Don’t Forget The Middle

This is not a political blog, but there are often communications lessons and observations to be seen in the political sphere. The coverage thus far of Ted Kennedy is a case in point. This  piece documenting the split in views expressed by the extremes is a good example of what can happen when the debate is highjacked by the edges, and how the middle can be lost. Key point:

"If you can’t say something nice about a person, then say mean things about them instead," wrote Andrew Breitbart, a Washington Times columnist and leading conservative blogger. "Especially if they are unapologetic manslaughterers."

Rush Limbaugh countered Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who called Kennedy a "lion of the Senate," by saying, "We were his prey."

The response summed up the political changes in his lifetime: from an era when courtesy was common and negotiation was a valued skill to an age when many of the loudest voices in both parties treat compromise as surrender.

The case in point: the gulf between Democrats and Republicans on a health-care overhaul, which Kennedy championed.

So what we have in this case is highly vocal criticism from a likely very small minority of pundits, which I bet will eventually be perceived as the established POV for conservatives everywhere in the U.S. But it’s also likely not even near the truth…and this is a warning for communicators. We too often pay attention to the early voices, the loud voices, often extreme voices because they were there first with a product review or criticism or comment, and change our communications strategy to address that specific issue or concern. Sometimes, that is the right course. But often the middle is the place where we are trying to talk to – not the long tail or the early tail, but the broad audience…and optimizing for the edges can be deadly.

Always, always, always, start by understanding your audience, and don’t be seduced by loud voices. They aren’t always the ones who carry the day.

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