Expression vs. Communication—Why Care?

Particularly when your audience isn’t a bunch of communication experts and wouldn’t know the difference if you communicated like a professional—why not just “be yourself”?

Remember, expression is about saying what you feel, while communication is about connecting to your audience. In other words, expression is mostly about me, the writer. Communication is mostly about you, the reader.

Say you’re looking for a new dry cleaner. You’ve seen a couple of names on a couple of trucks and decide to check out their websites.

Mission = About Me

On the first website,  you find a mission statement. That’s right: your prospective dry cleaner has a mission! One California dry cleaner is “committed to being the leader in Quality Dry Cleaning, Laundry and Disaster Restoration Service.” While it’s lovely for them to feel committed, I’m more interested in finding a business that PROVIDES quality dry cleaning, laundry and disaster restoration service.

(Full disclosure: I’m not in favor of mission statements for most businesses, whose real mission is to make money. If dry cleaning suddenly became unprofitable, most dry cleaners would cease operating or find other ways to generate income. No matter how passionately the owners loved their work, they would not dry clean free of charge.

On the other hand, a mission to conduct a profitable business that is also ethical or provides opportunities to at-risk populations is not only credible, but may contribute to my purchasing decision.)

Pledge = About You

On the second website, you find something different: a promise to its customers. Zips Dry Cleaners features a page called pledge that covers pricing, timing, eco-friendly cleaning, and—redundantly—professional cleaning at unbeatable prices. But we’ll let that slide for now.

These two strategies, mission and pledge, share a common goal: to summarize the businesses so the audience can get its head around what they do. But the difference between a mission and a pledge is that a mission is inherently about me, while a pledge is inherently about what I will do for you.

At the end of the day, your audience wants to know one thing: what’s in it for me? If your copy doesn’t address that, you aren’t reaching them. 


Expression vs. Communication: Journal This!


“My first blog post! Oooh I’m so excited!! 😀 ❤ Love love love to blog!”

Get it? No? Try this:

“As I sit here in my home office wondering what to say, I’m drawn to thoughts of my grandmother. You see, I was only 17 when she died and…”

Still no? Just one more:

“The autumn leaves
Fall from the trees
Like colorful tears
That mark the years
I wish my boyfriend were dead.”

What’s the difference between expression and communication? 

Expression has two components: creator and creation. I’m happy, so I gush. I’m unhappy, so I sulk. I am the creator; gushing and sulking are my creations. Friends, family, and random passersby unluckily in range will get the picture, but are they the target audience? No . . . I’m the target audience. I’m talking to hear myself talk. Writing so I can read it later in my journal. Dancing in front of the mirror.

Communication has three components: creator, creation, and audience. I’m happy and I want to let you know so you’ll be happy, too. I’m sad and I want to communicate my sadness in a way that brings you a moment of recognition and catharsis. Your catharsis—not mine. Without you, my communication has no purpose; so I make sure to build it especially for you.

Before I can communicate, I need to figure out a few things.

  • What do you (the audience) already know, and what don’t you know?
  • Why should you care?
  • What do you need to see/hear/read in order for something to change?

That change can be a feeling, or it can be a behavior . . . such as a purchase. Or using the recycling bin, dammit. I hate seeing bottles in the gar—whoops, sorry. Forgot you for a minute. Let me try it another way: did you know that recycling one soda can saves enough energy to run  your television for three hours? Ahhh . . . better.

In future posts I’ll present knowledge, opinion, and research about communications; things you can use in your business or organizational life. As my grandmother would have said, I won’t hesitate to put tuchis oif’n tish—which literally means butt on the table but stands for telling it like it is. For example, that journal poetry should stay in your journal. If you want to communicate emotion through nature, then communicate it.

– e.e. cummings, 1958