Bridging the Gap Between the Actual and Aspirational with Messaging Expert Tamsen Webster

Episode 48 of The Verblio Show

Who has a BA and a BS, an MBA and an MA, and can reference Agatha Christie, Greek mythology, and Tom Brady in a single conversation?

Tamsen Webster. Oh, and she can cha cha, too. 

In addition to a panoply of far-flung references, Tamsen had a wealth of marketing insight to share in this episode. Pulling from her career as messaging strategist, keynote speaker, and professional “Idea Whisperer,” she and Steve covered:

  • Why creating a need isn’t the best marketing strategy
  • The difference between your brand and your worldview
  • How narrowing your audience expands your reach
  • What the Red Thread is — and where to find it
  • How she gets maximum results from minimum content
  • The ballroom dance she’s bringing to the end of the world


Name: Tamsen Webster

What she does: Founder and Chief Message Strategist at Find the Red Thread.

Find Tamsen on the web: Website | LinkedIn | Twitter

Get smart: “Nothing will work at the organizational, or even at the market level, that doesn’t work at the individual level first.”

Top Takeaways

Don’t create a need. Align with an existing one.

Marketers often talk about ‘creating a need’ in order to influence their audience’s behavior and generate demand for their product or service. As a Weight Watchers leader, however, Tamsen learned that creating a need isn’t the most effective way to change people’s behavior in the real world.

“It’s much easier for someone to do something when they see it as aligned with something that they already want,” she explains. “It’s a lot easier to get someone to do something when it’s aligned with something they already believe.”

Rather than attempting to instill an entirely new belief in your potential customers, find out what they already believe and figure out where your brand can fit into that. 

Find your Red Thread.

“Between every question and answer, between every problem and solution, between every like issue and idea, lies a story, right?” Tamsen says. “There’s a story that our brains build—oftentimes pre-consciously—to make those two things make sense to each other.” 

That story is what Tamsen calls the Red Thread®, and understanding your own Red Thread is crucial for both individuals and brands. It functions as your source code and allows you to surface your worldview in a way that will resonate with your audience because it mirrors the way their own brains work.

“When you can take a message and put it in that format,” Tamsen explains, “you can just upload the source code of that idea right into somebody’s head and their brain can just accept it because they’re like, ‘I recognize this code.’”

Episode Highlights

One important lesson from Weight Watchers

“A problem that a lot of people have when they’re trying to lose weight is that they snack at night. This is very much an identity they have about themselves… The way Weight Watchers works then and now is you get points, food has points, and your job is to make those things match. So if I’ve got 23 points to eat in a day, I need to make sure that of the food and drink that I take in, it’s as close to 23 as possible.

With night snackers, we got to a point where they got to the end of the day and they were out of points, and that was really, really frustrating to them. And so I could either say to them, ‘Don’t eat at night’—but how’s that going to work? They consider themselves to be a night snacker and their entire habitual lives as eaters have probably been that way—so, I can either tell you to stop doing and being a thing that is deeply you, or I could tell you, ‘You’re right, you’re a night snacker. This is never going to work for you,’ which goes against something that they deeply deeply want. 

Or I can say, ‘You know what? The points are just for a 24 hour period. It doesn’t say anywhere that those 24 hours has to start in the morning. So why don’t you start those 24 hours and those points at night? Why don’t you start them with dinner, so that you have all of your 23 points to start from dinner and afterwards, and then you have fewer during the day when you have more control over it?’

And I cannot tell you how many minds that blew—just that conversation about, ‘You can still be a night eater. You can still do this. All you have to do is just think about this one little thing differently.’”

Why messaging is so important—and so hard

“[Messaging] is the articulation of a bigger idea for the practical application in a moment. And most of us have never been taught to do that.… We’re oftentimes taught to create content or we’re taught how to articulate brand, but we’re not taught to translate the two to each other or given the tools to do that day-to-day. And most of the time that’s where both branding and content creation break, is in that translation between the two.”

The difference between your brand and your worldview

“Think about your brand as you would a website, right? Your website looks a certain way. It behaves a certain way. The buttons are in certain places, the content is in certain places. And it’s easy in the moment to think that that what you see is the website, but it’s not, right? Because what controls where the button is and what the things look like, is actually the code that’s telling the computer to make it look like this. 

I believe that people and organizations have the same thing. Brand is what people interact with and what people see, which is the result of a deeper code. It’s a result of what I would call the Red Thread—it’s the result of your worldview. It’s a combination of the kinds of people you’re drawn to serve, the kinds of questions that you’re drawn to answer, your fundamental values and truth. Not your aspirational values, by the way, but the actual ones that you put into play every day.”

The paradox of communication

“Bill Schley wrote a book called Micro-Script Rules and he calls it the ‘universal paradox of communication,’ which I love, but the way that I phrase it is that the narrower you’re focused, the broader your reach. And you can see why that’s a paradox because it feels like, ‘Well, if I’m narrowing the people that I’m talking to, how can I possibly have a bigger reach?’

And the reason why you actually can, is because the clarity that comes from being able to speak to a very specific audience is clarity that actually resonates much, much more widely.”

Top Quotes


“People are weird and they respond to weird things.”

“It’s a lot easier to get someone to do something when it’s aligned with something they already believe.”

“Nothing will work at the organizational, or even at the market level, that doesn’t work at the individual level first.”

“We fulfill what we tell ourselves about ourselves.”

“Messaging is the bridge between the aspirational and the actual.”

“My favorite definition of a brand is, it’s the sum total of people’s experiences with you.”

“You actually know who you want to serve better than you think you do.”

Learn More

Check out a video of the Peabody dance Tamsen wants to learn.

Tamsen quotes Robert McKee’s book, Story: “You don’t actually know that you know something until you try to write it down,” and references his ideas on research of fact, research of imagination, and research of experience.

Tamsen quotes The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie: “Words, mademoiselle, are only the outer clothing of ideas.”

Tamsen references The Micro-Script Rules by Bill Schley when she discusses the clarity that comes from speaking to a very specific audience.

Watch Simon Sinek’s talk from TEDxPuget Sound, “How great leaders inspire action.”

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