The Message and the Meta-Message
How to Assess and Control the “Body Language”
of Your Communications
Plain Talk in Comple...
Sounds Great,
But What Exactly
Are We Talking About?
EXAMPLE
Message with Conflicting
Meta-Message from Actions
The Message
Please stay
on the line.
Your call is very
important to us.
Your call is very
important to us.
Your call is very
important to us.
Your call is very
important to us.
Your call is very
important to us.
Your call is very
important to us.un
Your call
Your call
Your questions
Your call
Your questions
Your problems
Your call
Your questions
Your problems
Your time
Your call
Your questions
Your problems
Your time
You
Your call
Your questions
Your problems
Your time
You
All totally unimportant to us.
Your call
Your questions
Your problems
Your time
You
All totally unimportant to us.
Now what was it
you were calling about?
The Meta-Message
Your call
Your questions
Your problems
Your time
You
All totally unimportant to us.
Now what was it
you w...
EXAMPLE
Message with Conflicting
Meta-Message from Environment
EXAMPLE
Message with Strong
Meta-Message Shift over Time
EXAMPLE
Message with its Own
Conflicting Meta-Message
Message and meta-message aligned.
Message and meta-message misaligned.
Meta-message turning message on its head.
Result: message not just neutralized, it backfires.
Actually worse than no message at all.
Actually worse than no message at all.
META-MAXIM #1
The meta-message
is context’s commentary
on the message.
META-MAXIM #2
The message is
completely at the mercy
of the meta-message.
META-MAXIM #3
A communication that has
meta-message problems
can be worse than
no communication at all.
Message Sent
vs.
Message Received
EXAMPLE
Self-Introduction with
Desired Message Articulated
Hello.
I am a nice guy.
You will like me!
Who is
this nutjob and
how can I get
rid of him?
Hello.
I am a nice guy.
You will like me!
EXAMPLE
Self-Introduction with
Desired Message as a Reaction Goal
Hello.
I really liked your
presentation!
Hello.
I really liked your
presentation!
Hey, he seems
like a really
nice guy!
META-MAXIM #4
To get the meta-message right,
sometimes you have to
change the message.
Learning From
The Masters
Recognize this guy?
How about this guy?
The Marlboro Man
The Marlboro Man
1957
1965
Brand name
Brand name
Headline
Brand name
Headline
Feature list
Brand name
Headline
Feature list
Product in use
Brand name
Headline
Feature list
Product in use
Packaging
Brand name
Headline
Feature list
Product in use
Packaging
Body copy
Brand name
Headline
Feature list
Product in use
Packaging
Body copy
Brand imagery
Product in use
Headline
(2-part, includes
brand name)
Product in use
Headline
(2-part, includes
brand name)
Product in use
Packaging
Headline
(2-part, includes
brand name)
Product in use
Packaging
Body copy
(shorter)
Headline
(2-part, includes
brand name)
Product in use
Packaging
Body copy
(shorter)
Brand imagery
(bigger, in color)
Brand imagery
Packaging
(only mention
of brand name)
Brand imagery
Headline
(shorter)
Packaging
(only mention
of brand name)
Brand imagery
Headline
(shorter)
Product in use
Packaging
(only mention
of brand name)
Brand imagery
Package and brand name barely visible
Brand name big, no headline;
surgeon general’s warning added
Brand name tilted and partly obscured.
Image, brand name, product in use.
Image, brand name.
No headline, no features, no body copy.
No headline, no features, no body copy.
No packaging, no product in use.
And yet no lack of communication.
Ankara
% of 2nd - 5th graders who recognize Marlboro brand:
Ankara
% of 2nd - 5th graders who recognize Marlboro brand:
92%
Ankara
% of 2nd - 5th graders who recognize Marlboro brand:
92%
Ankara
Source: Tobacco Control, 1998
Q: How well has this worked?
A: We’ll never know for sure.
...but we can do some message analysis.
• Sterile
• Sterile
• All text
• Sterile
• All text
• Logic-based
• Sterile
• All text
• Logic-based
• Clunky
• Sterile
• All text
• Logic-based
• Clunky
• Human
• Sterile
• All text
• Logic-based
• Clunky
• Human
• Visually rich
• Sterile
• All text
• Logic-based
• Clunky
• Human
• Visually rich
• Emotion-based
• Sterile
• All text
• Logic-based
• Clunky
• Human
• Visually rich
• Emotion-based
• Alluring
Yeah whatever.
Factual Reality
Life
Factual Reality
Factual Reality
Life Death
Emotional Reality
Death
Emotional Reality
Death Life
Emotional Reality
Stealing From
The Masters
Meta-messaging that hijacks
rational thought processes.
Messaging that hijacks
Marlboro’s meta-messaging.
Created by an ad agency.
Created by an ad agency.
Created by an ad agency.
Created by an ad agency.
Created by an ad agency.
Created by a bureaucracy.
META-MAXIM #5
When you’re up against
the manipulative
power of emotions,
manipulate back.
META-MAXIM #5
When you’re up against
the manipulative
power of emotions,
manipulate back.*
*WARNING: Do not try this at ho...
Fixing the Meta-Message
EXAMPLE
Consumer Disclosure (TSA)
Boarding Pass Kiosk — TSA Screen
“Redress Number”
“Redress Number”
“privacy impact assessment”
“Redress Number”
“privacy impact assessment”
“published system of records notice”
I sure hope I don’t
miss my plane!
. . . 49 U.S.C.
section 114 and 49
C.F.R. parts 1540
and 1560 . . .
I sure hope I don’t
miss my plane!
“TSA requires you”
“TSA requires you”
“under the authority of ”
“TSA requires you”
“under the authority of ”
“Not providing the information
will discontinue your check-in.”
The meta-messages.
We’re totally absorbed in our own reality.
The meta-messages.
We’re totally absorbed in our own reality.
We don’t care if you understand or not.
The meta-messages.
We’re totally absorbed in our own reality.
We don’t care if you understand or not.
You’re probably a terrorist anyway.
The...
The most important meta-message.
We hold the power here.
The most important meta-message.
Original Screen
Simplified Screen
Simplified Screen*
*Hypothetical
To help keep air travel safe, the federal government requires
that you tell us your full name, date of birth, and gender.
...
Asking for your help
To help keep air travel safe, the federal government requires
that you tell us your full name, date o...
Goal we all support (and citation is credible)
To help keep air travel safe, the federal government requires
that you tell...
Hey, it’s not our idea
To help keep air travel safe, the federal government requires
that you tell us your full name, date...
To help keep air travel safe, the federal government requires
that you tell us your full name, date of birth, and gender.
...
To help keep air travel safe, the federal government requires
that you tell us your full name, date of birth, and gender.
...
To help keep air travel safe, the federal government requires
that you tell us your full name, date of birth, and gender.
...
To help keep air travel safe, the federal government requires
that you tell us your full name, date of birth, and gender.
...
To help keep air travel safe, the federal government requires
that you tell us your full name, date of birth, and gender.
...
The new meta-messages.
We know you’re in a hurry so we’ll be brief.
The meta-messages.
We know you’re in a hurry so we’ll be brief.
Yes, you have to. But security benefits us all.
The meta-messages.
We know you’re in a hurry so we’ll be brief.
Yes, you have to. But security benefits us all.
. . . unless you’re a terrori...
The most important meta-message.
We recognize your concerns.
The most important meta-message.
META-MAXIM #6
Nobody EVER
likes to be reminded
that you have more power
than they do.
EXAMPLE
Icon-Style Highway Sign
MESSAGE: Picnic area with trees, turn right.
MESSAGE: Picnic area with trees, turn right.
META-MESSAGE: Now doesn’t that look lovely and fun!
OTHER META-MESSAGES:
Maybe you’d like a little break from driving.
OTHER META-MESSAGES:
Wholesome place to bring the family.
OTHER META-MESSAGES:
See, we haven’t completely wasted your tax dollars.
META-MESSAGES UNCLEAR:
Bent trees?
META-MESSAGES UNCLEAR:
High wind area?
META-MESSAGES UNCLEAR:
We don’t know how to draw a tree?
META-MESSAGES UNCLEAR:
Beware of falling trees — enjoy your picnic?
Positive/unambiguous meta-messages.
Negative/unclear meta-messages.
Actual sign
META-MAXIM #7
It’s very easy to miss the
flaws in your communications.
Unfortunately, you’ll be
the only one who does.
Live Discussion of Examples
EXAMPLE
Customer Promotion Letter
How special is this supposed to make me feel?
EXAMPLE
Coverage Update Letter from
Health Insurance Provider
“Quickest and easiest way” for whom?
(requires typing 43-character url)
EXAMPLE
Pharmacy Benefits Change Mailer
from Health Insurance Provider
Why are you trying to sell me
when you’ve already told me
you’re forcing me to buy?
META-MAXIM #8
Overdoing
the meta-message isn’t
as bad as underdoing it.
It’s worse.
Thank you!
Questions?
less stick
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications
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Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications

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Presented by Josiah Fisk on September 27, 2013 at the fourth annual Center for Health Literacy Conference: Plain Talk in Complex Times.

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Josiah Fisk - The message and the meta-message: How to assess and control the "body language" of your communications

  1. 1. The Message and the Meta-Message How to Assess and Control the “Body Language” of Your Communications Plain Talk in Complex Times, Arlington VA September 26, 2013 Josiah Fisk President, More Carrot LLC Boston
  2. 2. Sounds Great, But What Exactly Are We Talking About?
  3. 3. EXAMPLE Message with Conflicting Meta-Message from Actions
  4. 4. The Message
  5. 5. Please stay on the line.
  6. 6. Your call is very important to us.
  7. 7. Your call is very important to us.
  8. 8. Your call is very important to us.
  9. 9. Your call is very important to us.
  10. 10. Your call is very important to us.
  11. 11. Your call is very important to us.un
  12. 12. Your call
  13. 13. Your call Your questions
  14. 14. Your call Your questions Your problems
  15. 15. Your call Your questions Your problems Your time
  16. 16. Your call Your questions Your problems Your time You
  17. 17. Your call Your questions Your problems Your time You All totally unimportant to us.
  18. 18. Your call Your questions Your problems Your time You All totally unimportant to us. Now what was it you were calling about?
  19. 19. The Meta-Message Your call Your questions Your problems Your time You All totally unimportant to us. Now what was it you were calling about?
  20. 20. EXAMPLE Message with Conflicting Meta-Message from Environment
  21. 21. EXAMPLE Message with Strong Meta-Message Shift over Time
  22. 22. EXAMPLE Message with its Own Conflicting Meta-Message
  23. 23. Message and meta-message aligned.
  24. 24. Message and meta-message misaligned.
  25. 25. Meta-message turning message on its head.
  26. 26. Result: message not just neutralized, it backfires.
  27. 27. Actually worse than no message at all.
  28. 28. Actually worse than no message at all.
  29. 29. META-MAXIM #1 The meta-message is context’s commentary on the message.
  30. 30. META-MAXIM #2 The message is completely at the mercy of the meta-message.
  31. 31. META-MAXIM #3 A communication that has meta-message problems can be worse than no communication at all.
  32. 32. Message Sent vs. Message Received
  33. 33. EXAMPLE Self-Introduction with Desired Message Articulated
  34. 34. Hello. I am a nice guy. You will like me!
  35. 35. Who is this nutjob and how can I get rid of him? Hello. I am a nice guy. You will like me!
  36. 36. EXAMPLE Self-Introduction with Desired Message as a Reaction Goal
  37. 37. Hello. I really liked your presentation!
  38. 38. Hello. I really liked your presentation! Hey, he seems like a really nice guy!
  39. 39. META-MAXIM #4 To get the meta-message right, sometimes you have to change the message.
  40. 40. Learning From The Masters
  41. 41. Recognize this guy?
  42. 42. How about this guy?
  43. 43. The Marlboro Man
  44. 44. The Marlboro Man 1957
  45. 45. 1965
  46. 46. Brand name
  47. 47. Brand name Headline
  48. 48. Brand name Headline Feature list
  49. 49. Brand name Headline Feature list Product in use
  50. 50. Brand name Headline Feature list Product in use Packaging
  51. 51. Brand name Headline Feature list Product in use Packaging Body copy
  52. 52. Brand name Headline Feature list Product in use Packaging Body copy Brand imagery
  53. 53. Product in use
  54. 54. Headline (2-part, includes brand name) Product in use
  55. 55. Headline (2-part, includes brand name) Product in use Packaging
  56. 56. Headline (2-part, includes brand name) Product in use Packaging Body copy (shorter)
  57. 57. Headline (2-part, includes brand name) Product in use Packaging Body copy (shorter) Brand imagery (bigger, in color)
  58. 58. Brand imagery
  59. 59. Packaging (only mention of brand name) Brand imagery
  60. 60. Headline (shorter) Packaging (only mention of brand name) Brand imagery
  61. 61. Headline (shorter) Product in use Packaging (only mention of brand name) Brand imagery
  62. 62. Package and brand name barely visible
  63. 63. Brand name big, no headline; surgeon general’s warning added
  64. 64. Brand name tilted and partly obscured.
  65. 65. Image, brand name, product in use.
  66. 66. Image, brand name.
  67. 67. No headline, no features, no body copy.
  68. 68. No headline, no features, no body copy. No packaging, no product in use.
  69. 69. And yet no lack of communication.
  70. 70. Ankara
  71. 71. % of 2nd - 5th graders who recognize Marlboro brand: Ankara
  72. 72. % of 2nd - 5th graders who recognize Marlboro brand: 92% Ankara
  73. 73. % of 2nd - 5th graders who recognize Marlboro brand: 92% Ankara Source: Tobacco Control, 1998
  74. 74. Q: How well has this worked?
  75. 75. A: We’ll never know for sure.
  76. 76. ...but we can do some message analysis.
  77. 77. • Sterile
  78. 78. • Sterile • All text
  79. 79. • Sterile • All text • Logic-based
  80. 80. • Sterile • All text • Logic-based • Clunky
  81. 81. • Sterile • All text • Logic-based • Clunky • Human
  82. 82. • Sterile • All text • Logic-based • Clunky • Human • Visually rich
  83. 83. • Sterile • All text • Logic-based • Clunky • Human • Visually rich • Emotion-based
  84. 84. • Sterile • All text • Logic-based • Clunky • Human • Visually rich • Emotion-based • Alluring
  85. 85. Yeah whatever.
  86. 86. Factual Reality
  87. 87. Life Factual Reality
  88. 88. Factual Reality Life Death
  89. 89. Emotional Reality
  90. 90. Death Emotional Reality
  91. 91. Death Life Emotional Reality
  92. 92. Stealing From The Masters
  93. 93. Meta-messaging that hijacks rational thought processes.
  94. 94. Messaging that hijacks Marlboro’s meta-messaging.
  95. 95. Created by an ad agency.
  96. 96. Created by an ad agency. Created by an ad agency.
  97. 97. Created by an ad agency. Created by an ad agency. Created by a bureaucracy.
  98. 98. META-MAXIM #5 When you’re up against the manipulative power of emotions, manipulate back.
  99. 99. META-MAXIM #5 When you’re up against the manipulative power of emotions, manipulate back.* *WARNING: Do not try this at home.
  100. 100. Fixing the Meta-Message
  101. 101. EXAMPLE Consumer Disclosure (TSA)
  102. 102. Boarding Pass Kiosk — TSA Screen
  103. 103. “Redress Number”
  104. 104. “Redress Number” “privacy impact assessment”
  105. 105. “Redress Number” “privacy impact assessment” “published system of records notice”
  106. 106. I sure hope I don’t miss my plane!
  107. 107. . . . 49 U.S.C. section 114 and 49 C.F.R. parts 1540 and 1560 . . . I sure hope I don’t miss my plane!
  108. 108. “TSA requires you”
  109. 109. “TSA requires you” “under the authority of ”
  110. 110. “TSA requires you” “under the authority of ” “Not providing the information will discontinue your check-in.”
  111. 111. The meta-messages.
  112. 112. We’re totally absorbed in our own reality. The meta-messages.
  113. 113. We’re totally absorbed in our own reality. We don’t care if you understand or not. The meta-messages.
  114. 114. We’re totally absorbed in our own reality. We don’t care if you understand or not. You’re probably a terrorist anyway. The meta-messages.
  115. 115. The most important meta-message.
  116. 116. We hold the power here. The most important meta-message.
  117. 117. Original Screen
  118. 118. Simplified Screen
  119. 119. Simplified Screen* *Hypothetical
  120. 120. To help keep air travel safe, the federal government requires that you tell us your full name, date of birth, and gender. Questions? Go to tsa.gov. OK Cancel Check-In
  121. 121. Asking for your help To help keep air travel safe, the federal government requires that you tell us your full name, date of birth, and gender. Questions? Go to tsa.gov. OK Cancel Check-In
  122. 122. Goal we all support (and citation is credible) To help keep air travel safe, the federal government requires that you tell us your full name, date of birth, and gender. Questions? Go to tsa.gov. OK Cancel Check-In
  123. 123. Hey, it’s not our idea To help keep air travel safe, the federal government requires that you tell us your full name, date of birth, and gender. Questions? Go to tsa.gov. OK Cancel Check-In
  124. 124. To help keep air travel safe, the federal government requires that you tell us your full name, date of birth, and gender. Questions? Go to tsa.gov. OK Cancel Check-In No big deal
  125. 125. To help keep air travel safe, the federal government requires that you tell us your full name, date of birth, and gender. Questions? Go to tsa.gov. OK Cancel Check-In Same choices, non-threatening presentation
  126. 126. To help keep air travel safe, the federal government requires that you tell us your full name, date of birth, and gender. Questions? Go to tsa.gov. OK Cancel Check-In Helpful tone (vs. “if you don’t believe us” tone)
  127. 127. To help keep air travel safe, the federal government requires that you tell us your full name, date of birth, and gender. Questions? Go to tsa.gov. OK Cancel Check-In Design gives visual prominence to key elements, for speed
  128. 128. To help keep air travel safe, the federal government requires that you tell us your full name, date of birth, and gender. Questions? Go to tsa.gov. OK Cancel Check-In Design gives visual prominence to key elements, for speed
  129. 129. The new meta-messages.
  130. 130. We know you’re in a hurry so we’ll be brief. The meta-messages.
  131. 131. We know you’re in a hurry so we’ll be brief. Yes, you have to. But security benefits us all. The meta-messages.
  132. 132. We know you’re in a hurry so we’ll be brief. Yes, you have to. But security benefits us all. . . . unless you’re a terrorist, which we assume you’re not. The meta-messages.
  133. 133. The most important meta-message.
  134. 134. We recognize your concerns. The most important meta-message.
  135. 135. META-MAXIM #6 Nobody EVER likes to be reminded that you have more power than they do.
  136. 136. EXAMPLE Icon-Style Highway Sign
  137. 137. MESSAGE: Picnic area with trees, turn right.
  138. 138. MESSAGE: Picnic area with trees, turn right. META-MESSAGE: Now doesn’t that look lovely and fun!
  139. 139. OTHER META-MESSAGES: Maybe you’d like a little break from driving.
  140. 140. OTHER META-MESSAGES: Wholesome place to bring the family.
  141. 141. OTHER META-MESSAGES: See, we haven’t completely wasted your tax dollars.
  142. 142. META-MESSAGES UNCLEAR: Bent trees?
  143. 143. META-MESSAGES UNCLEAR: High wind area?
  144. 144. META-MESSAGES UNCLEAR: We don’t know how to draw a tree?
  145. 145. META-MESSAGES UNCLEAR: Beware of falling trees — enjoy your picnic?
  146. 146. Positive/unambiguous meta-messages.
  147. 147. Negative/unclear meta-messages.
  148. 148. Actual sign
  149. 149. META-MAXIM #7 It’s very easy to miss the flaws in your communications. Unfortunately, you’ll be the only one who does.
  150. 150. Live Discussion of Examples
  151. 151. EXAMPLE Customer Promotion Letter
  152. 152. How special is this supposed to make me feel?
  153. 153. EXAMPLE Coverage Update Letter from Health Insurance Provider
  154. 154. “Quickest and easiest way” for whom? (requires typing 43-character url)
  155. 155. EXAMPLE Pharmacy Benefits Change Mailer from Health Insurance Provider
  156. 156. Why are you trying to sell me when you’ve already told me you’re forcing me to buy?
  157. 157. META-MAXIM #8 Overdoing the meta-message isn’t as bad as underdoing it. It’s worse.
  158. 158. Thank you!
  159. 159. Questions?
  160. 160. less stick

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