Good message development is a critical part of any communications plan. Despite all the talk about the importance of good messaging, it remains an elusive part of communications planning and in some cases downright mysterious to many companies and organizations.
Executives often think that good messaging is about having a great tagline or slogan or that their mission statement is their message. Neither is the message. Mission statements define the purpose of an organization and messaging flows from mission. Tag lines are like headlines to a news story—grabbing our attention with a kind of shorthand.
Messages help to shape the perception you want to have in your target audiences’ minds, providing context and forging an emotional connection. Great messages are simple, short, and memorable, and speak to the heart and then the mind. Messages should answer three fundamental questions:
- Why to engage with you,
- What are the benefits of doing so and,
- How to engage with you.
When we work with clients on developing messages, our process involves asking a series of probing questions and conducting research about their target audiences and the general environment in which they are operating. We examine the words that various audiences use to talk about the company or organization; their feelings and perceptions; and target audience desires and expectations from the company or organization. We review products/services that the company or nonprofit delivers, the methods they use and the messages that they have been sending through various means. We also facilitate several sessions to bring company/organization management and staff together for an honest discussion about what it is they want to express and to whom; and then how to frame it.
All too often, however, we find that taking an organization through the messaging process uncovers all kinds of unresolved strategic issues. Why? Because messaging stakes a claim. It’s not enough to make statements; you have to be able to back them up. For example, if one of your messages is that you go above and beyond to take care of your customers but you put them on hold for 20 minutes or take a week to respond to their queries online, your message rings hollow. So you have to look at how do you take care of customers? How are you training your frontline team? Have you deployed your resources to deliver on this statement?
There is a saying that old age is not for the faint of heart. Neither is the process of developing messages. But if you take the time to go through the process and create compelling messaging, the rewards will be enormous. Your customers, clients, donors and others who matter to your success, will understand you, engage with you and support you.