Sifting and sieving
The word garbled comes from old Italian and/or Arabic words that mean sifted or sieved. Based on its etymology a garbled message is one that has had some of its intended meaning sifted out.
On that basis every message is garbled. Garbling is inevitable. The recipient of any message, across any medium, will sift meaning from it based on the level of attention they are paying and the lenses through which they view the world. A message that leaves you in high resolution lands at lower resolution with your audience. You can’t make your message garble-proof.
Every message is garbled and managing infidelity
Once you accept that every message is garbled, you also accept that brand strategy is an exercise in managing infidelity. You define your brand in high resolution. Your audience perceives your brand at much lower resolution. Your messages are inevitably garbled and your brand loses fidelity between you and your audience.
However, you can take steps to make your messaging garble-resistant. Some of these steps relate to message content – i.e strategy. Others relate to message delivery – i.e. craft.
A strategic approach to garble resistance is to do the sifting yourself rather than outsourcing the job to your audience. Strategy is, after all, a process of elimination. It’s an advertising cliché that single minded propositions make for more effective ads. People will likely remember one thing if you only say one thing. Whereas they are overwhelmed, underwhelmed, or both, by multiple messages transmitted at once. A simple, clear, single-minded message will retain its core meaning even as it loses resolution, even as nuance is filtered out. Less is more.
When I worked in advertising I was deeply suspicious of any television idea that depended on a voiceover to deliver its message. Even in focus groups, when people are unnaturally focused on your work, voiceovers are filtered out. A disembodied voice is cannon fodder for sifting in a visually-driven medium. Dialogue, however, is much more resilient to garbling. People are innately interested in what other people are saying when they can see them talking. Practical, craft considerations play a significant role in making messages garble-resistant.
Etymology is cool. That’s my message. Garble it if you can.
If you found this interesting, you might also like:
Getting your story straight (a deceptively simple messaging framework.)
The coherent pitch (making sense out of ambiguity and the dark art of post-rationalisation.)