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The Six Kinds of Messages

Don’t market yourself, market your message.

This is a theme I’ve been exploring over the past week.

If you’re reading this, then you may have already read my post about what a message is and why it’s so important to have one.

So, I thought it might be good to explore the different kinds of messages there are and some examples of each to really bring it home.

Last year, I was chatting with my friend Casey about her work as a nutritionist and the whole notion of message.

Tad: I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of having a ‘message’ in our businesses. What is your message you’re wanting to spread?

Casey: LOVE! Love your body, soul, people, food, things, pleasure, pain, earth… #DoEverythingInLove

Tad: and why do you think most people need to hear this message in particular?

Casey: From love comes contentment with the whole human experience, not to mention joy, optimal health, and a better world.

Tad: so you’re saying that only when we love everything will we feel content?

Casey: Having a loving appreciation for the way things are will allow people to become more content.

And that conversation is the beginning of where a message comes from. And notice that it’s got nothing to do with food. It’s got nothing to do with her modality or how she helps people and the tools she uses. Right now it’s got something to do with a loving and enjoyment of the material, earthy world. It’s a bit fuzzy but it could be honed down and connected to physical health and diet.

And, as you narrow it down, I think you’ll find you end up with one of six major types of messages (with likely overlap).

  1. Directional Messages – What You Should Do
  2. Messages of Possibility
  3. Messages of Reality
  4. Messages of Necessity
  5. New Idea Messages
  6. Reframing Messages

What follows are examples of all six.

1. Directional Messages – What You Should Do: “The best way to achieve ______ (goal) is _________ (approach).”

Sometimes messages are directional. They giving us a point of view on the best way to achieve a certain goal (e.g. being happier, making more money, better relationships etc.)

My colleague Rebecca Tracey of The Uncaged Life believes that “life is meant to be lived (not spent in a cubicle), that you have a choice about how you spend your days here on earth, and there’s no sense spending your days living by someone else’s rules.” If I had to sum up this message it might be ‘live by your own rules’. Simple. To the point. Clear.

Imagine that you’re a woodworker and hate Ikea and mass produced things. A message you might want to develop would be ‘buying quality that will last forever is the best investment you can make’ or, in brief, ‘buy quality’ or ‘craftsmanship matters.’

The message isn’t about making your case. It’s the case you’re trying to make. It’s the point you’re trying to get across. The message doesn’t need to say everything, but everything you say needs to relate back to your core message. Don’t market yourself, market your message.

Nike’s core message for a long time has been ‘just do it’.

There used to be a clothing brand called ‘No Fear’ that was all about extreme sports and going for what you want with no fear.

A client of mine, Monika Denes, said this: “My passion is finding the root of health problems and – yes, sounds airy fairy – helping people be happier, because that is the best way to be and stay healthy.” If I had to summarize, ‘if you want to be healthy, be happy’. That could be her refrain for her TED Talk that she could repeat again and again and again to drive her point home.

Apple’s message since it began has been some version ‘Think different’. Everything it’s done has reinforced that message from it’s original 1984 commercial to it’s ‘Think Different’ ads featuring cultural icons to its design.

Or Tony Robbins who used to sign off all of his programs with, ‘Live with passion!’

2. Messages of Possibility:

Another kind of message is the kind of message that says, ‘something else is possible’.

One of my favourites of these is from one of my dearest colleagues Mark Silver of Heart of Business. Right on his homepage it says, ‘Every act of business can be an act of love’. Wow. So clear. So provocative. It immediately has me think about all the different aspects of business and how each might become an act of love.

The Obama campaign of 2012 had the core message, ‘Yes we can.’ which came to symbolize so much of what the campaign was about.

Another client of mine wrote me this, “No matter how stuck or hopeless or helpless we feel, there is always a pathway to reclaim our power with mindfulness, love and simplicity. Always.” Which I might distill down to, ‘No matter how stuck you feel – there’s always a way.’ A powerful message. Especially if she could back it up with real life stories.

Years ago, I was in Thailand at Pun Pun, a sustainable living center where I met a fellow named Joe who had done a TED Talk where the core message was, ‘life is easy’.

The World Social Forum was created over a decade ago out of the realization that, for all of the anti-globalization protests that were happening, there weren’t enough solutions and vision being presented. So they put out the call for progressive and radical thinkers to attend. They expected 400 people but got 14,000 the first year. The next year, the year I went, they expected 20,000 and got 60,000. They had a very simple message. The message was a response to Margaret Thatcher’s message that ‘There Is No Alternative’ (a message she successfully repeated and built her case for). There message was ‘Another World is Possible.’ I remember being at one of the events at the forum where people were singing the theme song of the conference. That’s one way to know you’ve got a solid message – you could write a catchy song about it.

One of my colleagues Julia Kious Zabell sums up her message as ‘do awesome by doing good’. The idea that you can make a living by doing the right thing.

It’s a similar message that my friends Billy Parish and Dev Aujla have shared in their new book Making Good.

In fact, speaking of books, think of any best selling book you can think of – fiction or non-fiction – wasn’t there a core message to it? Wasn’t there a point it was trying to make?

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People was making the point that to succeed we need to go back to a ‘principle centered approach’ vs. what he deemed the ‘personality ethic’ of tools and techniques we use on people.

Geoff Lawton created a simple five minute video that has done more to grow the permaculture movement than just about anything I can think of. If you ask a crowd of permaculturists how they got into permaculture, a large chunk of them will you tell you it was from this video. The power of the video is that it told a simple story, but it also had a simple message, ‘You can solve all the world’s problems in a garden.’

A client of mine, Russell Scott teaches meditation retreats with the twist that most of it is dyad work. Meaning you do the meditation in pairs. You sit together and your partner asks you a question which you answer. Then they ask you the same question. And the same again. And again. And again. With each answer you go deeper. His take is that doing meditation with another is actually more powerful. His message? ‘You have to do it by yourself, but you don’t have to do it alone.’

3. Messages of Reality:

Sometimes, the message is about how things really are. They are clarifying messages – mini-maps that help direct people from confusion to clarity. Sometimes we suffer because we don’t really see the world for how it is, and someone who can tell it like it is and reset our expectations about the possibilities and limitations of certain approaches will always engender trust.

Billy Blanks who created the cardio and martial arts hydrid of Tae Bo would repeat again and again the message that, ‘it’s hard. it’s going to take effort’. His honesty about this built a lot of trust.

Gandhi’s oft quoted words, ‘Your life is your message.’ is in fact a message inviting people to pause and look back into their lives and the message it might be sending.

Simon Sinek’s brilliant book Start With Why had the simple message, that he repeated over and over in his popular TED Talk, ‘People don’t just buy what you do, they buy why you do it.’ I’ve written a number of blog posts exploring this.

Byron Katie wrote her book Loving What Is around the core message that, suffering comes from our unquestioned thinking.

A core thesis of Derrick Jensen’s work is that, at its heart, civilization is violent. Not humanity, but the system of civilization we live in. And he makes his case compellingly.

Michael Shuman is his book The Small Mart Revolution makes the case that the strongest ways to strengthen our local economies is not bring in big box stores but to ‘shop local first.’ A simple, three word message.

One of my favourite, and certainly the most provocative, mini TED Talks I’ve ever seen was called, ‘Make Love, Not Porn’. The message had to do with the notion that most men have grown up watching porn and think that that’s what all sex should be like. Her point? Some women like that. Some women don’t. Don’t assume. Make love, not porn. Simple. Extremely provocative. To the point.

Rick Tamlyn’s core message: “It’s All Made Up” (that’s his company’s name).

I’ve known people who’s core message could be summed up in the words, “We are happier and healthier when we spend regular, unstructured time in nature”.

David Deida’s has built his relationship work on the simple idea that the sexual zing in relationships comes the strength of the polarity of masculine and feminine in that relationship. I’m  honestly not sure how to sum that up. ‘Polarized relationships are hotter’?

Much of the field of anti oppression is based on the simple idea that privilege in society tends to run along lines of race, class and gender (and other things) and that these privileges are often invisible to the people who have them. If it had a message it might sound something like, ‘Question your privileges.’

I’ve heard many new age teachers speak about the message, ‘What you resist persists.’ A simple idea.

A colleague of mine Sue Anne Willis who does work with body movement in a therapeutic and empowering way came up with this: “HOW you move… changes…HOW YOU FEEL….and that …….CHANGES EVERYTHING….”


4. Messages of Necessity: “We need to . . .”

Another kind of message is more of a call to arms for people. It’s not just a message of what’s possible, or what’s real but what’s required of us to get what we want.

One of my clients wrote me about her belief that, ‘Business needs to evolve to create a brighter future.’ Simple.

Rob Ford who is, somehow, still the Mayor of Toronto, had a single message he repeated again and again. That Toronto needed to “Stop the gravy train.” A simple message.

A project I founded in 1999 called the Jams is based on the idea that, not only do we need to make change in the world but that we actively need to ‘change the way we do change’.

Some spiritual teachers might tell you that if you truly want inner peace you must develop a regular spiritual practice. That’s a message.

5. New Idea Messages:

Some messages are based on ideas that people may never have considered before.

Nicole Daedone, the founder of One Taste, had the belief that female orgasm will change the world. I won’t even say anymore but leave you to explore that on your own.

My colleague Alex Baisley of Big Dream Program has the more message to ‘start with lifestyle.’ A simple idea. Instead of thinking, ‘one day, I’ll make enough money that I can retire and have the lifestyle I want.’ you can actually start with weaving the lifestyle you ultimately want into your life now and, hey! It might even save you money and make you money.

I once met a relationship coaching who came from a polyamory point of view and her message was that, in order for a couple to move forward in their relationship after infidelity they had to ‘get rid of the words “cheating” and “affair!”’ and come to see other relationships outside of their own in a different way.

6. Reframing Messages:

Some messages are about taking aspects of our life that we might have framed as weaknesses or ‘bad’ and framing them as strengths and assets. Or something we thought was bad is actually good, or something we always thought was good is bad, something we thought was ugly is actually beautiful.

Nicole Moen does a lot of work with people around the theme of Pilgrimage. She often asks people if they’ve ever had the experience of looking at the front door of their home and having the urge to just walk out. Leave. Not come back. Even though they have no idea where they’re going. Many people feel incredibly guilty about this experience. How could they want to leave their loved ones and job responsibilities! Terrible! But Nicole invites them to see that urge not as something pulling them away from their own lives but deeper into a more true and authentic life – something that’s vital to pay attention to. If I had to sum the message up as ‘the call to walk out is a call to go in’.

The book The Highly Sensitive Person was written for people who have spent their entire lives feeling ashamed of how sensitive they are. Her book could be summed up in the phrase: ‘sensitivity is a strength.

A message that has been incredibly meaningful to myself and to many of my clients came to me from Jeffrey Van Dyk. It was the notion that our truest niche is often a younger version of us. His particular wording? ‘You deepest wounds might be a doorway into your truest niche.’ People walk through their lives with these emotional wounds and struggles unsure what to do with them, and here Jeffrey is saying, ‘not only is this not a bad thing, it could be the doorway into your truest work in the world.’

Don’t market yourself, market your message.

So, what’s your message? Leave it below! I’d love to see what you’ve got.

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