How to Sell Proactive Messaging Work to the Upstairs

Having a hard time selling your boss on a proactive messaging effort?

First, find out what the objection is to spending time on determining your company story or corporate language. You won’t be able to counter or address objections if you don’t know what they are.

“Lack of time” is the objection we hear the most. But, we also often hear that the executive suite doesn’t always see the need. They don’t see the correlation between profitability and messages, between success and the corporate story, between the bottom line and how they are describing themselves.

Connecting corporate challenges to better messaging is needed.

Below is a list of challenges you may be experiencing in your company. Attached are

proactive steps you can take to show how better messaging might help remove (or at least abate) some of the obstacles you are experiencing.

  • Increasing competition. If your company is experiencing competitive pressure, consider doing a competitive message analysis to see how your company messages stack up against the competition. If you find your customer base is responding more readily to competitors over you, it’s time to address the effectiveness and power of your customer-facing corporate language.
  • Falling value proposition(s). Customer feedback may tell you that your products or services aren’t as relevant as they used to be. Consider surveying your customers asking them what is keeping them up at night. Your language should be addressing some of those concerns. If they aren’t, your messages need revising.
  • Lack of clarity around your mission. If you can’t succinctly tell your customers what you deliver and why, then you can bet your staff is delivering confusing messaging. Assess your employees’ perceptions. Ask them for their version of the company elevator pitch. Now, compare notes. If you get back 12 different answers, you are sending confusing signals to the marketplace. It’s time to get everyone on the same page with a proactive internal messaging effort.
  • General Invisibility. Has the phone stopped ringing? Did you take a break from advertising, public relations, marketing or other customer-communication action? If you haven’t changed the level of communication to customers, you need to see why your message isn’t getting through. A competitive message analysis coupled with customer check-in is needed. Also, a reality check on your service is key.

  • Negative customer feedback. Naturally you should first handle any customer experience that was negative. Make sure processes are in place to ensure better customer interaction, service delivery and other processes. But, do not fail to publicize what you are doing to help make customer’s experiences better. A customer survey after improvements have been installed should tell you if they heard you or not. If you get negative feedback then either the issue wasn’t resolved or your messaging around your offering isn’t feeling real to them.

Message Process. The External Look.

Once you have taken an internal look, which includes auditing your current messaging, interviewing staff, board members and other stakeholders, and analyzing your materials, you are ready to take the second step and look outward.

A proactive messaging process should include assessing competitors’ messaging. We’ve discussed analyzing your competitor’s messages extensively here.

But you also should conduct as much market research around your customer base as your resources allow. By checking in with your current and potential customers you will avoid developing your corporate story and messages in a vacuum.

First, do you know who they are? Identify as much demographic information as you can.

After figuring out who you are trying to attract investigate what influences them and why. Besides conducting customer surveys that ask what they thought of you be sure to ask them plenty of questions that get to the heart of their world. Hundreds of revealing questions exist, such as:

  • What tone of voice resonates with them the most? (e.g. humor, sincerity, outrage) And, why?
  • Who do they pay attention to? (e.g. celebrities, peers, academic experts) Who else is influencing them?
  • Do they use social media? (e.g. topical forums and message boards, Facebook, LinkedIn?) Or, are they more apt to use more traditional channels? (e.g. evening news broadcasts, radio shows, newspapers, trade journals)
  • What are their pain points? What do they wish was different, better, more?
  • Where do they spend their time, and why?
  • What are their values?
  • What causes them to part with their resources (e.g. time, money, attention, referrals)

Making sure your messages work means making sure they work for your audience and not just look good on paper.

The Message Process. Looking Inward First.

The first step in our message process involves taking an internal look at the company or organization.

Knowing how you are currently portraying your organization and what you are saying will lead you to the reputation and image you have already created. You may find you’ll need to unravel, change or re-direct a perception that was self-created due to confusing or unclear messaging.

What messages do your materials send?
Audit your web site, printed materials, PowerPoint presentations, press coverage, even your e-mail messages sent to customers and other stakeholders. A few things to note include:

•  What is the overall positioning being delivered?
•  What are the top 5 main messages?
•  What is the tag line (including the informal ones that seem to crop up in e-mails and PowerPoint presentations because a staff member just likes it)

What is the common thread amongst them? Are those the message you wish to send? What is clear or unclear? What is compelling and what is not? What differentiates you from your competitors and what does not? What speaks the truth? Where are you stretching it?

What message is your staff sending?
Secondly, identifying what your people believe is key. Why? They are sending a message – whether or not they know it – about who you are and what you stand for. If you don’t know what your own employees or partners are saying, then you know only half the story that is being told about your firm. Your own people have default language and a default elevator pitch. Find out what they are.

This self perception analysis should include interviewing staff, board members, committee chairs and key partners, investors, and other stakeholders.

Ask them the following (and more):
•  What are the top three public perception challenges that your organization is facing? If these three viewpoints were changed, you would meet your goals and objectives. These barriers can relate to any of the organization’s functions or needs.
•  Who do you believe is our organization’s primary target audience (include qualities or characteristics)?
•  What do you believe is an untapped market for the organization?
•  What do you believe our customers and clients are driven by?
•  What do you think our customers and clients say about us when we are not in the room?
•  What barrier needs to be removed to meet our customers’ needs?
•  What qualities (e.g. creative, dedicated, etc.) would you assign to our organization?
•  If you could tell a potential customer or client one thing about us, what would it be?
•  What is your greatest concern about our reputation or image?

One Basic Positioning and Message Process. Use, Copy, Consider…

We are committed to better storytelling for and by everyone, so we are freely sharing some of our Four Leaf positioning and messaging processes.

Many methods exist for companies and organizations to craft their stories and narratives. Below is one simple course that can put order to the process of developing more powerful messaging.

In the coming weeks, we will discuss various parts of this process in more detail. But, for now, consider asking are your messages working for you? When was the last time you took a deep dive into your messaging? And, when you did were your decisions based on research, analysis, anecdotal evidence or your gut feelings?

Positioning & Messaging: One Basic Process

Step one: The Internal Look. Who are you and what do you believe?

  • Conduct a current message audit. What are you currently saying or sharing with your audiences?
  • Engage in a self perception analysis. What do you believe, think and know about yourself?

Step two: The External Look. What does your audience hear or see? What are you up against? What is the noise we are trying to cut through?

  • Conduct a competitive message analysis. Who or what is your audience choosing over you and why? What are they saying that is so compelling?
  • Engage in target audience research. Who are your customers, anyway? What do they think or know about you?

Step three: Message Development. Develop a series of messages in a planned message summit or series of meetings, including:

  • Target audience description
  • Concept pyramid (What are you trying to get across and what are the priorities?)
  • Good word, bad word list (What words do you always want associated with you? Which ones, not so much?)
  • Positioning statement
  • Elevator pitch/10 second story
  • Tag line
  • Power bites. (Answers to the top 10 questions you know you’ll get asked.)
  • 3 Take-away statements
  • Corporate boilerplate
  • Value messages

Step four: Testing and refreshing. Spend a few weeks testing your messages with trusted and loyal customers. Do they resonate or fall flat? Revise as necessary.

Could You Describe Your Company in 6 Words or Less?

It is no secret that I am addicted to Honest Tea. In addition to it tasting really good, the inside of their bottle caps include interesting messages. Lately, they have been printing customers’ six word “memoirs.” Interesting exercise. Could you sum up the basis of your life in six words of less? Samples include:

• Born with big nose. Pursued comedy.
• Became an accountant but still can’t count.
• Cloudy with a chance of sun.

Could you sum up your company in six words or less? How about your company’s values? Your products or services? Your mission?

Here’s mine: Better Storytelling For More Influence.

Okay, it’s just five words. But, still…

What’s yours?

First Questions to Answer Before Crafting your Business Narrative

Before determining your company’s story or messages, consider asking yourself three basic questions:


1. Why am I thinking about my message or my story? When a business leader begins to question the message the organization is sending, it usually is because something is not right. The competition might be getting more attention. Customers may be acting confused or not acting at all. Or, employees are sending multiple and/or conflicting messages to customers and stakeholders. Identifying “what is wrong with this picture?” is an important step toward a solid business narrative.


2. What do I want my audience to do? Do you know what action you are seeking from customers or other stakeholders? Buying your product or service isn’t always the answer. Having customers refer you to colleagues and friends might be a goal. Or, have current customers buy more might be the objective. If you don’t know the reaction you are trying to illicit, then neither do your customers or potential customers when they hear about you.


3. How much do I know about my audience?  Most business leaders pride themselves on knowing exactly who they are trying to reach, what moves them, and their pain points. But, if you aren’t regularly checking in with your target audience, you don’t know enough about them. The world is changing at a rapid pace, and the people in the world are being pushed, pulled and influenced along with it. Seeking more information about your customers should be an ongoing activity. You will then know what they need to see, hear and experience from your story.