This post is categorized under Advertising, but it could (and probably will) just as easily be applied to other areas such as branding, politics and ... life. The principle is this: Be clear. Know what it is that you're saying and don't try to say too much. I'll start off with a simple definition and move on from there. To conflate means to meld into one. This is great when your talking about marriage, Beetles cover bands and Combos, but when it comes to your company's message this is dangerous territory.
Why It's a Bad Idea
Let's say you oppose the death penalty because you believe in the power of redemptive love over violence. You obviously don't have much of a voice as people shouting that message are few and far between. Wanting to gain some volume, you decide to team up with two others who oppose the death penalty for slightly different reasons. One's an anarchist who doesn't think that the government should punish anyone. The other is just a jerk who thinks justice is best served slowly.
This is obviously very exciting because your voice has just trippled in volume. Your message should now identify with three times the number of people and be three times more likely to make a difference. However, reality sets in when you finally protest. Though you are shouting, "Love never fails" the anarchist is shouting, "Law can leave" and the jerk is shouting, "Let them rot!" You're volume may be greater, but it is drowning out your voice.
At best people will come away and not knowing/remembering/caring what any of you were saying. Likely they will think that death penalty opposers don't have their act together and become disinterested in the issue. At worst they will actually think that the reason anyone opposes the death penalty is because, "Love can rot!" At any rate, your message of peace is lost.
Pick a Target
You aren't selling anything that everyone wants. (You may be selling something everyone needs, but people don't pay as much for those things.) When you claim to have something that EVERYBODY wants you sound like a liar ('cause you are). In marketing, when you try to be all things to all people you end up becoming nothing to everyone. So, pick a target! Listen to the stories they tell, and share a story that will identify with them. Don't try to appeal to them and their neighbors ... just to them. When you conflate your audiences you loose an opportunity to create evangelists out of your clients. Word of mouth is still the best form of advertising, give your clients room to tell their own stories about you.
Get Feedback not Input
You want to hear from your target audience. You really do. You want to hear them, listen to them and take what they say into consideration. You want their feedback; you don't necessarily want their input. I came up with my logo one day without a whole lot of input. The reason is because I want this business to reflect me and who I am and what I like. Honestly, in the end it doesn't matter if my wife, best friend or mother doesn't like my brand because I do. Now, I asked for feedback from all three of them, but for the most part I limited the input I would accept.
It is fairly frequent that I do business with plantations. Plantation owners are a part of my target audience. I need to hear feedback from them, but can you imagine if my logo had been created based on the input of a plantation owner? My message would pretty soon be swept down that slippery slope. It would look like a little bit of everything that I am not.
Stay on Topic
This can pretty much be summed up by one of my favorite scenes from the West Wing (season 1 - 4 only). Toby Ziggler is advising Sam Seaborne to answer, "Orange County's beaches are a national treasure" to every question asked. Even if the question is about the trade deficit he is to respond, "Orange County's beaches are a national treasure." Sam fears he will sound like an idiot, and Toby comforts him that, "I doubt you'll sound like anything at all; they'll probably just use it as B-roll. But on the off chance there's volume I at least want you to be on topic."
How true! People are almost never listening. On the rare occasions that they do, you had better say something that matters! You had better say something they can understand. Be consistant. Be clear. Don't conflate your message.