Seven principles of effective communications

These fundamentals of communications will always be true because they’re based on how our brains work, not on how specific technology works.

1. Reach

One of the few actual scientific laws of communications is that a brand’s growth is driven primarily by acquiring new and light buyers. This has been known for more than half a century and has repeatedly been found to be true in every category. A marketer not believing this and thinking they can grow their brand primarily by driving loyalty from existing heavy customers is like a physicist not believing in gravity. Stop trying to defy gravity.

2. Attention

Obviously alongside reaching these mostly disinterested new and light buyers, you’re going to need to earn their attention. Loyal users are primed to notice your communication anyway so you’ll have to work harder and smarter to cut through the clutter with new or lighter buyers. Throw ideas at the problem not money.

3. Creativity

Creativity has repeatedly been found to be the strongest driver of sales and profitability, over and above media or targeting, by various studies from Nielsen, the IPA and others. Creativity means a lot of things to lots of people, so what is it really? In communications, creativity is the capacity to produce an inspiring experience that connects with your audience’s emotions. Easy to say, not so easy to do.

4. Distinctiveness

The core task for all communications is to build and refresh memory structures that improve the chance of a brand being recalled first in decision making and buying situations. This in turn increases the chance of a brand being bought, in large part due to the ‘availability bias’, explored in the work of Kahneman and Taversky in the 1960s and 70s. Wash, rinse, repeat.

5. Consistency

To strengthen and reinforce brand memories, your communications need to be consistently distinctive. You can’t be distinctive if you’e not consistent. But consistency is probably one of the most commonly ignored principles of great communications. The temptation for new CMOs and agencies to change everything for price is usually just too strong. Coca-Cola hasn’t changed their logo since the bookkeeper first scripted it in 1886.

6. Emotion

Communications that evoke strong emotional responses have a wide variety of benefits. Communications evoking emotional responses have better attention, deeper processing of the content, better memory-encoding and retrieval. This is the holy grail for deeper, stronger connections.

7. Motivation

Emotion alone doesn’t motivate people in communications. Motivation is aided by including something that reinforces what the brand helps you achieve. The famously emotional John Lewis Christmas campaign in the UK works because of the double whammy of emotional response and motivation. It makes people cry and sometimes laugh (earning attention, creating memories, getting it shared) but it also shows John Lewis shoppers are thoughtful gifters (an implicit goal the audience want to achieve). Think emotional achievement.

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