Every time I meet with a leader who is looking for my help convincing other people to participate in their event, program, activity, or ministry, I reiterate a few basic principles of marketing communication that I call The Three R’s. They are especially helpful for self-declared “non-marketers.”
If you’re not a marketing-type, but have something you need to communicate succinctly, your message needs to have three characteristics: Resonance, Relevance, and Recourse.
Okay, so they aren’t the most memorable words… but read on. You’ll get it by the end.
Resonance: clarity, depth, fullness; evoking or suggesting images, memories, and emotions.
Resonance gets misused a lot in our post-modern, individualistic culture. We use the phrase “this really resonates with me” to indicate that a message has meaning to us in particular. This is a misuse of the word.
But when something resonates, it means that it’s clear to everyone. Think of a fog horn, a or a church bell: those are deep, full sounds that carry. They may evoke images, memories, or emotions, but their overriding characteristic is clarity: we hear it loud and clear. It cuts through the other noise.
So how do we get our messages to resonate? Start with your elevator pitch. Write that short, to-the-point, plain-language description of the thing you want to tell people about. How short? One sentence, or two at most.
Relevance: connectedness to the matter at hand; appropriate to the current situation.
I’ll admit it: the word relevant is overused. I hear “that’s not relevant” all too often, mainly as an excuse to not engage with an idea. Most of the time a person declares something irrelevant when they mean it’s not relevant to them.
A better way of expressing relevance is like this: your target audience hears themselves identified loud and clear in your message. It doesn’t mean your target audience is the only audience for your message; it just means that all the words you’ve chosen have your target audience in mind. Meaningful starts with the message, not the listener.
A great example of this is how we recruit people to be Stephen Ministers. Stephen Ministers are volunteers who undergo extensive training to be able to counsel people who are in a difficult time in life, offering emotional support and help. It’s beautifully simple, but it’s also all too easy for people to think “that’s not me; I’m not gifted that way.” So we start with a message like this:
“Anyone out there on social media? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter? Ever notice how everyone’s life looks amazing on social media?
“The truth is that for most of us, real life isn’t like that. In fact, for some of us, it’s nothing like that. Some of us are really hurting. Could be divorce, unemployment… just a rough stretch of time when you need someone to walk with you through this hard time. That’s what Stephen Ministers do. They’re folks who have the empathy to simply be there for those among us who need help getting through a hard stretch.
“Now you might be in need of a Stephen Minister, but we know there are some out there who are hearing this message and thinking, maybe I could be a Stephen Minister…”
Catching peoples’ attention by starting with the nearly-universal phenomenon of being on social media helps us make the message more relevant to everyone.
The word Recourse gets a bad rap; it sounds like legal trouble. But the primary definition of recourse is “a source of help in a difficult situation.” If there’s a better way to describe the way churches should think of how they embed a CTA (call to action) in their communication, I’ve never heard it.
If you’ve clearly expressed your big idea, and made it relevant to your target audience, you’ve done two things: arm them with the information and the motivation to make a decision. The best thing you can do at that point is offer them some help in the form of a clear, simple change in their course of action (recourse… get it?).
Give them clear next steps, and make them as simple as possible. Be the person hearing the message, and think to yourself, what am I going to do now, based on what they just told me?
I edit copy all the time that leaves out 1 or more of these things (most often the CTA, but all of them at some point in time). Each one is universally helpful. If you get in the habit of treating the 3 R’s like a checklist, you’ll find that writing promo copy isn’t that hard after all.