By David Casullo
Simple is hard. That’s the great irony of communication. The most powerful messages are the simplest . . . and the most difficult to construct.
Too often, leaders get lost in language. Good leaders know their business and are passionate about their goals and vision, this can make them quick to launch into a rapid-fire outburst of words. They are teeming with energy; they just don’t know how to focus it like a laser. Meanwhile, listeners become glassy eyed…their impatience turns to disengagement.
Your goal is to construct a simple message that speaks to the heart of the recipient.
You can’t do this if your message is packed with words, concepts, and details that overwhelm the mind and numb the emotions of the recipient. In today’s digital age, people don’t have time for elaborate explanations.
Your message must be simple. It needs to answer the question, “So what is different about you?” Your message also has to answer this question in the receiver’s mind by tying the strategic heartbeat of your company to her own heartbeat. Your powerful message will marshal action from those who hear or read it, prompting them to act to drive the business forward. And this goes for people outside the company as well as inside.
The best messages are the ones that stick with us:
“The happiest place on earth.” Disneyland
“Think Different.” Apple
“There’s always room for Jell-O” Jell-O
“Just Do It.” Nike
These aren’t just messages, they’re rally cries.
There is a great deal of power packed into these little phrases—and many are more clever than you might think at first glance. For instance, Apple’s “Think Different” telegraphs the idea that the company is defining itself as an alternative to IBM, whose motto was “Think.”
The Jell-O Rally Cry sounds like child’s play, but it actually has a double meaning. To the average consumer, it captures the idea that Jell-O is a light dessert that you’ll have room for after any meal . . . and yet it also was devised as a direct message to supermarkets: There’s always room to fit those little boxes of Jell-O into whatever shelf space you have available. The phrase served Kraft as a powerful merchandising tool.
But what do the most powerful messages do to serve their companies?
Whenever I hear or read “Just Do It,” my competitive nature is energized. As a former athlete, I find that the phrase conjures up the powerful emotions that I felt when competing. Somehow, my mind makes the transition to Nike, and I am compelled to consider the company’s merchandise for whatever I may be doing in the realm of exercise and sports. I associate the brand with my own desire to win. Those three simple words speak to my emotions. They penetrate my heart and soul and serve to associate what’s inside me with the essence of the Nike brand.
The Rally Cry
These simple Rally Cries capture the heartbeats of their companies while serving as cries for everyone who hears or reads them. Now step back and reflect. To be similarly powerful, your Rally Cry must capture the special nature of what makes your company unique.
The Three Rules of the Rally Cry
There are three rules that are essential and must be followed when crafting a simple, powerful Rally Cry:
Rule #1. It must be your own. Your Rally Cry has to be genuine, when people hear it, they must feel like it’s coming from a real person.
Rule #2. It must be laser accurate. Your Rally Cry needs to ring true in the ears of your employees, customers, vendors, and investors.
Rule #3. It must answer the question, “What is different about your company?” Your Rally Cry has to speak to the single most defining and differentiating truth about your company. It must tie directly to the strategic heartbeat of your company.
Make no mistake. This is not a gimmick, nor is it primarily a marketing or PR tool—although when it’s right, it has great value for both those purposes. This is a communication tool first, and a very powerful one because it is charged with the energy of your personal truths. This is the core message that everything else you will communicate builds on. It will remind everyone of the purpose and core truth of the company as embodied by you, the leader.
David Casullo is president at Bates Communications, a national consulting firm specializing in leadership communication skills and strategy. His passion is developing leaders who have the courage and capability to change the world. His most recent book, “Leading the High-Energy Culture,” has just been published by McGraw-Hill. Dave can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.