Why you need to keep this one secret


I’m all for transparency. Transparency, unless we’re talking about David Lee Roth’s stagewear circa 1984, is a good thing: it’s a linchpin of trust and communication, and you know that at some point somewhere, no matter how many scary-looking, spiky charts the company accountant shows you, it all boils down to trust and communication.

Still, some secrets are worth keeping. Superheroes from Clark Kent to Jessica Jones keep their identities secret so that they can be left alone to save the world in peace. My mother believed that a woman should neither put on or take off her girdle in front of her husband. And me? I believe that every business, before it grabs the shiny new thing – whether it’s story, or content, or marketing communications, should have a secret message.

A secret message combines elements of your business’s core values and strategy and stands above everything you do and communicate, informing your actions and communications directly. It is a guiding principle that helps you make every decision, and helps you construct and send every message. Without it, everything you say will either fall flat, or fall in a heap when you or your business is tested.

When you keep your secret message front and foremost, it gives you precise focus, and directly influences everything you do and say, and how you do and say it.

It’s for your eyes only; not your customers’ or clients’. Why? Because first and foremost, they won’t care. All they care about is the results. This is exactly as it should be, and also good for you because of the second reason: your secret message doesn’t have to be pretty.

I have seen, time and time again, businesses get stuck on a public message, tagline, or vision/mission statement. I’m talking months here (the maximum so far is 18 of them)! Everything is in suspended animation until they get their message just so. They imagine dire consequences if they don’t megaphone exactly what they’re about to the world in the exact right words.

But it’s simply not true. With a secret, internal message guiding your decisions and communications, your clients and customers will get the message of what you’re about loud and clear.

And without it? That’s shaky ground, right there, no matter how good you are at expressing yourself. Where is your focus coming from? How are your clients and customers supposed to read your words and actions? The pretty stories you tell – what are they actually for? What is keeping your words congruent with your values?

It’s not worth skipping your secret message, particularly when it’s so quick and easy to put one together.

Your secret message is made up of three simple things:




When you’re talking people, you’re talking about you and your team, and your clients or customers. Who are you all? Define everyone, but not too specifically: you want to leave room for creativity and the vagaries of the market.

Next is your practice. Here you need to define not only what it is that you do, but also what your clients or customers think that you do for them. It’s vital that you are able to see your practice from their point of view as well.

Finally, let’s talk why. Why do you do what you do? And also, importantly, why do your clients or customers come to you?

You can put it together in a few sentences, or in – forsooth! – dot points. It doesn’t need to be pretty, just practical.

We’re a bunch of programmers and assorted IT geeks who work for decision makers in the freight transport industry. We provide them with software that logs and tracks freight. It makes freighting a lot more efficient, and saves them time and money. We do this because we care about the impact of freight transport on the environment; the more efficient it is, the less impact it has. Also, we think trains and trucks are cool. Clients come to us because we’re reliable and available 24 hours a day, and there’s nothing we won’t do to make freight as efficient as it can be.

And that’s it. You can see how a secret message like this can impact all your messaging, whether it’s in the form of marketing, or internal or external communications, and in fact, any decision you make. Crucially, it also allows you to see where your goals and your clients’ or customers’ intersect. This makes for better communications, and better business. And that’s no secret.

An Opinionated Dame’s Advice On Absolutely Everything You Should Be Doing

Dear Abby


Well. Almost everything.

And the opinionated dame? Me.

Here it all is: my best advice for 2015, shortened to a few words that will get 2016 cranking for you.

  • Unless you have trust, you’re dead where you stand.
  • If you’ve gone to the trouble of creating personas, don’t just let them sit there: tell their stories.
  • Cultivate your damn voice.
  • … unless you need to make something up to someone. If you do, don’t be a jerk.
  • Also jerky: either paying for, or offering, a $15,000 program for writing your own business book. Don’t do it.
  • If you don’t know why anyone should care about what you’re trying to say, you’re just being self-indulgent. Quit it.
  • It’s never too late to make a difference in someone’s life. Start now.


See you all in 2016! Happy New Year!

How You Talk Is How You Act



My husband swears. Sometimes, a lot.

Most of the time, he’s eloquent and witty, but when he’s upset with a situation or some poor inanimate object, out it comes. And it’s no wonder: he was raised in a country town that’s not known for being anywhere that people mince words, and then spent decades in the film and TV industries, which aren’t exactly known for their diplomacy and tact. Because I’m eternally 14 years old on the inside, it makes me giggle (although granted, whether I giggle within earshot depends on how upset he is).

And last week, he did something that was a small thing, but it’s actually one of those Big Things.

My husband drives a lot for his business, and has increasingly been using Siri, combined with his phone’s GPS, to get him where he needs to be. Last week he decided to change its voice from female to male because “it can get pretty frustrating, and let’s face it, I’m bound to swear at it eventually”. He decided that he didn’t want to be swearing at a female persona.

Now… you can read this as something not very important, or you can read it like I do: someone truly living his values, even when there’s no one else in the car with him, and even though Siri is just a piece of software. My husband loves and respects his daughters, and his wife, and respects and likes women in general, and the thought of swearing at a female Siri – even in jest – didn’t sit well.

But it wasn’t just about the women, or just about the jest: it was about him. It was his suspicion of what subtle changes might occur in his own mind if he indulged this behaviour; they may be tiny, or even nonexistent, but he didn’t want to risk them.

Strangely enough, my husband’s decision came at the same time as Norwegian charity organization CARE released a powerful, hard-hitting film called “Dear Daddy”. It’s about words. About how words can be lies. And how sometimes, people – both boys and girls – can grow up to believe those lies, with terrible impact.

The many lies that flood our culture include sexist language and jokes, preconceived notions, biases, and attitudes. None – none – of these things are, in fact, trivial. Once upon a time aeons ago, our brains dictated that we create language; but ever since then, language has been creating us. Words can literally change our brains.

The author, psychologist, and activist Steve Biddulph reminds us that “How you talk, ultimately, is how you act.” This is backed by the research of Andrew Newberg, M.D., and Mark Robert Waldman, who say that just “a single word has the power to influence the expression of [our] genes.”

It’s great science, but it still draws the line, like it’s most often drawn, separating how we talk from how we act. And I believe it shouldn’t be, because speech is an action. When we talk, we are acting. And actions have reactions. You know: effects. Consequences.

Newberg and Waldman say that we think we’re great communicators, but compared to other species, we’re actually lousy. And there’s proof, right there: that we’re the only species to not count communication as an action, and because of that, we don’t think it will have consequences. How dumb is that.

But perhaps this is all too much science. I remember when Oprah interviewed Chris Rock and asked him about his usage of “the n-word” (that’s Oprah’s term, by the way), and what he would say to the white people who felt it should give them license to use it. Chris Rock replied, “Forget why I say it. Why do you want to say it?” He went on to ask why, with all the words that white people have at their disposal to describe black people, they would want to use that word. Why they would feel their language is somehow lacking because they can’t use that one word.

Why would they? Why would you?

These are not rhetorical questions. They are important questions that each of us need to answer about the language we use.

To follow on from Chris Rock, if you call a woman any one of countless sexist epithets, why are you doing that? If you let a sexist joke go unquestioned and unchallenged, what’s your reason? What’s your purpose?

If you can’t – or won’t – answer, then stop. When one in five women have experienced sexual violence, and one in three have experienced domestic violence, and you add that to everyday sexism and discrimination, and the disparity between the male and female socioeconomic status, that is too many people believing, acting out, and perpetuating the lies. And the cost is too high. Not just to women, but to our society, and collective conscience.

Change needs to begin somewhere. And your language is the simplest way, and one of the most powerful ways, to begin.


Photo credit: © jmpaget via Depositphotos