Speak Your Message

Posted on July 6, 2009


The other day I walked my dogs along the Green River a few miles from my home in Kent, Washington. A bicyclist came up behind us and used his bell. I pulled my dogs aside and stepped off the trail. We thanked each other and went on our ways, happier and healthier.

I tell you that because, in a way, I made it happen. You see, I’ve walked my dogs on local trails for years. Other walkers always offer a greeting, and are often willing to stop and discuss dogs. Runners offer nods and waves. When I started walking my dogs every day, I noticed that bicyclists were a grim bunch. They never smiled or nodded a greeting. In fact, they often glared at me as they passed. Now, I’m always willing to take responsibility for my decisions and actions, so it really annoyed me that these bicyclists were ignoring rules of the trail and somehow blaming the results on me.

I decided to do something about my feelings of annoyance – there I went, taking responsibility for myself again. I decided to find out if bicyclists were generally aware of two rules of the trails – signal before passing and yield to pedestrians. I know a lot of amateur athletes. One of my sisters is a former triathlete and a ranked bicyclist. Many of my friends enjoy strength training, MMA/kick-boxing, running, hiking, and bicycling. So I started talking to them, and I was clear that I had a bias: My observation was that most trail-using bicyclists ignored those two rules. Many of my friends were surprised by my observation, and some looked a little guilty.

I kept it up. I spoke my message – that we could all share the trails safely if we all obeyed the same rules – in the right circles. I continued to walk my dogs – although I avoided the trails used by bicycle commuters during the week. Gradually I started noticing more bikers using signals. Some even warned me about more riders coming up close behind. I started seeing the occasional smile. I made a point of stepping off the trail and holding my dogs close in return. Although I still avoid the commuter trails out of respect for people whose work schedule is different than mine, I meet more and more bikers like the one I met just the other day.

Identify your message. Keep it simple. Identify your target audience. Communicate your message to your target audience. Reap the benefits. It’s as true in life as it is in marketing.