One simple thing to supercharge your union’s comms

Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away

Attributed to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The secret to strong messaging for unions is to just say one thing. Just one.

Unfortunately, in our over-communicated modern societies, you don’t get to say five or ten things. You don’t even get to say three. If you try to communicate three things you are saying nothing.

Big business has known this for years. And increasingly, progressive organisations and campaigns are learning.

Save the children is “save kids’ lives”. Woolworths are the “fresh food people”. Bunnings has “lowest prices guaranteed”. Obama took America “Forward“. Amnesty International is “human rights”.

The key thing to realise is that your members, supporters and potential members don’t really care what you want to be. They perceive you how they want.

They don’t do this to be difficult, but because modern people are bombarded with communications and advertisements. The average person sees between 5,000 to 10,000 marketing messages each day.

The consequence is that most people have a “screening process” and ignore advertising messages, unless it’s something that they have a personal interest in.

Without spending a great deal of time thinking about a union campaign or the union itself, most people are impressionistic. We all use mental short-cuts to make sense of the world.

It’s very tempting to try to cover every base of why someone might want to join your union or sign up to your campaign, but you can’t be all things to all people.

Consequently, those long lists of “10 reasons to join your union” are more likely to end up as a hazy list of no reason to join!

Without focus and simplicity, your message risks becoming fuzzy, indistinct and lost in the white-noise of modern life.

Effective communications is the “art of sacrifice”. It’s about cutting away the less important elements of what you stand for, what you’re trying to achieve or to convey. It’s the opposite of “all things to all people”.

While this may seem easy to implement, it takes hard work to uncover the one thing you should say.

This is especially the case if you’re looking at communicating why non-members should join your union. What is the one reason, the one core message that you want to imprint on your audience’s mind?

Of course, unions do many things and are multi-faceted organisations. Most unions have many different kinds of members and different kinds of supporters. Some will be spread over industries, states, generations, ethnicities and languages.

But the law of focus and sacrifice applies to successful, focused and effective campaigns, whether for unions, non-profits and companies.

Obama was building a broad based alliance to get to 270 electoral college votes, yet he still repeated the slogan ‘Forward” at every stump speech in every state.

The “Forward” position allowed him to speak in a powerful, focused way using targeted secondary language. “Forward on women’s rights”. “Forward on immigration”. “Forward on health care”. And so on.

Similarly, Woolworths has supermarkets in every geography in Australia, including wealthy areas, disadvantaged areas, they own the New Zealand supermarket chain Countdown (with similar Woolies branding), and they sell magazines, stationary and other goods that aren’t food. Yet their core message remains “fresh food people”.

Simple, focused communications allows you to link multiple issues together so that anyone who only hears or sees snippets of a message (an ad, a speech, a news report) can still identify the core message.

So, how can unions use focus to deliver strong, powerful messages?

Relentlessly repeat your core message

Your core message needs to be consistently and constantly repeated if you want it to be remembered.

Make sure that your message is repeated in everything that is being said and shared with your members or potential members.

When creating content of any kind (a media release, social media post, email to members), go through it with a fine-toothed comb. If anything does not support your intended message, cut it.

This will help to make sure that the key message remain in focus, and that your audience can easily absorb it. Repetition will help to keep their focus on the content and its message, rather than distract them with unnecessary information.

Repetition doesn’t mean simply saying the same thing exactly the same way over and over again. It means repeating the same key message in creative, distinct ways across different channels.

Repetition also means keeping your key message consistent across time. If you change your key message every month or two, then you’re undermining the effectiveness of your message.

By consistently repeating your core message throughout all of your content, you are ensuring that it is effectively communicated every single time. Your audience will become more familiar with what you stand for and what you believe in, and they will start to remember and recognise your union and what it stands for.

Ruthless simplicity

Simple is better.

In an age of digital overload and attention-deficits, it can be easy to get caught up in the complexity of trying to get your message across.

Ruthless simplicity is the key to effective communication.

When crafting communications material, aim for brevity and clarity. Don’t try to cram too much into the message; instead, be intentional about what you say and make sure each word serves a purpose.

Simplicity is not about dumbing it down, but rather using fewer words to create maximum meaning.

Focus on getting the point across succinctly and effectively, while also making sure that it’s relevant to your audience. This means really understanding who they are and what they care about, so that your message resonates with them emotionally.

(This is why research is so important — it is vital to clearly define who your audience is. Contact the ACTU Insights Team for assistance:

Ruthless simplicity is an invaluable discipline when it comes to cutting through the noise and increasing engagement with your members and potential members. By using clear and concise language, you can easily create communications materials that are both impactful and meaningful.