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Poor Brand Communication Speaks Volumes

Let me lay a little communication theory on you.  

When I was in graduate school studying Communication, one of the issues we hotly debated was where the real meaning of communication lay.

That is, did the meaning of a message come from the receiver or from the sender?

We spent an entire class discussing just that issue, only to learn it's a raging debate that many communications professionals have waged for decades. And while they haven't completely answered the question — we certainly weren't going to solve it in a single afternoon — most communication pros agree that communication is receiver based.

Translation: It doesn't matter what you meant to say, only what the other person heard. It's the impact, not the intent, that matters. That means if you're in a discussion with someone, the meaning they take away from your communication is the "real" meaning.

This proved to be a frustrating class discussion, because it meant that no matter how hard we tried to be clear, if the other person didn't understand our message, it meant we had to try a different tactic. They weren't stupid, it's that they didn't get what we were trying to say.

What Does This Mean for Business Branding?

For marketers trying to brand their business, that means your company and your products are no longer what you say they are, they're what your customers say they are.

It means that just because you say your products are the best in the industry doesn't mean your customers see them that way. Just because you think you "leverage cutting-edge best-of-breed practices" doesn't mean your customers don't see you as fogey old dinosaurs who just plugged in their first fax machine.

In some cases, it's because your customers are telling each other what your products are like. In others, it's because the quality of the product doesn't match the marketing hype. And in some cases, your marketing message is being sabotaged by poor product quality and bad customer service.

Ultimately, it means you should pay attention to what your customers are saying, rather than telling them what you want them to hear. It means paying attention to social media channels like Twitter and Facebook, and using social media monitoring tools to monitor customers' sentiments. It means answering more of their questions with blog posts, and respond to their complaints on social media.

Bottom line, your brand communication is no longer about what you mean, it's about what your customers perceive. If they believe your actions don't match your words, they'll believe your actions. If you say you're committed to quality, but can't honor their warranty, they'll remember the negative actions, not the positive sentiments.

If the ultimate meaning of a communication message lies with the receiver, then you'd be smart to ask the receiver what they're hearing. There's a good chance it's not anything close to what you meant to say, which means you have to try harder to help them understand.

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Element Three is a modern marketing agency for discernable brands. We build trusting, long-term relationships with clients whose destination is market leadership, fusing traditional, digital and inbound tactics to tell bold stories audiences can’t resist. We don’t rely on single tactics, stay loyal to any one medium, or favor one discipline over another. Instead, we go beyond the tried to find the truth about your customers. Using research and participation to deliver seamless brand experiences.