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Five Minutes to Understanding Marketing with the Sender - Message - Channel - Receiver Model

By Robert Gluckson, M.A.

A hitchhiker makes a sign to passing cars. He doesn’t stand in a park, or stick his thumb out in a mall. His message is aimed directly at his target audience: the people in cars traveling down the highway in the direction he wants to go.

Your messages must be clearly directed to audiences with the greatest potential for positive response.

The Sender-Message-Channel-Receiver Communications model can help you visualize the process of communications. A model is a representation, not reality. Communications doesn’t work exactly like this, but it does give us a way to talk about the different steps of the communications process, and a way to explore how to direct our messages in the most effective ways.

Briefly, the Sender is the person creating a message. The Message are his ideas, the words he says (or writes, or draws). The Channel is the means of communication -- the telephone, sign, or website. The Receiver is the person who gets the message -- the listener or the reader.

In telephone terms, the Sender initiates a call. He speaks his Message. The telephone is the Channel (including the phones at both ends, and the wires and the switching stations between them). The Receiver is the person who picks up the phone and listens.

This model was developed to analyze problems with telephone communications. Researchers wanted to pinpoint sources of Channel Noise (like static) in order to reduce or eliminate it. We can use these concepts to keep our messages on track.

This model works great for telephony, but it misses some important aspects of communications. For instance, what the Sender says and what the Receiver thinks the Sender means may be two different things. Messages aren’t communicated exactly: they depend on the shared knowledge of the two communicators; a shared vocabulary, experience, and world view.

Then there's the problem of Channel Noise. The phone may have static, or the listener could have the television on. The print job on the advertisement could be so bad it can't be read, or the website features small grey lettering on a black background.

Another problem with this model is it leaves out Feedback. When we talk with people in person, they constantly reassure us of their attention and understanding, by nodding their heads, making encouraging sounds, or even asking questions.

In our mediated communications we can look for feedback in other ways. For example, feedback can take the form of orders. We can test a message by changing it in a small way, then noting a change in the response.

We can test every part of the communications process by measuring changes in response. For example, by sending the same message to two different audiences and comparing the responses, we’ll know it’s the target audience that makes the difference, all other things being equal. Or we can test the Message – say, with a sales offer, or a different headline – and see if orders go up.

Getting Started with SMCR

So how to get started crafting a successful marketing campaign?

Getting back to the hitch-hiker analogy, as marketers we want to send our messages to those with the most likelihood of responding. We choose our Receivers. As potential customers, we’ll call these Receivers our Target Audiences.

The Target Audience is composed of the type (or types) of people we think are most likely to respond. Cooks read Cookbooks, so if we’re selling cookbooks we look for Cooks.

What do they want? These are the Benefits we feature, the problems the product solves.

Where do we find them? What Channels reach them?

Cooking magazines, bulletin boards in supermarkets, mailing lists of people who have bought fancy saucepans.

We may have more then one channel for each potential audience.

What will convince each audience to respond the way you want, with an order? You’ll send them different information; you’ll also try to psych out the particular need your product will satisfy, and create a message that appeals to this need.

We do this in various ways. One method of crafting Messages is to think in terms of Persuasive Appeals.

Ask yourself why one type of person would want your product. You’re focusing on different Receivers or Target Audiences. Who are they? What need will you satisfy?

What starts as one Audience can become several. A single woman may want to create a romantic meal; a mom wants a nutritious one; a working mom a quick one; a football fan wants to give a party and not be in the kitchen.

So you use different Channels to reach each one.

Obviously, the appeal will be different in each. You’ll present a solution to each problem, satisfy their need to impress, to nurture, to sell. So the Message may be different for each Audience, too.

See the article “Write Your Marketing Plan” for the next step.

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