A Trio of Tools to Get Your Message Across

An image of multiple street signs hanging on a road barrier.

How do you get your message across when you can't be sure that your audience even speaks your language? Repetition, juxtaposition, and clear imagery can help you ensure that people get where they need to go.

I recently returned from a trip to Montreal -- the city where I was born and where I returned for a period of time post-university. Since moving back to London, I had made several trips to la belle province, but last week marked the first journey with my girlfriend and her sister -- both unilingual Anglos with limited exposure to French.

My daughter and I are both fluently bilingual -- and it's something I feel very blessed about because the ability to understand multiple languages enriches your life in so many ways. It exposes you to so much and broadens your perspective. I figured, for the most part, we'd be able to serve as translators for the trip.

And though while most of the time that's exactly what happened, I noticed that even in the brief time we were in Montreal there was an interesting content marketing message developing. Though language was still a barrier, there was a growing understanding of the message behind the messaging.

There were three keys to broaching the language barrier and fostering comprehension: repetition, juxtaposition, and imagery.

Though most people coming to your site are likely speaking the same language, the key messaging can sometimes get lost in translation. You have a clear idea of where you want your site's visitors to go -- but how can you make it easier for them to understand the right path?


This is going to sound "Old Guy Father" a bit, but indulge me for a second, won't you? Repetition can be mundane, monotonous, and infuriating. But it works. To this day, I still remember my multiplication tables (or times tables); my daughter and those around her age? It's a foreign concept.

Seeing the same signage and messaging, even in different areas, allows you to understand what's required of you, even if you don't understand every word that's being said.

"Défense de Stationner" isn't intuitively "No Parking," but after a couple of examples (combined with the third part of our guide) you'll understand that you must look elsewhere. You'll quickly learn to "ralentissez" if you don't want to end up in the trunk of the car in front of you.

In many ways, we're conditioned to learn by repetition from our first days. Kids learn how to talk by emulating those around them and, as parents, we repeat phrases and statements until they stick. On their own, the words "thank you very much" don't mean anything, but placed in context and reinforced through repetition and encouragement, they coalesce into a phrase with deep meaning.

This level of consistency and repetition is important to incorporate on your site -- you want to reinforce those compelling selling messages or key calls to action. You want people to feel they understand your site's structure and intuitively know where to go to find what they need.


Where you say something is almost as important as what you say. If you want to convey a message about something, it's best to do it in proximity to when you want that action to be taken. For messaging, juxtaposition can help drive behaviour.

Think of driving on the highway. If you are informed about your exit too far away from the actual off-ramp, it doesn't do any good. If you're only informed about it when you've arrived, you're likely not in a position to take the exit. But if you're told about it at just the right distance, then you can change lanes, slow down, and get where you need to go.

(In London, we could extend this message to certain bridges. A height warning too far away? Who cares? Too close? Your roof is sheared off like a can of corned beef. But if you could put a warning in a place that allows you to take action and divert your vehicle's path? That's the Magic Goldilocks Moment!)

So if you want your customers to take action on an item, don't bury it in a path of meandering or over-long copy. Help them get where they need to go as quickly as possible. Make calls to action clear, intuitive, and direct. And if there's a path or process that they need to follow, make sure it's clearly marked and that you provide guidance a regular intervals.


Looking up from my desk in my office, I see a pair of little green men running through a white 'door.' They're the new "Exit" signs. Sure, they take a little getting used to after seeing "Exit" for decades. But that's a very English-speaking perspective. Our community is filled with people for whom English may not be their primary or even secondary language. Exit may have no meaning, but a person going through a door transcends all language and reading-comprehension barriers.

Again, going back to driving, I'm reminded of a blog post I wrote back in January about signs and the need to comprehend information at incredible speeds.

Comprehension is greatly aided by the accompaniment of imagery. Some signs work; others don't (the sign for boarding a train that, instead, looks like a train being squeezed by a pair of calipers, for example), but clear images not only draw one's eye, but they can also help you steer your visitors and customers to key areas of interest.

Sometimes words don't work. I still don't know what a new "historic site" sign indicates in the West Island, despite passing it four times. A combination of an extremely long name and French's tendency to hyphenate rendered the sign almost illegible. But other signs? An H in a box? A fork and knife? I have a solid idea of what those are.

For my travelling companions, even if the words didn't resonate, the images helped understand what was in front of them.

Your Message is Always Being Translated

Even if your site is in English and you're audience is primarily English, there is still some interpretation required. Your visitor is going to translate your message into their own words, or frame it with their own experiences, and your role is to ensure that message is delivered as clearly, concisely, and accessibly as possible.

If you have a compelling selling message or key call to action that you want to ensure stands out, then it's imperative that you structure your content and your imagery to reinforce that message. Repetition, juxtaposition, and imagery -- it's a trio of tools that can help you build greater understanding.

Questions Answered

How to I get my message across?

How do I deal with multiple languages on my site?



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