For lack of a better word, marketing and communications work is squishy. It can be hard to know if you’re creating a strong deliverable. For most business owners, messaging can be the worst. Who hasn’t sat in on an agonizing meeting waiting for the president and the operations guy to stop arguing over whether or not something is going to “move the needle.” Or worse, the horrible and annoying quarrels over the oxford/serial comma.
In my short-lived career as a restaurant manager 100 years ago, we used to go to wine tastings all the time. It was really fun, especially if you liked to drink as much as I did back then. But unfortunately, none of us really knew anything about wine. So we came up with this phrase that meant nothing but sounded really impressive. “It’s oblique, without being obtrusive” I would state, twirling my wine in the glass while lifting my best impersonation of an educated eyebrow. It sounded really good and most people usually got home or sobered up before they realized it meant absolutely nothing.
What most business people are doing when writing anything, from a mission statement to a tweet, is coming up with stuff that just sounds good. We’re coming up with our own versions of “oblique without being obtrusive.” I say let’s stop this now.We need to focus on sending the right message, NOT using the right words. Here are five ways to help create the best messaging ever for your company, product or brand:
1. Create a Core or Integrated Strategy Statement. This is the statement that covers what you do, why you do it, and how you do it, in a nutshell. It doesn’t have to be pretty and it doesn’t have to sound particularly good. It just has to resonate with the key players in your organization. It has to be the one where people say “yeah that’s us” unequivocally. This is not the same as a company strategy statement. This is a simple 2-3 sentence phrase from which all messaging can be derived. These are the statements behind all the taglines, tweets, web content. Once you’ve got this, the conversation then revolves around whether subsequent messaging is aligned, or reflects, that core statement. NOT whether it’s better to use the word “strengthen” or “empower.” (Seriously, that was a 2-hour conversation.) Mine is this: “Wax Marketing does integrated marketing and communications services.”
2. Understand the audience you’re trying to reach. I’m a firm believer in creating personas and writing messages for those personas. Stop writing stuff with you as the audience. If you know who your primary targets are – the media, your customers, your influencers, your employees, for example – you’ll understand when someone translates those messages for that particular audience. Chances are your employees absorb information in quite a different context than your customers. Be cognizant of those differences.
3. Be aware of requirements for the messaging channels you need to use. I have a client that is a group of super cool dermatologists. What I love about them is they really know their patients, even though they range in age from 2 to 90. They know that each patient is going to acquire information in a different way. And they understand that information in a medical journal needs to be presented differently on Facebook, for example. Our conversations revolve around where those patients get their information. The disagreements happen there, and they’re productive. My point is, once you know your audience, you know the channels. Again, just make sure that messages translated for those channels align with your core strategy statement.
4. Understand that what sells well, doesn’t necessarily read well. When a message is given in person, the intent, body language and delivery all affect the impact of that message. In fact, it’s 75-90% of the impact depending on what study you read. When messaging is written, it doesn’t have any of that extra oomph. So the great phrases your CEO delivered with such passion at the last company meeting, or the ones your top salesperson used to close that last big sale may not work well in written messaging. Don’t fall in love with phrases because of one shining moment. Use it in your personal delivery but don’t fight for it on the website.
5. Hire good writers and trust they know what they’re doing. Spend your time making sure that the messaging they’ve created is in alignment with your core strategy statement. Make sure that the way it sounds is in the language of your audience. Check to see if it works for the channels you’ve chosen. Most people think they’re good writers. A few are, but unfortunately most don’t know what they’re doing. Plus, you’re just too close to your own stuff. You can learn, but learn from people who are really good at it. If you really don’t like what they’re doing, fire them but find someone else. Don’t decide to write it yourself. The best writers still use other people to create their messaging.
Learning to stop wordsmithing and start messaging can be painful. It’s hard on the ego. But in the long run, you need messaging that works. The rest, well it’s just oblique without being obtrusive.