A big chunk of my day job —thankfully the one that I really enjoy— is developing the skills of junior planners in the agency. It is not just a job for me. I don’t see any reasons why Indonesia can’t have the industry’s world-class talents, and I want to help to make it happen.
Since last week, I have been having daily one-to-one mentoring sessions with a brand new planner. This person has worked in different agencies before, but not as a planner.
I plan to rewrite the material we discuss in each session as a blog post here. I reckon it should be useful for other rookie planners out there; or their bosses who need inspirations on how to train their neophytes; or anyone who’s interested to learn more about strategic planning for marketing communication. Who knows one day I can turn it into a textbook for planning?
So let’s kick off with the note from the first session.
I wish someone had taught me this simple yet fundamental lesson about communication when I started my career.
You can work in whichever discipline of marketing communication (PR, activation, direct marketing, digital, or advertising), and yet this fundamental principle remains the same: communication is about stimulus and response.
Response is what the audience grasps, understands, or remembers.
Stimulus is the way we can elicit the response in the audience’s mind.
Response and stimulus must correspond to each other, but they should not be a mirror image of each other.
Communication is about stimulus-response
I’ll give you an example. Let’s say that I have to meet a bunch of new acquaintances. For whatever reasons, I want these people to get the impression that I’m funny. This means, “Mita is funny” is the desired response.
To trigger this intended response, I can do several things. I can tell a joke, doing a funny dance, or wearing hilarious clothes. The joke, the funny dance, and the hilarious clothes are the stimuli. However, there’s one thing that I should not do: telling them directly that I’m funny. This is what I mean by stimulus should not be the echo of the response.
An example: how to convince new acquaintances that I'm funny?
Another ingenious example that we probably see only in Indonesia is female celebrities who normally don’t wear hijab put that attire on whenever they need to appear in courts.
Why do female celebrities in Indonesia wear hijab if they have to appear in courts, while normally they don't?
Why can’t we simply echo the response in the stimulus? Will it not make the communication more direct and easier to understand? Don’t we see many TV commercials telling the audience directly that “Brand X tastes good” or that “Brand Y makes you beautiful”?
Just because you see many people do it, doesn’t mean the action is right. If we insist on mirroring the stimulus and response, this is what can happen:
- The audience will be more likely to find the communication not credible
- The communication will fail to attract the audience’s attention. If they don’t pay attention, they won’t remember it.
- The communication will fail to engage the audience emotionally. If they are not emotionally engaged, they are more likely to forget about it. See the study here.
Determining the desired response lies at the heart of communication strategy. If we plan to communicate about anything for whatever purposes, the starting point should always be “What do we want the audience to remember?” not “What do we want to say?”
We should start with “What do we want the audience to remember?” because it forces us to be mindful that
- The audience’s attention span is limited, so be as concise as possible
- The audience is also exposed to other things, so be noticeable
- The audience’s attention is directed to whatever they think will satisfy their needs or solve their problems, so be relevant.
This is what I called as audience-centric planning, and this is a deliberate act of respecting the audience. It’s not about what we have to tell them, it’s about what they want to pay attention to and remember.
To sum up:
- Communication is about stimulus and response
- Don’t echo the response into the stimulus
- It’s always about “What do we want the audience to remember?”, never “What do we want to say?”
At this point, I hope you have come to understand the importance of starting with desired response in communication planning. I’ll be very happy if by now you have some questions, like “What should I do to determine the right desired response?”, or “How can we come up with the stimulus (or stimuli) once we get the response?”, or “How will I know this is the best stimulus for this particular desired response?” I will answer each of them in separate posts. The next material will discuss the way to determine the right desired response.