Back to Basics: Crafting Messages to Cut Through the Clutter

This is the fourth post in a new series in which we revisit the fundamentals of business communication, from what it means and why it matters to tips and techniques for success. We’ll present the information in ways that you can share directly with your students, and we hope this information will enhance your lectures and class discussions.

For an audience member to receive a message, three events need to occur: The receiver must sense the presence of a message, select it from all the other messages clamoring for attention, and perceive it as an actual message (as opposed to random, pointless noise).

You can appreciate the magnitude of this challenge by walking down any busy street in a commercial section of your town or city. You will encounter hundreds of messages—billboards, posters, store window displays, car stereos, people talking, car horns, street signs, traffic lights, and so on. However, you will sense, select, and perceive only a fraction of these messages.

Today’s business audiences are much like pedestrians on busy streets. They are inundated with so many messages and so much noise that they can miss or ignore many of the messages intended for them. One of the mind’s defenses against this barrage is selective attention, which is focusing on a subset of the incoming stimuli or information sources and ignoring others. Not surprisingly, this focused attention can be helpful at times and harmful at others. If you are on your mobile phone trying hard to hear the other party, your mind will try to block out all the noise sources—one of which might be a car horn warning you to get out of the way.

The business course teaches a variety of techniques to craft messages that get noticed. In general, follow these five principles to increase your chances of success:

  • Consider audience expectations. Deliver messages using the media and channels that the audience expects. If colleagues expect meeting notices to be delivered by email, don’t suddenly switch gears and start delivering the notices via blog posts or group messaging without telling anyone. Of course, sometimes going against expectations can stimulate audience attention, which is why advertisers sometimes do wacky and creative things to get noticed. For most business communication efforts, though, following the expectations of your audience is the most efficient way to get your message across.
  • Make messages user-friendly. Even if audiences are actively looking for your messages, they may not get the messages if you make them hard to find, hard to navigate, or hard to read.
  • Emphasize familiarity. Use words, images, and designs that are familiar to your audience. For example, company websites usually put information about the company on a page called “About” or “About Us,” so today’s audiences expect to see such information on a page with this title.
  • Practice empathy. Make sure your messages speak to the audience by clearly addressing their wants and needs—not just yours. This is the essence of the “you” attitude.
  • Design for compatibility. Make sure your messages are compatible with the devices your audiences will use to read, listen to, or view them. For example, websites designed for full-size computer screens can be difficult to view on mobile devices, so contemporary web design emphasizes the need to support a wide variety of screen sizes and modes of interaction.


Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th Edition, 2021, p. 13. The basic communication process is also addressed in our titles Excellence in Business Communication, Chapter 1, and Business Communication Essentials, Chapter 1.


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