Framing your message—putting it in a particular context that shows you understand and are sensitive to a given subject—is important if you want to engage your audience.
This is even more vital when communicating about political or social issues (as opposed to marketing products or brands).
Here are five tips for framing communications successfully:
1. Understand the values of your audience.
Everybody has standards of behavior and an idea of what is important in life. Framing communications taps into these values
Unsure of your audience’s fundamental values? Why not go ahead and ask? In this age of social media and the sharing economy, many successful brand managers do just that.
2. Use frames to appeal to readers’ values.
Framing a painting focuses attention on the artwork it surrounds. By framing a campaign, you can promote values that can motivate engagement.
“A frame isn't simply a slogan repeated over and over again,” says Frameworks Institute
. “When new facts are submitted that do not resonate with the [values] we hold, it is the facts that are rejected
, not the frames.”
3. Stimulate readers’ intrinsic values.
Everyone holds both intrinsic and extrinsic values. However, studies show
intrinsic values are more prominent across diverse backgrounds because they are gratifying to pursue. This is why research, led by Common Cause
, argues that promoting intrinsic values results in communications that are not only ethical but also more effective.
4. Framing similar values gets results.
Communications should be consistent in their messaging. Framing your message with conflicting values will disengage audiences. So, communicate a coherent set of values.
For instance, food is not only a source of nourishment. It can also convey social values
, be a form of expression
, and help build community
. However, by reinforcing mixed values such as creativity and family security, a campaign may confuse audiences.
5. Embrace the challenge.
It is more difficult to pitch a product to consumers who do not want it. This is why many campaigns opt for the “easy sell” approach, often using financial and material incentives. These encourage extrinsic values, which in the long term can hamper sustainable behavior.
[RELATED: Get advanced writing and editing tips from Mark Ragan and Jim Ylisela!]
Sustainability communications should be consistent, transparent, and ethical
. Don’t shy away from offering a more honest picture in your communications. Promoting the wider issues rather than products can motivate change more than you might think.
Richard Delahay is a communications assistant at Sustainability Consult (@SustConsult ). A version of this story originally appeared on the company's blog.