How to Craft an Attention-Grabbing Message

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Kare Anderson for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.

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You can feel the tension in the compressed smiles, quick nods and pointed questions at the annual Morgan Stanley Global Healthcare conference. Schedules are packed as the high-stakes finance crowd gathers to hear 20-minute rapid-fire talks by CEOs of start-ups and public companies who seek funding or favorable stock analysts’ reports. Presenters speak fast, using complex medical and financial terms.

In contrast, my client, the CEO of a new biotech company walks on stage, rolls up his shirt sleeve, and stops at the center of the stage. As he turns to the audience, he pauses briefly to smile. He raises his bare forearm, pointing at a patch. “When patients put on our medical patch they will feel the pain-relieving effects faster than the latest Porsche can go from zero to 90.”

By linking the speed of the medication’s effect to a Porsche’s acceleration, he evoked the “Compared to what?” conversational cue. We are wired to draw connections between things, even where there aren’t any. This makes the world seem more understandable, familiar, even safe. If your “Compared to what?” connection grabs people’s attention, you have set the context in which people will view it and decide upon it, just as a general chooses terrain favorable to winning a battle.
Here [is one of several] examples of different ways to craft such a message:

Use a familiar slogan in a fresh way: After a company has spent millions to make a slogan familiar, skew it in a new direction for your intended meaning. Piggybacking on the famous “Got milk?” slogan, the Redwood Hospital in Northern California launched a billboard campaign to seek blood donations with this appeal: “Got blood?” My friend, Paul Geffner, once owned a chicken take-out joint in San Francisco called Poultry in Motion.

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Now, more than ever, your capacity to create indelible messages is vital. More than money, smarts, social standing, or attractiveness, in this increasingly complex yet connected world, being most frequently quoted can keep you or your brand top-of-mind. Whoever most vividly characterizes a situation determines how others see it, talk about it, and act on it.

When asked how he managed to write such gripping horror novels, Stephen King once responded, “I cut out the boring stuff,” and so can you. As a journalist, I slogged through more interviews than I care to recall, in which smart newsmakers would often drown in their own generalizations and jargon, despite being desperate to make a point across. Don’t make that mistake. The stories that grab us are those with the most vividly apt illustrations. Interestingness, like a cork, always bobs up to the top of our attention.

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To read the complete article, please click here.

Kare Anderson is a co-founder of the Say it Better Center and author of Getting What You Want and Resolving Conflict Sooner. Previously, she was an Emmy-winning journalist for NBC and for the Wall Street Journal. Follow Kare on Twitter @kareanderson.

To read more blog posts by Kare Anderson, please click here.

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