The idea of “message development” should be at the core of your marketing and PR programs. In fact, it should be at the center of all of your business activities. The message you deliver to your various publics should be consistent — shaped and tailored, perhaps, even dynamic — but always consistent.
Doesn’t that run the risk of becoming boring, you might ask? No. The risk is that you will articulate your message so clearly that it will resonate with all sectors of your publics and they’ll “get it.” That’s the outcome to strive for.
We are continually advised to “focus” our message, “broaden” our message, “elevate” the message, “personalize” the message, “simplify” our message, and even “encapsulate” it. Everyone wants to develop the perfect “elevator” speech — explain what you do in ten seconds or less. We must also help our listeners understand why they, in particular, need our product or service and what makes it worth the cost to them — probably in a thirty second blurb.
A Strategic Approach to Message Development
There are several ways to approach message discovery and message development. If you have a business history, you might examine your public advertising, marketing, and PR documents, as well as your corporate charter and purpose and your statements in annual reports. Invite your salespersons to deliver their pitches to you. Ask your best customers what they have heard and how they understand your business and products. Ask your telephone receptionists, the lobby greeters, and your board of directors. Ask your employees’ children, “what does your mommy or daddy do at work?” What do the media and the industry consultants say about your products or services? This kind of investigation will help you discover the core elements, as well, most likely, as the gaping holes, in your message. Start monitoring the blogosphere. What do bloggers say about your company, management, products and technology?
If your company and product or service are new, the approach may be different, but the need for rigorous investigation is no less important. One approach is to ask, “what would I want my salesperson, receptionist, board member, or employee’s child to say if he or she were confronted with such questions?” What headline would you like on that first product review in the trade journals? Fill in the blank: “Oh, yeah, you’re the people who ____________.”
Develop- And Refine Your Message
As you work through this process and develop the words and feelings and define the motivations you want to engender, you can begin to develop and refine your message. Keep in mind your many publics and generate a message that speaks to each of them. It may be the same words for several groups or different for each. Then test them for internal consistency. You may discover a slogan that anchors your messages, or an image, or even a tune. But, don’t sacrifice clarity and meaning for cuteness. Likewise, don’t pass up an opportunity for “spark.”
As you craft your message, work from one level to the next — starting from very broad and general and working toward specificity, or the other way around. And continually test for internal consistency and truth.
Guiding your message development and determining the vehicles for delivering your message are critical to your marketing strategies. Once you have developed your message, keeping it in the forefront of your communications campaign is critical to success. Make sure you focus your message, when appropriate, customize it for particular audiences, shape your message as your company grows and changes, and provide a sounding board to ensure that crucial internal consistency.