One of the first tough jobs for a new marketer or communicator is to get the company’s story straight. In many companies, there’s simply no agreement on what the company’s story is.
So the company is doomed to reinvent the wheel, creating a message again and again. When the company can’t tell its own story well, most of its signal is lost in the noise.
If you don’t know where your business is going, any story will get you there. If you don’t know where your message is going, your customers, employees and investors won’t know what’s ahead or why they should stick around.
That’s why one of the first things to do is get the message clear.
Many marketers inherit a message of pure cacophony. Each business unit, geography, department and product team makes up its own message and broadcasts it loudly.
But that’s no way to cut through the communications clutter and reach your audience. As Howard Tullman, CEO of 1871, observes, “Don’t raise your voice. Improve your arguments.”
Improving your arguments is what a good story and good messaging are all about. Arguments that are convincing to audiences clearly answer their big question, WIIFM: what’s in it for me?
From the outside, unaligned messages can make a company sound like the Tower of Babel. From the inside, it’s even scarier, since each department speaks a different language.
True story: when a media trainer brought together an engineering team and a marketing team, he found that they spoke different languages, which led to them working at cross-purposes. But they were completely unaware of the problem.
The two teams spent considerable time debating the issue of whether the company should put a new “carrier” onto a cell site.
To the engineers, adding a new “carrier” meant more bandwidth and capacity for customers – a necessary idea. But to the marketers, adding a new “carrier” meant sharing a cell site with competitors – a crazy idea.
It took some time for the two sides to realize they were talking about completely different things, using the identical word “carrier.” In the end, they fully agreed on what was best for the customers and the company – but not before burning precious time learning each other’s language.
What can we learn from that example?
Unaligned messages are like unaligned tires on your car. It’s not easy to steer a car with unaligned tires or manage a company’s marketing with unaligned messages.
With unaligned messages it’s hard to head straight to your destination. Try going straight down the road, and you’ll have to fight the car’s tendency to pull you off-course.
What happens when you have unaligned messages? Some messages wear well, some wear thin quickly and others threaten to blow out at any time.
Too often the fundamental problem of unaligned or mixed messages gets neglected – until it turns into a crisis. That’s why it’s so important to create a unified message that aligns your whole company in advance.
How? Gather your CEO and executives plus relevant subject matter experts into the same room, face-to-face.
Work out your message with help from an objective facilitator. You can build the framework for your company’s message in a day by creating a 1-Page Message Map. Then iterate the message to add examples, stories and statistics, and to polish up your message.
With aligned messages, your company can get much farther. With all your executives, business units, departments, geographies and employees on the same page, telling the same story, your business wins.
That’s because you’ve got everybody in your choir aligned, so:
- Communicators in marketing, sales, public relations, investor relations, human resources, and government affairs can build belief in one consistent message.
- Executives who address customers, investors, employees and communities can build on the same consistent message.
- Customer-facing employees in sales, marketing and customer service can convey one consistent message while speaking in a consistent brand voice.
Why is it so important to maximize message consistency? Because people just don’t buy inconsistent messages.
Consistency is the path to credibility. As cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Carmen Simon has found, when your message stays consistent, people in your audience can store it in their “place cells.”
Place cells are where people store information about things that don’t move. What’s crucial to know about place cells is that, unlike other parts of the brain, they never run out of capacity.
If your message is constantly changing, or your company is spreading too many different messages, you’ll never achieve the consistency needed to earn a spot in people’s place cells.
That means you never achieve real credibility. Inconsistency is precisely why certain politicians and salespeople never break through and never become believable. Their story is changing all the time, leaving the audience blowing in the wind.
Place cells are where people store information that stays consistent – in particular, information about location. For example (unless you just moved), you don’t tax brain cells asking yourself, where’s home?
You don’t burn energy asking: Where is your work place? Where is the store? Where is your front door? You know these things because they’re constants, stored in place cells that never run out of room.
However, when your message is inconsistent, you tax the working memory of your audience. Each time you share an inconsistent message, they wonder, why’s it moving? Soon, they stop paying attention altogether. And you never achieve credibility.
Much better to build credibility with a consistent message that your audience can count on. It’s not only more convincing, but it’s also it’s much less taxing for your audience.
Figure out where your business is going, and how your message can help you get there. Make it the right message — one that’s aligned, gains buy-in, and gets everyone in your choir on the same page.
That’s a crucial job, one that 1-Page Message Maps can do for your business.
As a marketing change agent, I consult with clients, lead content marketing workshops for the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and write the weekly Simplify Marketing blog.
With experience from Fortune 500 companies such as AT&T, RR Donnelley and Tellabs, I've been named:
- Content Marketer of the Year by the Content Marketing Institute.
- Best Marketer by BtoB magazine.
- A B-to-B CMO to watch by Fierce CMO.
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