0: The Importance of Importance

MegaphoneClients often help me know what to emphasize in their advertising pieces. The best-intentioned even type everything in Word®, marking their intent with bold, bold and italic, bold and italic and underline, bold and italic and underline and ALL CAPS, and sometimes even bold and italic and underline and ALL CAPS and RED.

It’s a hierarchy of emphasis, but it seems sometimes that half of everything is emphasized in one way or another.

In my seminars, I hold up an example of a brochure whose cover holds over 12 headlines, all bolded, capitalized, colorized, and italicized—and ask the audience to pick out which line is the important one.

They can’t.

And so, in emphasizing everything, nothing is emphasized.

When you sit in a cafeteria or stadium or sanctuary alone with a friend, you can converse as in a library. As others trickle into the space with their coffee shop volume, both you and they gradually raise the decibel level for clarity of hearing. By the time the chairs are full, you are conversing like those annoying cell phone yellers on an airport bus. In a stadium or on a concert floor, you may have to yell to the person sharing your armrest—and may not be heard even then.

What you’ve done is raise the volume—the boldness—of your expression. But you haven’t changed the proportion of your impact to the sound environment. You can keep going louder, I guess, until your shrill squawks from a megaphone; but the easiest solution is to find a quiet place.

So it is with advertising. All you have to do is quiet everything but the big thing, and the big thing will hang out there like orange on St. Patrick’s Day.

The hard part is sifting your message down to the biggest one or three ideas. If those don’t capture the buyer on what you’re selling, chances are that all the other information won’t either. When shopping for a car or home or cell phone, buyers want more than two or three amenities; but if what you’re selling doesn’t have the first tier of needs or wants, they’ll be onto the product that does. If you try to hold them for the minors, you’ve damaged your credibility and likelihood of success.

So, don’t spend the few seconds of attention-grabbing you have in American Culture on information that won’t matter until after the decision-deciding headlines. Bold only the big stuff, drawing down the level of impact in reading progression. Free up the space for more visual impact with photography. Move the rest to the inside of the brochure or with “more details online.”

Do this, and you will have quieted the moment for your message. Your message will stand out from the used car dealers and factory closeout furniture barkers—and your vociferous competitors. Your approach will appear corporate, refined—no less than professional. You will have the ear of your prospect, or at least their eyes.

I struggle to choose and maintain the headlines of my life, to sift out the biggest, most-important themes. I’ve got a Covey quadrant on my desk, dividing my intended tasks into important and not, urgent and whenever. But sometimes the line between constructive and intrinsic blurs. Often the slayer of Best is Good or Better.

As a follower of Christ, it’s even more difficult. The incentive and results are mostly abstract, fighting an unfair battle against the tangible and present. But when I quiet the storm of to do lists and media—when I sit in intentional silence—I can meditate, contemplate, re-center my day and life on what I’ve chosen as my headline.

God asks in the Bible to “be still and know that I am God.” Not because family is unimportant, not because vocation is unnecessary, not because culture is irrelevant . . . but because he speaks “in a still, small voice.” He could make his voice the loudest sound I’ve ever heard. But he chooses to draw near to those who demonstrate their desire to listen by allowing his whispers to resonate into absorption and obedience.

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