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Magic Messages: What’s Your Favorite Formula?

Historic photo of woman in chemistry labDoes your nonprofit organization have a bright shining message that’s like a beacon to your supporters?  Do you have a tagline or a compelling one-sentence description of your services that makes volunteers race to your door and donors open their wallets wide?

Asking the Right Questions
Crafting those magic words that draw in your constituents and move them along the engagement continuum . . . from awareness to interest to desire to action . . . is more art than science.  Yet, nonprofit communicators — myself included — are always in search of magic formulas that will unlock the mysteries of message development.

For instance, I recently facilitated a communications planning session using Marc Fest’s Message House method.  (Fest was a vice president of communications at The John S. And James L. Knight Foundation, a leader in media innovation and community engagement.)

His simple system poses four key questions that push you toward discovery of the societal benefits of your services (What gives you goosebumps?) and the personal benefits to key audiences (What’s in it for me, or WIIFM?).

The Message House model reminds me of how creative teams at ad agencies sometimes use the “Why?” exercise so they can find the hidden benefits of sometimes dull product features.  (This toothpaste contains secret ingredient “X.” Why? To remove stains from your teeth.  Why? So your teeth sparkle.  Why?  So your boyfriend likes you.  Why?  So you can live happily ever after!)  Success with the “Why?” activity requires not going so far that your message becomes vague or grandiose — like “we advance the common good” or “we spread world peace.”

What’s Your Favorite Messaging Formula?
No message development exercise  is right for every organization and every situation.  So that’s why we communicators, like alchemists, keep searching for new formulas to transform simple words into magical motivators.

So, what’s your favorite message creation method? How did you use it?  What were the outcomes?  Comment here to describe your successes (and failures), or drop me an email .  I’ll be glad to share your ideas for discovering messages that will light the way for us all.

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