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Match Words and Pictures

Talking things out can be a time waster. Especially when we imagine that once we agree on the words that all is solved, never suspecting that the pictures in our heads are not the pictures in other people’s heads. One of the most useful things we do with clients is simply to match words and pictures.

This simple process is so rare and such an effective shortcut to better communication that I would seriously recommend it to relationship counselors for serious consideration!

Once we had a husband and wife client team. Both were brilliant, driven, great-looking and nice. He was a celebrity doctor, she was a brilliant retailer. He had a gift for inventing better products and she had an eye for great design. Both were terrific in front of the camera and in the conference room. Both agreed on most things and the one thing they agreed on most strongly was that they wanted their advertising to be “sexy and classy.”

We knew them, and they knew us, so we knew we saw eye to eye. We wanted the work to be sexy and classy too. We were diligent, so the words “sexy and class” were in our brief. We did some work that we felt was a ten on the scale of “sexy and classy” and they bought that work and ran it and it was successful…

But they didn’t really love it. They both felt that it wasn’t really sexy and classy enough.

So, we brought them in for a key words and pictures session. And the results were mind-blowing!
First we brainstorm words that are important to the brand. Everyone gets to write their list of the most important words. Then, each in turn shares their list.

All the words get written on its own piece of paper and put up on the wall. Then we talk about the words, we ask about them, we vote on them. We pull down the redundant ones. We end up with the most important words for the brand. Could be three. Could be five. There’s no hard and fast rule.

Of course, “sexy” and “classy” were two of the key words for this brand coming out of this exercise. So far, so good.

We took a five minute break, during which our brilliant interns spread style, fashion, health and lifestyle magazines all over our tables. When folks returned from the five minute break about ten minutes later, I told them that the were to go through the magazines and cut out pictures that fit the key words that meant to the most to them individually. This is fun stuff, and people are generally very happy to do it. It’s like the most creative things we all did in elementary school.

Then, we go around the room, and people share their work-picture combinations.

And here’s the thing. Both of our married clients had “classy” and “sexy” pictures, but their pictures were very different. An animated discussion between these two formidable partners erupted. The rest of us respectfully left the room so that they could work out their differences on these essential concepts.

When we returned to the room, they were able to speak with one voice – and more importantly to agree on one picture – of “sexy” and “classy.”

I can’t overstate how much easier things got after that. We had built windows into each other’s brains.