Dr. John Murphy’s Universal Principles of Effective Communication

February 5, 2018  | By Adrienne Newcomb

Last November, I had the pleasure of hearing one of my former professors at the University of Texas at Austin, Dr. John Murphy, present his “Universal Principles of Effective Communication” at the Texas Exes Lunchtime Lecture series. While I’d heard a version of this lecture before, I was pumped to hear him speak again and be back in the “classroom.”

As I recounted my experience to the KG team, I was disappointed that my younger colleagues did not have the pleasure of taking ADV 318J with Dr. Murphy. In light of this, and the biggest advertising event of the year, the Super Bowl, having just passed, I’d like to share Dr. Murphy’s “Universal Principles of Effective Communication” and pass along some of his wisdom and a few classic examples he shared*.

Think Different

“Think Different” is Dr. Murphy’s first principle of effective communication. Here, the main objective is to do something different – either different from your norm or different from your competitors. A couple of examples that Dr. Murphy provided were the 1997 Apple campaign that coined the term “Think Different.” and this Chevy commercial in the spirit of “Lassie,” that doesn’t focus on the truck’s features, but instead, tells a familiar and captivating story.

Simplicity

We know this as KISS or “Keep it simple, stupid,” a principle that applies across the business world. It’s exactly what it sounds like; don’t complicate things.

Specificity

Specifics sell. When communicating, whether through an ad campaign or a business email, it’s important to be as specific as possible. By providing unambiguous details, the consumer knows exactly what to expect, making it more likely for them to engage with your call to action. For this principle, Dr. Murphy shared an ad that appeared in a Houston newspaper listing a non-profit’s detailed, and specific, list of needed donation items.

Believability

Believability isn’t simply telling the truth, it’s doing it in a way that people understand. Therefore, the key is using familiar language and speaking in the way that your audience would. This may mean setting aside some grammatical and syntax principals to relate to the audience.

Relevance

Furthermore, make sure you’re communicating to the right audience and don’t be afraid to call them out. Are you trying to reach millennials? Fathers? Milk drinkers? No matter who it is, by calling them out, you can be sure to grab their attention.

Likability

Now, we all know, especially in the age of social media, it’s impossible to get EVERYONE to like you. However, being likable is the first step in getting someone to buy something from you. Most of the time, consumers, and certainly businesses, aren’t going to purchase a product or service from someone they don’t like. A classic example is a car salesman in Michigan who sent every single one of his customers a card every month; on the back of every card it said, “I like you.” Clearly, this worked; he sold over 13,000 cars throughout the course of his career.

Consistency

It’s okay to say the same thing over and over. Some of the biggest brand names have achieved great advertising success by sticking to a consistent strategy. For example, Nike continues to tell audiences, “Just Do It,” Motel 6 promises, “We’ll leave the light on for you,” and, the iconic Budweiser Clydesdales, who barely made the cut this year, have been a constant.

While Dr. Murphy’s presentation focused on advertising campaigns, the same principles can be applied to PR and any form of strategic communications. Furthermore, these principles can be used beyond the world of strategic communications and used in your everyday business or personal correspondence.

*All ideas and examples in this blog are credited to Dr. John Murphy.