Analyze Your Competitors’ Messages Before Developing Your Own

Evaluating your competitor’s messaging before developing your own corporate messages is a key step in powerful message development. This isn’t so you can borrow their best ideas or just craft stories that are dead opposite. Rather, you should conduct a competitive message analysis so you know what your customers are hearing. How could you stand out from the crowd if you don’t know what the crowd is shouting?

Naturally, you don’t want to be chanting the same mantra as a competitor. In addition to differentiating language, you also want to select a unique tone, positioning and approach. A competitive message analysis helps you understand where you can be not only different, but more authentically yourself.

Five Steps in a Competitive Message Analysis

Step One: Determine your competitors. This seems like a no-brainer. However, do you know what or who your competition really is? Who is being chosen over you? What are your customers choosing to do that makes it hard for you to engage them, and why? One of our messaging clients (a foundation about to embark upon a capital campaign) identified their largest “competitor” as the financial press because of the negative economic messages being sent at that time. And, yes, it is possible to do a competitive message analysis on such a thing. We discovered what words were being used over and over again that would scare a contributor. Those were the sentiments that needed to be countered.

Step Two: Identify what you will review. Corporate web sites, Slideshare presentations, Linkedin Profiles, press releases, other google findings, press clippings and more are all available online. Choose channels to which your customers and stakeholders are paying attention . If your competition is another company, go to your competitor’s industry conference presentations. Monitor their media coverage. Follow them on Twitter. Watch what they choose to sponsor.

Step Three: What are the competition’s messages? This includes:

  • What is their tag line? What energy does it convey?
  • What position do they appear to take? This means, what are they hanging their hat on? For instance, GE’s positioning is clearly centered on “imagination.” I submit Nike is all about “sports playing in a no-whining zone.” Fidelity Investments wishes you to know they are “making it easy.”
  • What are their main messages? Identify specific statements used time and again. Identify 10 key themes.
  • What words do they appear to use over and over?
  • What advantages do you see in their messages? For example, they are very clear in their messaging. Or, they make widgets sound really, really interesting.
  • What disadvantages do you see in their messages? For instance, do they use a lot of jargon in their messaging? Do they sound too negative? Or unrealistic?
  • What characteristics of the organization are being spotlighted repeatedly?

Step Four: What do they appear to be ultimately “selling?” Choose one word, if you can. Are they selling being a one-stop shop? The best? The fastest? The most economical?

Step Five: Where are you different? Choose one word or statement that differentiates you from this particular competitor.

Once about five competitive forces have been analyzed, you will be in a much better position to craft messages that can cut through the noise and get the attention you seek.

Buzzwords and Blarney in Company Messages

Mynt Public Relations posted recently on the many “buzzwords” that too many public relations folks just can’t seem to let go of.

I would add a word to the list: delighted. This is especially true if is used in a quote. CEO Big Wig is delighted to announce….

(Full disclosure: You  may find press releases online with my name attached that use some of these words. Between client’s insistence and my own lack of time now and again, you will see that even the pros some time can’t get away from the blarney.)

But, at Four Leaf Public Relations we are working on getting away from using the tired old jargon.

What makes a buzzword? A word that has lost all its power due to overuse. Like the song that is played on the radio time and again, words that once held meaning no longer sound authentic when used. For instance, the word “solutions.” If you announce you are an integrated [[insert whatever]] solutions provider, what does that mean really? Other typically overused words include excellent, leader, and master.

What is your least favorite buzzword?

5 Self-Audit Questions to Ask Before Developing Your Corporate Story

Whether you know it or not, when it comes to describing your company or organization you are delivering messages that set people on a path to either include you or exclude you from their future. Knowing how you and your staff view your organization, its target audience and its competition is the first step in any proactive positioning and messaging work. By asking yourself and other staff members to answer the questions below, you will have a better understanding of your company’s beliefs and the default language they are currently using.

1. What perception challenges are we dealing with? If your employees or colleagues believe something is a challenge or problem, they are speaking directly to it whenever they talk about what you are doing. Ask your people to identify the top three public perception challenges that your organization is facing. Raise it this way: If these three viewpoints about you were changed, your goals and objectives could be met. What is their greatest area of concern around the company’s reputation?

2. Who is our target audience? Who do your people believe they are serving? From their job titles to what they read, from what keeps them up at night to what causes them to act.  What do they believe your customers, partner groups and other stakeholders consumed by? And, what do they say about you when we’re not in the room? Whoever they believe they are serving and why, colors their actions and, most definitely, their language choices.

3. What stands in our way? The answer to this question might surprise you. Ask your staff if they had a magic wand and could change anything within or outside the organization, what would it be? Be brave. Whatever answer is given will be a clue as to what they are raising (or not raising) with outsiders.

4. What are our advantages? Ask them to brag about themselves, their leadership, and the company. What do you have that is so special, again, according to your people? Whatever they say is what they are publicizing. Does it match with what you perceive to be your advantages?

5. If I could only tell a prospect or potential stakeholder one thing about us it would be, what? This gets to the heart of what they are “selling.” Understanding your people’s own narrative about your organization, its products and services is key to know where they will always “go” when asked, What is your company about?

A bonus question: Who are our competitors, and why? Identifying the opposition – and why we should be concerned — is key to messaging work, as well. What do your people believe is so special about the competition? What are they doing that you are not?

3 Parts of a Powerful Message

A few weeks ago I spoke to a leadership group for our regional Chamber of Commerce. The topic was crafting a powerful message and story and distributing it with impact. It was a good refresher for me just to prepare for the meeting.

Over the last 25 years as a communications professional, I’ve seen business leaders spend countless hours on ensuring their financial house is in order, their processes are efficient, and their employees are engaged and productive. Yet, when it comes to developing their organizational narrative, too many believe one afternoon – too often an hour during a board meeting – will produce an influential elevator pitch about who they are and what they are about.

The same holds true for a blog post about messaging. A few paragraphs describing the positioning and messaging a company should go through aren’t enough. But, at least below are a few ideas to get someone started.

Three basic elements of a powerful message:

  • It is compelling. Use a page turning, double-taking lead-in. Make your elevator pitch interesting to your target audience (not just to you).
  • If differentiates you. How are you unique, really? Excellent customer service is no longer a powerful differentiator. What do you bring to the table that only you may claim?
  • It is marked by truth and accuracy, which, by the way are not always the same. But, that’s another blog post. Ask yourself, what can you really deliver? What is believable? What can you say that tells the real story about you?