When it comes to company messaging, journalist Sydney J. Harris got it right when he said, “Information is giving out; communication is getting through.”
Unfortunately, a lot of company messaging tends to be information-giving as opposed to communicating. Having worked with close to 100 companies to craft their messaging, I can say that most try to cram as much information as possible into the messaging platform without much thought to whether their message is understandable or effective.
Creating an effective messaging platform capable of communicating what makes your company unique often takes a good deal of thinking and refining. Outstanding messaging contains these five ingredients:
The right format. Format is crucial when it comes to messaging because it will drive how your executive team reaches consensus on messaging statements and even language. I’ve seen many types of formatting over the years—from pyramids to traditional vision-mission-position statements. The format we use follows the 5W1H that every journalist learns: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. This makes sense for our clients because they often follow messaging creation with a media relations effort. During interviews, our clients then have the information on hand to answer typical questions, such as: who are you, what do you do, why is this important, how are you different?
Knowledge of your audiences. Messaging can have many audiences, including customers, employees, investors and journalists. Understanding what each of these audiences finds important, and identifying the common links, will provide a good basis to drive messaging. For example, a start up company that is backed by an experienced leader and/or venture capital can allay fears of failure that concerns all these audiences by referencing the experience of the backers. This message should be front and center.
A focus on benefits. The main mistake I see companies making when devising messaging is talking about what their company or product does instead of how it benefits clients and customers. Generally, people don’t buy features; they buy problem-solving. This is especially true for business-to-business companies. Instead of describing a feature, ask yourself one question: “Why does anyone care?” The answers to that question should be the foundation of your messaging.
Simple language. Boil down your messages to their essence, then use concrete, action-oriented words that people understand. Fight the tendency to pack messages with lofty ideas and jargon. While using some of these terms may seem cutting edge, they are used at the expense of true communication. Pick and choose the most important things to include in messaging, then use language to make it so enticing that people will say, “Tell me more.”
Affirming anecdotes. Some of the most effective messages are told from the perspective of people outside your organization. To really make an impact, include independent research, customer or analyst statements, and examples of how people use your product/service. This is especially helpful in statements that describe why your company/product is important (what problem it solves).
Finally, test your messaging platform on various audiences to make sure your messages are communicating. As George Bernard Shaw so wisely put it, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”