Last year, I sat through many meetings listening to voices of dissent at the very mention of the idea. Most people want to stand up on a singular specific statement and ride it for as long as it will carry them (or try to operate with no message at all). In most cases, it can be the biggest mistake that can be made or just as big of a mistake as not having any message.
Don't misunderstand me. I've been a proponent of well-defined messages for some time. Within the confines of a single advertisement or blog post or television spot, one point sticks better than 20, especially if everyone talking about you has a different or conflicting story.
The average person consumes an entire novel worth of content every day. So we can't expect people to remember every detail. In fact, the more details they are exposed to, the more likely they are going to remember the least preferred message. And if there are any contradictions, they will be remembered.
Messages that are too rigid don't hold up either. In communication and especially politics, singular messages make people look scripted, inflexible, and disingenuous. The same holds true for companies. There were dozens of companies that said the same thing over and over last year, and the only message that stuck was they weren't to be trusted or, worse, they were complete idiots.
The Art Of Temporal Communication.
Temporal communication could be defined as the art of crafting ever-present value-based messages that are reinforced by clusters of as-needed supporting messages, which allow for flexible communication in a variety of circumstances and demonstrate a contrast between them and their competitors.
Or, in using the illustration above, (a.) an overarching, ever-present value-based message with temporary circumstance-specific (b.) messages and actions that reinforce (a.). Some companies already do it. And they do it well.
• Apple is an example, with innovation being its overarching message. Everything — its products, services, storefronts, customer service, delivery systems — reinforces innovation. You don't have to be an Apple fan to agree that it often leads the charge toward innovation.
• Zappos is an example, with personalized customer care being its overarching message. Everything — product choices, shopping cart, customer service, delivery policies — reinforces customer care. Even if you have never ordered a single product from Zappos, you might have heard about a mountain of great experiences.
• Dreamworks is an example, with free-spirited creativity being its overarching message. Everything — its movies, creative process, employee perks (like on-campus art classes) — reinforces free-spirited creativity. Even if some movies are better than others, the brand Dreamworks conjures up fun.
None of these messages limit employee communication nor do they require memorized definitions. On the contrary, it empowers communication by delivering the overarching message wherever and whenever possible to customers and non-customers alike, and in as many ways as possible. These companies do it so well, their messages are the primary contrast point between them and everybody else.
The Oversimplified Example Of Temporal Communication.
When people decide to go on a diet, they often tell people they are on a diet or dieting. The statement conveys a very narrow message. The message might even be accurate, but it isn't really a good one.
Besides reinforcing a negative stereotype (being overweight) and concentrating on scarcity (giving something up), dieting places the dieter in one compromising position after another.
If someone bakes homemade cookies, the dieter is forced to break their diet or reinforce that they are too overweight to make an excpetion. If someone doesn't gradually lose weight, they see it as a failure (and sometimes other people). If they do start to gradually lose weight, it's not uncommon for other people to derail them by telling them that they no longer need to diet.
What if they had a different message? What if they decided to be health conscious or fitness focused instead? What if that was their overarching core message instead of being on a diet?
A health conscious or fitness-focused person can more freely adapt to a rapidly changing environment. They can eat one cookie. No one is going to argue for them to stop. They aren't going to over do it. And it doesn't even matter what their temporary weight might be. As long as they are doing, they are succeeding.
It also opens up new messages that reinforce the primary message. For example, if someone says they are on a diet, only not eating proves it. If someone says they are health conscious, any number of actions or messages can reinforce that message: hygiene, exercise, food choices, etc.
Did you see so-and-so today? They ran a mile. Did you see so-and-so today? They ate an apple. Did you see so-and-so today? They're looking great! Well, of course. They're always health conscious.