Marketers: Put Down the Fire Hose!

by · April 3, 20146 comments

I recently attended a training session on effective messaging, led by Oratium, a team dedicated to improving communication. (Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Oratium, nor will I receive any compensation for this post.) The two-day event left me with a lot of great information, but what really resonated with me, and I hope will stick with you is: stop fire hosing. Stick to key messages and communicate them in a way that your audience will receive them.

As marketers, we have so much information we want to share, but to be effective we need to stop blasting a bunch of information at people in hopes of something sticking (preferably the most important point).

imagesI tend to fire hose in my personal life.  I often leave a dinner party or happy hour thinking of all of the stories that I started but never finished thanks to my tendency to go off on tangents. I am always disappointed when I realize that my punch-line or the climax of a particularly interesting story was missed because I was too concerned about getting everything I had to say out, with no rhyme or reason.

I would be willing to bet that when this happens, my friends have a hard time keeping up with me through the sharp turns of the conversation and they definitely are not receiving the information the way I intend for them to.

The moral of this story: The millions of things I want to share (aka: fire hose) are not nearly as well-received by friends as just a few great stories would be. When I blast my friends with words, they aren’t going to catch it all. Neither will your audience. And as marketers, we need to respect this.

While friends may be patient, your audience will not be. You have one chance to communicate your message, so don’t blow it on information overload.

Take the time to prepare your content with a few steps, and reap the benefit of effective communication:

Identify Your Key Messages

Before you begin drafting a message, whether it is a blog post, a sales message, website copy or a newsletter, list out the key messages you want to make. (Hint: keep it simple.)

Identifying your key messages will give you a framework and help you stay on track during the writing process. The more laser-focused you are on your messages, the more likely it is for people to understand and process.

The human brain can only process a limited amount of information at one time, so it’s simply not possible for anyone to respond well to fire hosing. It’s far more effective to impart a few major key messages than it is to “fire hose”. So, while it’s natural to want to include every piece of information you have,  don’t. It’s about sharing the information that is most beneficial for your audience.

Key messages should range between 1 and 5 points, depending on the length of your piece. If you are writing a brief sales message, focus on the top selling point. If you are writing a six-page guide on how to select the proper lighting for your home, you can dive into several key messages.

Once your your key messages have been identified, you need to decide what information to include.

Include Only the Information that Supports Your Key Messages

Planning out your key messages allows you to decide what information to include and what to leave out. Deciding what information to cut is just as important as deciding what to leave in.

A good rule of thumb for selecting what should or should not be included: Any piece of information included in your content should support your key point(s).

This includes images as well. So, if your cute puppy image is not supporting one of the points made in your writing, ditch it.

We want people to fully grasp what we are communicating. Including a fact, an example or even an image that strays from your path of key messaging is risking your chances of a reader walking away with the exact information you want them to.

Once you have your key messages identified and know what information should be included in your content, how will you best present this information?

Present the Information in a Logical Thought Pattern for the AUDIENCE

We tend to be “sender-centric” in our communication. We have so much to share about a new product or promotion, but not all of it is important to our audience. We tend to present information in a way that we want to, as if we’re checking off a list of things we need to communicate, which is not necessarily how the audience wants to receive it.

Structure your content in a way that makes sense to your audience. Flow from one thought to another as if you are in the reader’s head. The goal is to present information and answer any questions they may have before they think of them. After all, our goal is to effectively communicate a message to our audience, not to check off a list of “to-says”.

You can put yourself in the reader’s mindset by asking yourself:

  • What would I want to know first?
  • What would I want to know next?
  • What questions would I have at this point? 

When you keep these three questions in your mind, it’s easy to identify what key message or supporting point should come next.

After you have identified your key messages, selected the best content and developed a logical flow, how can you be sure you are going to communicate effectively?

Gut Check Your Content

Ask yourself these questions

  • Do I have a small number of identifiable key messages?
  • Does every point I make support a key message?
  • Do the examples and images I share support the key messages?
  • Have I taken out everything that may mislead my audience away from the key messages?

Additionally, it’s always a good idea to ask a colleague, friend or family member that is not as close to the information to read through your work before it is finalized to be sure they are taking away the information you have intended them to.  If not, go back and make adjustments.

These are a few ways to prepare your messaging for maximum effectiveness. Do you have any tips or tricks to add? Please share in the comments below. 

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About Danielle Terreri

Danielle Terreri

Danielle Terreri specializes in helping brands deliver powerful, creative, and most importantly, effective, messages in the best way. Her passion for strategic communication and branding from ideation through execution aligns with her role as Content Marketing Manager at SME Digital, the digital consultancy behind Social Media Explorer. Danielle has results-driven experience in the social, digital and traditional marketing fields. She’s also the proud mother of Lola, a 12 pound Maltese-Shih Tzu, and is a world traveler always ready for the next adventure.

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  • Sophie

    This is a very refreshing article – I tend to “fire-hose” in my personal life, and as I’m entering the job market it’s something I need to keep in mind both personally and professionally. Overflow from brands is definitely a turn off, but it’s easy to get caught up trying to engineer engagement and a sense of community while marketing. Your mental checklist is great for self-editing before making any moves – Thanks!

    Sophie Moran
    A.B. Freeman School of Business

    • DanielleSME

      Sophie-

      Glad this post was helpful for you. I find the checklist useful to help reign in my thoughts in my professional and personal life.

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      We are so glad to hear you find our blog valuable and appreciate your kind message.

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