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Business Communication/What metaphor will make our message vivid?

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Question
We have started a new  firm in business consulting. We do consulting, training, research, advocacy, mentoring, coaching and event management.
We want establish long lasting relationship for improvement with our clients that will propel value and growth.
We are looking for a simple metaphor that is appealing and engaging. The metaphor should be able to answer the common question from prospective clients: What difference can your company make for my business?.

Answer
Dear James:

Metaphors can be useful when they draw on a familiar image to create a picture in people’s minds. Well used, they speed understanding, increase comprehension, and make your message memorable.

Many times, however, metaphors fall flat. Over-used metaphors create confusion—and prevent companies from developing a unique, fine-tuned message that addresses the pains, fears, and desires of their target market.

Over-used business metaphors often refer to war (the battle for market share; strategic alliances), sports (crush the competition; winners and losers), machinery (priming the pump; turn-key processes), and health (sluggish growth; ailing economy) metaphors in the effort to excite interest and attract attention.

But do we create a vivid impression talking about staff who “think outside the box”? Or, “self-starters” who thrive on lean, mean organizational strategies? Probably not.

When overused, business metaphors have the same impact as business jargon. When people hear them, they tune out. Who can blame them? We’ve all heard them before.

Rather than fishing blindly for metaphors, cast your net more widely. A few years ago, Gerald Zaltman and Lindsay Zaltman wrote a great book, Marketing Metaphoria (Harvard Business School Press, 2008). In it, the authors urge marketers to build on what they call “deep metaphors,” which they discovered through thousands of in-depth interviews with people in 30 countries.

They found that despite cultural, age, gender, and other differences, people responded to seven deep metaphors:
•Balance
•Transformation
•Journey
•Container
•Connection
•Resource
•Control

Which metaphor works best for your firm? That’s where your knowledge of your company, your industry, and your approach come in. To be effective, a metaphor must be a good fit—rather than a loose, but familiar approximation of what you mean to convey.

Also consider your ideal customer. What metaphors resonate most strongly with them? What deeper meanings drive their behavior?

Once you’ve identified a metaphor that seems to work for both your company and your ideal customers, develop a story around it. Craft it carefully and look for graphics that further reinforce your meaning. Then “road-test” your story with people inside the company and with your customers and colleagues. Ask their opinion and incorporate their feedback into your revised story.

Be sure to say thanks to those who helped you develop your story. It could be worth its weight in gold to your company.

You're off to a good start by recognizing the power of the right metaphor to inspire, engage, and motivate your audiences.

Best of luck,  

Business Communication

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Maureen A. Jung, Ph.D.

Expertise

I can answer questions related to: What to do--and what not to do--in business communication. Tips for more effective communication in print, on paper, in person, and via electronic media. Grammar, punctuation, and tone-related questions. How to Say ‘No’ without negativity. How to plan, format, write, and review your messages, letters, articles, etc.

Experience

More than 20 years' experience as a communication consultant, business writer, editor, communication trainer, and writing group leader. I've provided communication training workshops, seminars, and writing services to businesses and organizations for more than 25 years, and edited and/or researched 15 non-fiction books for other authors. I've been a columnist and contributing writer to many publications, wrote a successful $15-million health care grant for a nonprofit organization, and wrote two White House presentations.

Organizations
Florida Writer's Assn.; Clay County Writers, Writing Group Leader; American Business Women's Assn.; Medical Managers of Northeast Florida; Law Office Support (Jacksonville, FL)

Publications
Comstock's Business Magazine, California History, Living Blues Magazine, American Archivist, Sacramento Business Journal, Sutter/Yuba Business Journal, California Mining Review, Red Voices, Insurgent Sociologist, Social Forces, Sacramento News and Review, Coastlines, Sociological Spectrum, etc. In 2009, I wrote the book: Many Pathways: Planting Seeds for Communities in Recovery (2009).

Education/Credentials
B.A. Sociology, Colorado State University M.A., Ph.D., Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara Fellow of the South Coast Writing Project since 1984, a think tank for writing teachers affiliated with the National Writing Project Post-graduate studies in history and archives, California State University, Sacramento

Awards and Honors
Charles Spaulding Research Prize, University of California, Santa Barbara (for my M.A. thesis); Theodore Calvin Pease Award, Society of American Archivists (for an article based on my dissertation research); Invited Contributor, California Sesquicentennial Project, for my article: "Capitalism Comes to the Diggings," published in: A Golden State, Mining and Economic Development in Gold Rush California.

Past/Present Clients
Huntley, Mullaney, Spargo & Sullivan, Inc.; Cox Ferrall, Sales Wisdom Now!; Groeteke Resources, Jacksonville; California Mining Assn.; Central Valley Rock, Sand & Gravel Assn.; Sacramento City University; SolutionsWest, ITEX Corporation; Dr. Wilson C. Riles; Capital Program Management; Small Business Resource Center, Inc.; Vanir Construction Management; Prime Time Boxing; California Rural Indian Health Board, Inc.; Trumbull Insurance Agency, etc.

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