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Take Your Messaging Back to School

It’s September, that special time of year when the mornings are cool, the air smells like fall and our social media feeds fill up with back-to-school snaps of happy kids and (sometimes) even happier parents. When it comes to your company’s message platform, going back to school often means reviewing how much you’ve grown since your last message development project; assessing if you’ve graduated to another level within your industry; and evaluating whether your current message platform makes the grade.

If that all seems a bit daunting, don’t fret. Just follow these six common core steps and you’ll ace the messaging exam!

Get Ready for a Brainstorm

As PRSA so wisely puts it, communications can’t always be controlled but key messages can. Targeted messaging differentiates your business in the market and builds better connections with your buyers and buyer influencer audiences. It also helps key stakeholders stay focused when speaking to media and delivers consistency and accuracy.

There are many reasons your company may be considering a message refresh or a message re-launch: a merger or acquisition, a new product launch, new industry challenges or perhaps your current messaging has just gone stale. Whatever the case, the first step is to gather the troops and ensure everyone is on the same page. Again, PRSA points out some great considerations for these initial brainstorms:

  • Revisit company goals and objectives
  • Evaluate whether current key messages align with overall business strategy and, if not, recognize what needs to change.
  • Identify brand vocabulary, words and phrases you want associated with your company

Be careful to avoid the “too many cooks in the kitchen” challenge during this phase. Consider keeping these initial brainstorms and conversations between key colleagues and decision makers. This is also a great phase to engage an outside partner agency, who can help facilitate working sessions, summarize findings and prioritize next steps.

Do Your Homework

Ah, homework – the dreaded nemesis of almost every school-age kid. In this case, your homework should consist of research; specifically competitive research. If the goal of targeted messaging is to help your company stand out from the rest, then the last thing you want to do is conduct your message refresh in a vacuum. Get out there and fire up the Google machine. Find out what your competitors are saying and how they are saying it. Check out their websites, visit their social media sites and read their most recent media coverage. Is your current platform too similar for comfort? Does it pale in comparison? What do you have to say that is unique, different and attention grabbing?

Listen Up

With established goals and objectives, as well as a firm grasp on the competitive landscape, it’s now time to find out how internal stakeholders and customers view your current messaging. Again, this is a great time to work with a partner agency. You’d be amazed by how quickly customers and internal employees open up to a third party; we’ve heard some pretty unvarnished truths in our years of message development!

And, as your teacher would tell you, honesty is always the best policy. You want to know: does your current messaging hit the mark – why or why not? Is it believable? What needs to change? What should stay? Consider this the parent-teacher conference phase of your message refresh project. Take all feedback –  good and bad – into consideration as you head into the next phase.

Put Pen to Paper

Now it’s time for the fun part! Sharpen those pencils and uncap those pens, it’s time to draft your newly minted message platform. For many of our clients, this includes a boilerplate (or elevator pitch) and a value proposition; positioning statements that answer the questions: who are we, what do we do and why should you care. You may also want to consider how your written statements can be translated visually into what we like to call an anchor graphic. This graphic can be used alongside your boilerplate and value prop to tell your company’s unique story.

These larger messaging pillars can also be broken down into phrases and keywords that are then sprinkled throughout outbound communications, marketing and sales collateral, websites, social media and more.

Test Time

Just like testing your kindergartner’s newly learned writing skills, testing your newly refreshed message platform is critical. We recommend going back to those internal stakeholders and customers who provided valuable insights during the listening phase. Ask them to read, review and evaluate your boilerplate, value proposition and anchor graphic. Engage that third party agency once again to solicit candid feedback, which can help you revise as needed to ensure your new platform is on-target. Getting customer validation is so important – you want your current and prospective customers to buy what you’re selling, so to speak.

Ready. Set. Go.

You’ve done your homework, you’ve listened to what others have to say, drafted your copy and put it to the test. Now it’s time to graduate to the next level: publishing your fresh message platform! Consider how you want to launch your new messaging. What does a successful rollout look like? We recommend educating your internal employees first to get everyone singing off the same song sheet, as internal buy-in will be critical to success. Then, you may wish to conduct a content audit and identify which pieces need to be updated or changed to reflect your new positioning. Once again, this includes outbound communications, marketing and sales collateral, social media, website and more.

No Such Thing as Busy Work

When it comes to refreshing your company’s message platform, there really is no such thing as busy work. Every step should be carefully considered and given the appropriate amount of time. Don’t rush it – these things can take time – but don’t dawdle either. Every project needs a leader and a final “decider” and message development is no different. If that person is you, then don’t be afraid to put a stake in the ground and declare your refreshed message platform ready for launch!

If you’re ready to take your messaging back-to-school, drop me a line. I’d love to hear your story and discuss how we can help. I’ll even commemorate the moment by posting a few pictures of you on social media via @OutlookMktgLinkedIn or Facebook.

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Author: Andrea Davis, VP, Message Development & Customer Validation Practice

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