After a presentation to a group of leaders in career transition, one woman’s question got to the heart of why so much business messaging fails. She told me she is starting a company that includes speaking, workshops, a website and consulting. When I asked who she serves and why, she said her business was aimed at image-building for women who had suffered trauma and abuse.

Her messaging was in the wrong place—leading with  the elements of the business and not its value. After a bit more probing, it became clear that her message was really about helping women feel better about their outer selves, while they worked on their inner healing. That’s powerful and compelling.

Blah -Blah List Speak

Most company websites are riddled with “list-speak,” droning on about capabilities and services but totally failing at communicating how they contribute to well-being and delight. By contrast, the most successful enterprises take us on a journey. They move us to some place or emotional state we crave. A lush resort is more than a pinpoint on a map; it’s about pampering and relaxation. The five-star restaurant may promise service and friendly staff, but the way it makes us feel distinctive, important, or warmly welcomed is what really appeals. A pair of winter boots is more than the leather, shearling, or buckles; what moves us is the warmth, comfort and style to navigate a harsh environment. And while a great business consultant could talk about testing, worksheets, or coaching sessions, what breaks through the communications clutter is the opportunity to change the trajectory of our business, getting us unstuck and on track to grow.

The Manifesto at Anchor

Stepping back to write a manifesto that articulates what your business stands for and why it matters can be a jump-starter for great messaging. It can serve  as a guide for everything from product development and hiring practices to marketing and customer service. It’s a litmus test for whether we are living up to our stated beliefs and value.

The Declaration of Independence is one of the most brilliant manifestos ever written. This document didn’t just give birth to the United States, but also influenced the birth or rebirth of so many other nations worldwide. And in the business world, it offers a magnificent formula for constructing manifestos on three pillars: Vision and Belief, Context, and Action Statement.

  • Vision and Belief

State the problem that you solve and your beliefs.  In Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, the first few paragraphs clearly articulate that ties with Britain must dissolve and why. Next it discusses what the colonists believe, the oft quoted:  “We hold these truths to be self evident…” In business, you’ll describe the problem to solve and why the solution matters.

  • Context

The Declaration lays out why its writers have come to this decision, explaining the wrongs that the King inflicted on the colonists and recounting the colonists’ pleadings. In business, this speaks to the needs and wants of the intended user or buyer.

  • Action Statement

Lastly, The Declaration defines the course of action, stating without compromise that the colonists are going to separate from England. In a business manifesto, this is where you would discuss how you help your clients or customers break through a barrier, resolve a challenge, or help your target audiences get to a place or state that they want.

The Formula

As you begin to construct your manifesto, use this formula:

  • What truths does your organization find to be “self evident?” I/We believe….
  • How has your organization arrived at that truth? I/We have seen how…
  • What change/benefit do you believe is possible? I/We know how to achieve/accomplish…
  • What does the world look like for your audience? You will be/feel/become…

Break out of the list maker syndrome that ticks off all the products and services you offer.  Instead, make your case by talking about great things that can and will happen with and through you.  Get people excited about the big things so that they understand why all the smaller things you do every day are so important—and how they fit into making things better for the people you need and want to reach most.