Many companies struggle to figure out their brand’s message, whether an elevator pitch or detailed messaging that informs conversations and content.
This post is for small or fast-moving companies that don’t have the budget or patience for sophisticated research and processes to develop their brand’s messaging approach —but still want to be strategic, smart and thoughtful about what they say and write so that they stand out from the competition.
4 tips for shaping a good story and messaging approach
1. Think insights and bottoms-up vs. opinions and top-down
If you start from a place of insight vs. opinion, you are more likely to get the effect you need which is an impression from the listener/reader/visitor that: “This is a company that gets me”.
One of the biggest mistakes companies make when developing their messaging approach is for a group of executives to sit in a room and say: “What do we want to say about ourselves? What do we do? What are we all about? What is our mission?” Wrong.
The conversation you should start with is: “Who is our target audience? What do they care about most and how are we able to help?” If you start here you will likely land in a different place on how you talk about your value proposition. Your mission, ideas and opinions will still come into play, but it’s better if you start with the target customer’s business problems and mindset.
For example: Look at these two introduction messages about a company in the IT services space. One is derived from the executive team’s standard pitch; the other from interviews and case studies with its best and most profitable customers.
Intro #2 speaks to themes from top customers that ABC’s solutions and expertise helped them improve in two critical areas: focusing on business priorities and controlling costs. Knowing that, which message do you think will most likely get the attention of a new prospect?
The point is that the team may not have gotten to the 2nd one if it had restricted its messaging-building process to the opinions of company employees. The more you can learn about your customer’s true problems (as well as how they talkabout those problems in natural conversation), the better.
2. Think vision
Think ahead about what you hope people will say about you (unsolicited), and what you want the ultimate effect to be from all the messaging you “put out there” across multiple touch points. Drawing from customer insights and your unique value proposition, write down visionary statements of how you want people to feel about your brand and the impact you want from content that you will likely distribute.
A good way to approach this is to picture your best customers in a focus group after experiencing your value for a certain period. If for example, a facilitator were to ask your customer, “What has been the single best part of your experience with ABC, Inc.?” – what do you hope the customer would say?
Perhaps your vision for their response is: “The best part of our experience with ABC was their attention to detail and phenomenal customer service.” Or, “The best part was that the training was hands-on and specific to our issues. We were able to integrate their product into our workflow very quickly.”
The point is to back into your story and messaging (as well as your offering and brand experience) from the future and a place of vision.
3. Think frequently asked questions
I once overheard a CEO say to a sales rep: “As you think about your message for a sales call, consider the most frequently asked questions you get when first introducing what our product does. This shows what people care about most and what you should lead with or be prepared to talk about in a meaningful way.”
This is good advice and can inform a brand’s core message plus angles for video demos, webinars, email campaigns, social media posts and such.
This is also where insights from frontline employees are a good supplement to customer research, as these folks often have a deeper understanding of the customer’s FAQ, needs and wants than executives do.
4. Think story first, then messaging
Use the insights you’ve gathered to help you see and confirm what your brand’s Story is. Think like a journalist—journalists decide what their story is based on research and insights they’ve gathered, i.e. they lay it all out, look down on it and say: “What is all of this revealing? What is bubbling up as a theme? What’s really going on here?” From there they work on angles and messaging to bring the story to life.
Whiteboard everything you’ve learned in tips 1-3 and use that as the starting point for brainstorming. See what’s bubbling up as the potential Story and iterate from there. Helpful hint: If you have a large team or a complicated business, you might want to invest in a facilitator for this exercise to help ensure that you stay focused and keep egos out of the equation.
The point is:
Developing a good messaging approach is not easy (ok, so I fudged a little on the title), but it’s not rocket science either. If at a minimum you ensure all conversations and decisions about your messaging are centered on customer insights (along with some input from frontline staff), you will be on your way to successfully differentiating yourself. This is one of the best changes you can make in your process to improve results and it doesn’t necessarily cost more money to do so.