevant and valuable, gets results and keeps audiences and customers coming back. We’ve explored how to develop content that’s simple, clear, entertaining and human. You do it through Message, Meaning, Media and Music. You’ll find links to the other articles below.

Now you can deliver a clear, unified message that links everything from communication and creative – to sessions and signage. It’s the single most powerful way to focus the organization, attendees, customers on the reasons and rewards that come from doing what you want them to do.

So think like Chick-fil-A and Home Depot. It all comes back to creating an experience that gets results and keeps audiences and customers coming back. Sometimes you have to just get in there, get dirty with the details and draw a clear message that no one can miss.

Just like three cows, a ladder and a can of paint!

If you want to know more about how to add meaning and create memorable events just click on CONTACT US and get in touch.

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About the Author
Andy Johnston is a multi-faceted communication professional who has a comfortable way of working with people. Andy is an Emmy Award winning communicator known for his energy, humor, creativity and his unique ability to discover the key results that must be generated – and then to develop ingenious ways to engage and motivate audiences. He has broad experience in strategic planning, messaging, creative direction, marketing, and events. One of the things Andy says often is, “How can we make it better?”
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