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The Great Unwashed Hordes - Dealing with the mosaic that is the public

January 22nd, 2015

<TLDR>1 No matter how complex or detailed your message, proposal or product, those receiving your message must be able to relate to what you are telling them.</TLDR>

This is a term I use often when talking about dealing with the general public - Be it mass communications, advertising, marketing or politics.

Some take offense to this: "Are you some kind of elitist ? Better than the rest of the public ?" - And the answer to that is "In certain areas, yes I am" - Just like in certain other areas, "No I am not."

  • Uhh, how do I fly this thing ?I couldn't fly a 747 to save my life. Compared to one of those pilots, I'm a moron.
  • I don't know how to crochet or weave; Compared to those know know how to make a scarf or weave a rug, I'm an idiot.
  • I don't know how to extract gold from crushed rock, using cyanide; Compared to the chemists at the gold mines, I'm a complete maroon.

However: There is one truth in mass communications - again, this is true be it commercial, political or public service: "Big ideas - Little words" Does this mean the general public are complete and utter morons ?

No.

Does this mean the general public are complete experts in every message you deliver ?

No.

When you don't know your audience your message MUST be dumbed down...

If you are delivering a message about the Keystone pipeline, and you use 100% scientific, verifiable facts, trends, histories and economic benefits, it is going to resonate with a small - a very small - percentage of the public. To the rest, it is going to be a mixture of Greek, ancient cuneiform and hieroglyphics. Not because they are stupid, but because it is not in their spheres of every day experience.

If you are delivering a message about the need to cut back on social program spending - daycares, public parks, public housing and so on, because of a downturn in tax revenues - it is going to resonate - again - with a very small percentage of the public. To the rest - especially - to those who will be negatively affected, it's not only going to be a mixture of Greek and ancient Cuneiform, but an angry mix of Greek and ancient Cuneiform.

Finally: If you are delivering a message of the need to invest in more expensive routers with built in security features to prevent identity theft, child porn and fraud - again, it will resonate with an (even smaller) segment of the public - to the rest, it's going to come across as a money grab or a forced sale.

Once again: Are those who disagree with the oil pipeline, the social spending cuts or the more expensive routers morons ? Uneducated ? Stupid ?

No.

Forward reacti-what'sit ?But: Most people are not experts in energy infrastructure on a nationwide basis. Most people do not know the costs versus benefits of a nationwide oil transportation network, the actual risks versus benefits and historical accuracy of accidents, spills and their effects on the surrounding environment or the costs to clean and restore such incidents. Most also do not understand the nation-wide benefits to an increased tax revenue from the royalties and taxes that come in from such a project.

Most people are not experts in tax policy, international commerce, and national budgets; Most people do not understand that, from year to year, just like any corporation or even households, that, especially when money is tight, choices must be made in which projects get the money. Most people do not understand that if a large portion of the trans-Canada highway needs fixing, if it isn't done, it's going to affect the prices of everything from apples to diapers to car repairs.

And again, most people are not experts in cyber security; Most do not understand - or even comprehend - that any one from a child pornographer to an international arms smuggler can cruise around a neighbourhood with a lap top, looking for an open wireless home router and - as a result - have the national police looking at your home address as the source of the order for ten shoulder-fired missiles from China.

In each of these three examples - and there are many, many others that could have been chosen - the importance of getting that message out to the masses is high; How you get that message out is key; On one hand, you can go the ultra-expensive route and go from community to community, assessing each segments educational, experience and professional levels and custom-tailor each message to each market segment. Never mind the fact that it would practically take until the heat death of the universe to deliver each message...

OR

Educate, Educate, Educate your public

You can assume the lowest common denominator. Assume a high-school level of education and intelligence for the broadest spectrum of your audience.

"But Marc", some will exclaim, "According to Employment and Social Development Canada, 53.6% of Canadians have post-secondary education! You are calling all of those people morons!" To which I ask you: How many neurosurgeons do you know that can install a wireless router ? I use that example specifically, because I have worked in technical support where one (spectacularly bad) call was a neurosurgeon who had no idea how to turn his modem on, much less set a password on his router. Was he a moron ? Compared to me, he could dance circles around me, with the letters after his name and the number of lives he had saved and improved - so no, he's definitely not a moron - but if it weren't for help, you could park in front of his house with a laptop and order uranium yellowcake with no suspicion to yourself and all to him.

So how do you get the neurosurgeon to agree to the higher security router ? How do you get the single mom, struggling on welfare, to understand that next months' cheque is going to be smaller because there simply is no more money to keep it where it's at ? How do you get the farmer, worried about the safety of her crops, to agree to an oil pipeline stretching across the nation ?

One word:

Education.

I'm not talking about sending the entire nation back to school, just so you can sell hydrogen cars, expensive routers or even better mouse traps;

We're talking about how part of your message, be it advertising, political speech or public service announcement must be educating the reader if you want the message to succeed.

The number one rule of successful sales - be that of a product, a service or an idea is that the salesperson does not sell to the consumer: The consumer sells to themselves.

If you want to sell an expensive router - or television, or car or set of wrenches - to the public, you need to show WHY they will benefit - and not in a manner that just the experts in the related field will understand, unless your sole and only audience is that specific group (in which case, you are not the target audience for this article and should have stopped reading a long time ago) - It needs to be done in a manner that not only conveys the benefits to those who have no expertise in the field, but also to those who have no education or experience related to your message.

The public must be able to relate to your message

Why do you need a new, expensive router ?
Yes, it's an expense you didn't expect, but:

  • Your internet will speed up.
  • The amount of spam and viruses coming through to your computer will go down.
  • The chances of your personal information, like your credit card or bank accounts being stolen go down - a lot.
  • The chances of someone using your internet connection for criminal or harmful purposes go down - a lot.

The benefits to each ?

  • Faster internet: You get more done in less time: More value for the money you pay.
  • Less spam and viruses mean less time deleting unwanted email or cleaing up an infected computer: Again: More value for your time and money.
  • Less chance of identity theft: Less chance of the incredible hassle of replacing your credit cards, bank accounts and other identity documents - less chance of your hard earned money being stolen.
  • Less chance of criminal use of your account: Less chance of the expense of a lawyer to defend yourself and the incredible cost of a falsely damaged reputation.

The above increases the likelihood of the customer WANTING to replace their router than simply being told "You have to upgrade your hardware because we're telling you it's safer"

To finish on one more example: A politician saying that public benefits are being cut:

The usual message is "Tax revenues are down, we just don't have the money, everyone has to do their share"

The better message is:

  • Tax revenues are down, but there are still expenses that we cannot avoid: Roads need to be maintained so ambulances and fire trucks can get to the emergencies, not to mention the trucks to bring diapers, food and milk to the stores and for you to be able to get there to acquire them.
  • If we don't cut back in some areas, it means we'll have to raise taxes, which means everyone feels the hit - which means your money goes down anyway, since those same diapers, milk and food all go up in price.
  • Different sectors take turns at cutbacks: The last time we had to reduce expenses, we cut from the milary and public health - it is not fair to make the same areas of society take the same cuts every time belt tightening is needed.

Of course, the additional follow-up is more education on how people relying on public benefits can supplement income, get off benefits (where possible), make what they have last longer, and so on.

You must speak in terms the general public can understandAt the end of the day, no matter what your message is, or who your audience is, "Because we said so" is the single worst message you can give: No one has that level of credibility or authority across the entire spectrum of a nation to have that message be effective.

To put it even more simply: Your audience must be able to relate to your message, no matter who complex the end result is. The idea may be complex, but to succeed, your message must be simple.

In closing, "The Great Unwashed Hordes" probably isn't the most positive term - it is, for better or for worse, used broadly in the back rooms of ad agencies, marketing firms, political strategy rooms and corporate planning offices. (And please: Yes, I get it: There are always exceptions) Does it mean we're all members of said horde ? Not all the time, no. Does it mean we're all uneducated buffoons ? Certainly not - in a general sense - but if you used the level of my own education in, say, genetic engineering - I am a drooling idiot - and I don't have a problem admitting it.

Depending on the message, though, there are times when each and every one of us are members of said Horde. If you are trying to get a message across to me - especially one that is important - and it is about something specialized or that the chances of me - a member of the general public - have intimate knowledge about are slim to none, I'd really appreciate the "big ideas, small words" - The chances of your message resonating will be a LOT greater.

1<TLDR> - "Too Long, Didn't Read"

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