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The Guide to 

Strategic Message Framing and Reframing

Message framing is what you choose to say and how you choose to say it. It is also what you choose not to say. Framing a message focuses attention — just as presenting a picture in a red frame versus a black frame focuses our attention and changes how we see the picture.



You know that whoever frames the message defines the message — and that the response to the same message can differ greatly depending on its message framing. A message that considers the mindset, needs and desires of its intended audience is more likely to generate a positive response than a message that ignores, or worse, triggers a counterproductive worldview. Here’s how to use effective message framing as a powerful tool to advance your mission.

What is Strategic Message Framing?

How to Frame a Powerful Social Change Message

Think of message frames as shortcuts to mental models, with an added emotional component. Because people are more open to information if it’s framed in a way that resonates with how they see the world, research about your audience, their values, and identities, is step number one of a four-part message framing strategy. Find out the next steps:

Changing Minds: Frames Matter More Than Facts

How many times have you searched fruitlessly for the perfect set of facts for changing minds? Fuggedaboutit. Facts are not what change peoples’ mindsets. Frames are. Here’s how to use message strategy to keep facts from being smothered by misinformation:

Why Values-Based Communication Matters

Everyone benefits when a mission-driven business or nonprofit focuses on words, messages, issues, and strategies that emphasize shared values. So when my 14-year old grandniece asked me “Why ?” -- the question brought me up short. So here, in only slightly more formal language, is how I explained why values-based communication is essential for strategic message framing.

Framing Strategy, Techniques and Tactics

Change Strategy: Avoid Bad Words and Message Mistakes

Bad words trigger bad frames. They’re called “hot frames,” and they’re easily triggered by words with emotional baggage. Here’s how to cool the debate and avoid polarizing your audience:

Changing Minds: Social Math, Stories, and Framing

Stories work in change communication because their narrative helps people connect new information to what they already know. Infographics make it easy to grasp large numbers by relating it to visuals that we already understand, revealing an underlying story. It’s called “social math” and it’s a great way to combine the emotional impact of stories with the power of data. Here’s how it’s done:

Message Framing and Your Brain: Formula for Change

You are not rational. Neither are we. Recent brain science research is advancing understanding of how our brains work – and raising questions about how to apply that knowledge to change minds. Read more:

Message Framing and Your Brain: Why repetition and focus matter

Have you ever inadvertently used a word that triggers a frame in opposition to the change you want to see? Or struggled to understand how the illusion of truth comes to be more powerful than the truth itself? Learn how to use framing, repetition and focus to advance your mission. Read more:

Changing Minds: The Science Behind Visual Storytelling

Humans are visual first, verbal second. That’s why you feel that tug in your heartstrings when you see a cute baby picture. The science behind the “pictorial superiority effect” can inform how we use images to change hearts and minds. You need to be intentional about how you use images for message framing. Find out more:

Framing Specific Issues

Forget Saying Climate Change: Words Activate Frames

When you believe in a cause, it becomes your baby. One of the hardest things to do is let go of its name. But when that name collects baggage and is overwhelmingly reframed as a negative, it’s time to determine whether defending the name has become counterproductive. Here’s why we stopped using the names of specific causes we believe in – and what to do instead

Reframing My Lawn (or Marketing Spin in Suburbia)

Thanks to a slight shift in framing, we're feeling pretty good about our lawn. As my husband and I were commiserating about our miserable excuse for a lawn at a birthday party, a friend informed us that instead of besmirching our yard we should have it certified as a national wildlife habitat. What’s that you say? Read on:

Reframing the Impact of Technology on Our Brains

Talking with a friend about the impact of technology on our brains, I was startled by her emotion, and my response to the negative framing. Read more:

Reframing Early Childhood Care and Education

When an issue becomes polarized, and the media comes to believe a ‘balanced’ story must include two opposing extremes as if both were equally valid, then it’s time to create a new frame (a mental shortcut or narrative) about the issue so people can ‘hear’ the story. There are few issues as much in need of reframing for the public as the concept of the Early Childhood Care and Education system as an essential social infrastructure. The Harvard University Center on the Developing Child has successfully framed the the importance of the issue based on a child's brain architecture. Read more: