In 2014 I came across a gem of a video while putting together my fraternity’s expansion presentation – The Message Map.
To many of you, the idea itself may not be revolutionary. It very clearly aligns with Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle” and the traditional understanding of human psychology that we best remember things by categorizing them into 2-4 groups, but I would like to help more student leaders and advisers make use of a message map given my experiences.
Message Map Everything! (My Time At The HQ)
The storyteller in me had unconsciously used the concept behind a message map well before seeing the video. I, like many, was taught to write essays with an introduction, 2-3 supporting sections, and a conclusion. It is a logical way to piece together a presentation, proposal booklet. . . anything really.
Still, the “message map” gave me a simple way to communicate that pitch to those collaborating with me. Humans are visual creatures, and being able to see something mapped out will speak to someone better than a long-winded explanation or page full of words. The key point of a message map is that it can visually or verbally get your point across within 15-30 seconds.
This is important during recruitment, where you may not have much time to explain what you are about before a student hangs up, wanders to another table, etc.
Our team used the message map to pitch to potential campuses, to design our summer training for the consultant teams, and we used it to set themes for our objectives for the year. In all we did particularly well, and I was floored (partly because I figured my team just ignored my rambling) when 6 months into the academic year, during a staff retreat, some consultants recited our message map perfectly from memory.
In The Chapter
I also worked with a few chapters directly, either because I had strong relationships with the chapters or because they were in interesting situations and could use someone who didn’t give a half of a poop about the traditional consultant playbook. Here are some of the results:
- One chapter grew from 7 to 30+ men in 2 years by simplifying their message
- One chapter (this fall actually) doubled in size by simplifying their message with the message map
- I sat in a chapter meeting at another chapter where general members (read, not exec board members) were questioning ideas for activities based on how they fit the message map
Here’s the deal: If you want a majority of your members to be “bought in,” if you want to improve not only the number of people you recruit but the dedication of those people, and if you want to make the process of completing all 1,000,000 things on your school’s/fraternity’s checklist o’ leadership, then follow the guide below.
(Consider this the practical application of this post about the value of a Vision over trophies, rush shirts, etc.)
1. Craft Your Message Map
Crafting your message takes some reflection – you need both the “Twitter friendly headline” (your why), and 2-3 supporting points (your how’s). Here are some thoughts:
- Gather your newest members – ask them why they joined the fraternity and take notes. Ask the same question of members who actually show up to things.
- Look through your Ritual and jot down a few recurring themes. What are the major lessons or takeaways from each ceremony.
- Gather your executive board, maybe even your chairmen, and look through the previous year’s calendar. Which events/activities did you love, which were just necessary, and which felt like a waste of time.
Doing that gives you an idea of who your chapter is and what is expected of your chapter in your Ritual. Chances are your “twitter-friendly headline” is going to be something about brotherhood and making people better through. . . this is where your three points (the things which will differentiate you from any other fraternity) come in.
Find an alumnus who is not attached to the past and show them this post and the message map video. Explain that you need them to make sure the idea of a message map stays in place when you’ve graduated from your position.
2. Plan With Your Message Map
Now it’s time to put it in action. Let’s say that your 15-second pitch (the combination of your headline plus your 2-3 points) is as follows:
“The Members Of Pi Zeta Alpha Fraternity seek to build supportive, lifelong bonds by uniting men committed to personal development and a love for pizza”The mission statement of Pi Zeta Alpha Fraternity – a fraternity I have been dreaming of for years.
Your mission is to look through all of the events that you’ve done and all of the events you need to do per your school’s/fraternity’s checklist o’ leadership.
See which activities or events automatically fit in with “supportive lifelong bonds,” “personal development” or a “love for pizza.” Remember: you’ve chosen these things because they represent truths already evident in your chapter’s membership and activities, so this shouldn’t be hard.
There will be things which do not fit. You might need to do a philanthropy event, but a volleyball tournament might no longer fit with the chosen categories. There’s no need to completely trash the event; just be open to trying something new.
3. Craft & Teach the 30 Second Pitch
Now, if at any point a student says, “Tell me more, how does ‘pizza’ become a part of your fraternity,” you have 2-3 activities which support that point. You or a strong recruiter might say:
We have a pizza party once a month, our fall brotherhood retreat is actually learning to make pizza from scratch, and one of our spring projects is making pizzas from scratch to feed students during finals week.– The amazing things your chapter can do if it was all about pizza. Booze not necessary.
Would that actually attract any student to your fraternity? I have no idea. People love pizza, but my guess is that no chapter will actually use Pizza as a supporting point. Would I support my chapter if they chose to use “pizza” as one of three themes? Abso-f***ing-lutely.
In any case, you can see how that chapter clearly demonstrates how they bond over pizza – you can even get an idea of how they transform a brotherhood event (learning to make pizza) into a service event (providing pizzas during finals, at a shelter, etc.).
4. Learn The Art of Inception
The only people who should hear the phrase “message map” are your executive board and your recruitment team. This is an important point, because people hate feeling like things are being imposed on them. If you get a chapter of 50 people together to craft a message map it’s going to be generic and some people are going to be livid that their suggestions weren’t included. Skip the drama.
Instead, once your executive board/adviser is on board, start using the language throughout the chapter meeting. Acknowledge that everyone loves pizza, and that it just so happens that you’re going to do a brotherhood event about making pizza, then pause for the cheering.
Then, later, acknowledge that the event was so fun, you’re going to replicate it and donate the pizzas you make so you don’t have to do whatever other service project you were going to do. Continue using the 2-3 words throughout chapter meetings and in how you promote events.
The third chapter I mentioned above simply kept using their chosen words, “atypical” and “genuine,” in regular conversation. Eventually, the brothers got the point that if they wanted their ideas to be taken seriously, they needed to pitch them as something atypical, genuine, or both. All of the new members were recruited with those words, and so the brand stuck over many years.
5. Leave It Open To Evolution
Your “twitter-friendly headline” is unlikely to change much over time, and the interests of your members are unlikely to swing wildly from year to year. That being said, do not attach your ego to your message map. Things do change, and it is more important that your chapter apply a message map well then apply the exact same message map five years from now.
This is why it is important to get your strategic-planning-savvy alumni aware of the value of a message map early in the game. Maybe in five years the chapter decides it likes burgers more than pizza. That’s fine! They’ll just swap pizza out and swap the burgers in. Maybe they sell burgers to raise funds for local farms. Great!
The 100% truth is that the most impressive and successful chapters I visited while on the headquarters were able to demonstrate how unified the students and alumni were in buying in to a clear vision of what that chapter offered and what that membership was about. It was during those visits that I realized our accreditation system needed to be revamped to promote specialization and niche-development within our chapters.
Do not be a jack-of-all trades fraternity chapter. Focus on the things you like, and turn the things you are required to do into things you like to do. We might finally convince fraternity/sorority professionals to ditch the checklists once and for all, open their minds, and let students to do things they’re passionate about.