In February of 2015, this picture caused a viral sensation that broke the internet and was even commented on by then-President Obama. The original webpage of this picture got 32.8 million unique visitors in just a few days. The source of the viral response was the controversial question, “What color is this dress?” Some people see black and blue, others see white and gold.
A picture is worth a thousand words but what does it say? In this case, they were just trying to communicate the color of the dress and millions of people disagreed with millions of others. Imagine the credibility problem you have as you tell the audience that the dress is a beautiful blue and black but millions see white and gold. That trust relationship you spent years building is gone in a millisecond because you are clearly lying to them. This happens all the time in marketing because we think an image has one message but the audience sees a different one.
Conceptually, words are an ordered collection of symbols (letters) used to transmit meaning to a reader. The challenge here is that what you said is NOT what the other person heard. Words are simpler than communicating with pictures but are still hugely challenging. Thinking only of US English, each word, on average, has two definitions while some have over 400. Like colors, different people will get different meanings from the same words. Words are read on the page and interpreted with the voice in the reader’s head and it may be nothing like the voice you have in yours.
Conceptually, pictures and words are the same thing. They are symbols used to communicate meaning to the reader. Meaning comes from their life experiences and everyone has different life experiences. When developing communication for an audience, you have to consider the variables in their life experiences to get anywhere near understanding how they will create meaning from your words. This is easier to see when the life experiences and perspectives are very different. One person’s patriot is another person’s terrorist
Accept that your communication is imperfect and that not everyone is receiving the same message. Have a diverse team that represents as much of your market audience as possible. Then listen carefully to what they say and adapt your message to your audience. I cannot over-stress the need for diversity in your communication review team. Every major segment of your audience should be represented in that team
Click on the color you see and next month we will share how much of the audience agreed with you and what the real color is.