Communicating With Purpose

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Lightbulb by Stefan Krause,Wikimedia Commons, Free Art License

Whether you are designing a corporate-wide communications strategy, a single marketing video or a conference presentation, it’s important to communicate with purpose—on purpose. When it comes to communication, a little planning goes a long way. Following this simple three step process can help:

  1. Define your purpose.
  2. Determine your audience.
  3. Describe success.

Define Your Purpose

Think about what you hope to accomplish with your message. What is your objective and what would you like people to do when they hear, watch, or read your message? One useful structure for thinking this through is the Purposeful Communication In4™ model[1], which describes the purpose of communication as intending to do one of four things: inform, inspire, invoke or incite.

  1. Inform: pass on data, share knowledge, to result in a cognitive transfer of information. (Help them know.)
  2. Inspire: uplift the spirit, fill someone with the urge to do, to be, to have or to create something. (Help them want.)
  3. Invoke: stimulate ideas by mentioning someone or something outside yourself (e.g. drawing on authority, third party evidence) to generate a response that introduces new ideas, feelings and ways of thinking. (Help them feel and think differently.)
  4. Incite: move or spur people to take action, excite people to the point of causing them to act in a desired way. (Help them do.)

What you are hoping to accomplish should determine the content and tone of your message. In some cases, you might use a combination of all four purposes in a stepped approach. For example, in a sales process, you might start by providing basic information about your product (Inform); and then share impactful customer testimonials (Inspire); followed by case studies that showcase your product being used in innovative ways (Invoke); and finish with a call to action that includes a limited time promotion (Incite).

Determine your Audience

The second step in communicating with purpose is determining your audience. If you are fortunate enough to know them personally, design your communication to suit their individual preferences and address their individual concerns. Some general inferences can be drawn when you have no personal knowledge of your audience; for example, if your message is intended for executives or other strategic decision makers focus on the rationale and logic of your message and the impact of delay— backed up by detailed evidence and analysis. If your message addresses an unknown general population, lead with third party evidence (to establish credibility) and make sure to address what’s in it for them rather than what’s in it for you. You can also draw on demographic information and use the tools of marketers to better understand your audience.

As much as possible, put yourself in the shoes of the people who will interpret your message. Think about what matters to them and address it respectfully. Think about their unvoiced questions and concerns and answer them. If you want them to take action, think about what drives their decision making process and help them decide.

Describe Success

Purposeful communication requires a measure, otherwise your planning is nothing more than wishful thinking. Outcomes naturally flow from the intent and content of your communication, but measuring those outcomes is not always easy. When determining your communication objective(s), take a moment to describe what success will look like and identify one or two concrete measures you will use to determine a successful outcome in a given context; for example:

  • If your purpose is to inform, you might ask questions about the shared information to determine whether it was absorbed.
  • If your purpose is to inspire, you might measure change in positive versus negative chat content.
  • If your purpose is to invoke, you might measure increase in incidents of innovation or suggestions for improvement.
  • If your purpose is to incite, you might measure the change in frequency of a specific action.

Communication always has a result. Whether that result is intended or unintended has a lot to do with the communicator and whether or not she communicates with purpose. In the words of Werner Erhard, “The essence of communication is intention.” Taking the time to be clear about the intent and purpose of your communication will help you achieve your desired results.


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[1] Used with permission, © Adao Institute

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