Using the MAYA Principle for Effective Communication

What It Means to Know Your Audience

George Bernard Shaw once said “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

We talk about knowing your audience in search, but it goes for just about everything.

If you want to help someone learn a new skill, product, or concept, you must first understand the person’s present skill level within that given topic. We learn the alphabet before we learn how to spell words for a reason.

Raymond Loewy (1893-1986), also known as ‘The Father of Industrial Design,’ gave the world many famous designs, including the Coca-Cola bottle.

His secret formula to approaching design was MAYA.

The MAYA Principle stands for: “Most Advanced, Yet Acceptable.” It’s a principle that provides users with enough of what they already use and understand with enough new features that are easy to adopt.

"The adult public's taste is not necessarily ready to accept the logical solutions to their requirements if the solution implies too vast a departure from what they have been conditioned into accepting as the norm."- Raymond Loewy

Imagine if the Galaxy Fold was released as the very first smartphone. Expecting phone users to go from rotary and touch tone phones tethered to their walls (or those giant cinder blocks that were the original car phones) to adopt this type of technology would be too far a leap for them to adopt.

Apple learned this with the failure of their Newton Tablet. Along with some technical issues, the general public just wasn’t ready for a personal digital assistant. The closest thing they had to compare it to were $5 notebooks. Now they were being asked to carry around a $700 piece of technology? It was too far astray from their current acceptable form of what this device was trying to replace.

We saw the opposite as Apple innovated their famous iPod line. Each new model had some adjustments - one less button, a change in display, some upgrades and new features. It walked the user along the path it’s technology was taking instead of giving them something they had no precedent in using at all. The iterative approach used enough of what users already knew with enough novelty to nudge them down a new path.

Within organizations, there are pulls to innovate and pulls toward the status quo. In the middle of both sides pulling is a knot. If both sides pull too hard, the knot just gets tighter. The MAYA Principle allows both sides to meet in the middle and untie the knot together.

On one side you will have a curiosity for people and organizations to learn new things (neophilia). On the other side you will have fears associated with trying anything new (neophobia).

Take a new SEO initiative. Your organization very likely comes from a place of understood SEO knowledge. If you were to present something to them that completely challenges their current beliefs of SEO, your audience is likely going to fall on the neophobia side of the spectrum.

However, if you clearly walk them through each step, explain what’s different and why, anticipate their fears and questions and have prepared responses to make them more comfortable, you’re on your way to leveraging the principles of MAYA.

The psychological phenomenon of the ‘mere-exposure effect’ underscores this. People are inclined to prefer things they’re familiar with simply because they’re familiar with them.

Have you ever found yourself pitching what you knew was a great strategy, only to have it fall on deaf ears? Perhaps it was to your executive team, or someone outside of your core discipline. Articulating the business value of PPC, SEO, or Analytics can take multiple forms - within your area of expertise you all speak the same language, but what about those who need to understand these tactics differently? What about those who aren’t as comfortable with these concepts? The MAYA principle would have you approach this with the first, most minimally viable step. The most basic, boiled down event that can immediately be understood.

You are as much a strategist and business person as you are an anthropologist.

Applying MAYA for Teams, Clients, and General Communication

💡 Consider these ideas when you put MAYA into practice:

  • Understand everyone’s individual strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles. I’m a visual learner and learn best by doing. Advanced concepts are going to be tough to understand over the phone. Try setting up a video call with shared screens and encourage questions from your audience whenever possible.
  • There’s only so much you can accomplish from behind a desk. If possible, visit your clients or have them visit you.
    • Barbara Tversky’s work Mind in Motion: How Action Shapes Thought examines how movement, not language, is the foundation of thought. Have someone sit on their hands and ask them to give you directions. It will be a challenge and you’ll watch them squirm.
    • Limiting the physical can limit the mental, and thoughts are best understood among interaction.
    • Movement is a form of communication older than language.
    • Even blind people gesture when they speak. It’s a deep part of who we are.
  • Try role playing with someone and see if you can get past a couple of “why?” lines of questioning.
    • Can you? Do you have good responses? If it takes you 15-minutes to explain something, can you get it down to 5-minutes and convey the same information?
  • Do the same words have the same meaning among groups? Perhaps not.
    • Words are capsules full of meaning.
    • For effective communication to occur, those communicating need to be operating under the same definitions.
    • Make sure whenever you’re using jargon or industry terms you’re clear that those you’re presenting to understand these terms the way you are intending them.
  • Our minds fill in incomplete information. It’s a heuristic we need to make sense of something that otherwise does not make sense. The mind will find stories and patterns even in sparse data.
  • Some see the forest some see the trees. Consider the executive you’re presenting to. Their forest may actually be a continent. And your trees may be subplot farmland 12A with some apples they know nothing about harvesting.
    • Is this change worth the attention needed to make it successful?
    • Do I have a good strategy for competing with the noise?
    • Does my plan reflect that strategy?

What You Should Do Next

Looking to collaborate with smart, hard working people? Want to get buy-in for your ideas and look like a rockstar helping your company hit business goals?

Contact the Seer team to explore what an engagement with our teams of digital professionals would be like for you and your business.

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