mixed messages

Stop Confusing People: Nix the Mixed Messages

A major pitfall for brands is sending mixed messages.

When companies send mixed messages that say conflicting things about their brand, consistency gets lost and audiences get confused. Confused customers don’t write checks.

Listening to mixed messages is torture, like straining to hear a radio station that’s too far away. The static drowns out the music. The tune can’t breakthrough.

Mixed messages undermine trust

Mixed messages can even harm mental health by breaking down people’s ability to trust.

If your competitors are using mixed messages, fantastic! They’re handing you an opportunity to stand out in your market with one clear, consistent message.

Mixed messages confuse people at least, kill them at worst.
Mixed messages confuse people — so they don’t know what to do.

But if your brand is delivering mixed messages, you need to tackle the hard job of making your company stop it.

The bigger the company and the more messengers there are, the harder it becomes to stamp out these contradictions. In companies big and small, Message Maps help you get your brand’s story straight by getting everyone on the same page.

Sometimes, companies are unaware that their customers hear mixed signals. Mixed messages tend to appear first in uncontrolled media such as news stories, social media, and the employee grapevine.

A company can’t control what others say, but it can create one consistent message and control its own spokespersons. A Message Map enables all your spokespersons to stay on message when they speak with any audience.

Why do companies create mixed messages?

Usually, too many chefs are at work in the company’s message kitchens. The bigger and more siloed the organization, the likelier this is.

Here’s how these mixes happen: Each department creates its own message. Research & Development (R&D) frames product messages. Sales create sales messages. Marketing makes marketing messages. Human Resources shapes employee messages. Investor Relations fashions investor messages.

Departments speak different languages

Each department speaks its own specialized language. R&D speaks engineering, Finance speaks finance, and so forth. Companies that speak different languages in each department generate internal friction. Perhaps you’ve seen this problem before.

woman speaks letters, man speaks equations mixed messages
Companies that speak different languages internally struggle to deliver a consistent message.

For example, when Engineering and Marketing teams convened for a workshop at a mobile telecom company, they spoke completely different languages. That led them to work at cross-purposes, without realizing it.

During the workshop, engineers and marketers debated a crucial issue: whether to put a new carrier onto cell sites. To engineers, adding a new carrier meant adding equipment to increase bandwidth and capacity – a good idea. But to marketers, adding a new carrier meant sharing existing cell sites with competitors – a crazy idea. The longer this debate ran, the more heated it got.

It took 30 minutes for both sides to realize that carrier means different things inside each department. Since they lacked a shared vocabulary, they talked past each other, arguing needlessly for half an hour.

There’s a simple straightforward fix for this problem: ditch the mixed messages.

These messages are bad enough inside companies, but they’re even worse for external audiences. Customers can’t fathom unfamiliar words and mixed signals.

For them, it’s like being at the Tower of Babel. They hear cacophony – loud, confusing, scary talk. So, they tune it out and stop listening altogether.

Mixed messages confuse and confound customers.

How to fix mixed messages

To get rid of mixed messages, first, your company needs to appoint one message chief. Put someone in charge of creating one consistent set of strategic messages, working across departments, functions, and business units.

Collect examples of conflicting messages to share with your boss, executives, and CEO. Since mixed messages are a pain point for leaders, chances are good that they’ll listen to you.

Recommend that leaders appoint one person to clean up the problem. They might choose a communications manager, a marketing manager — or you. If they’re skeptical about the company’s ability to stop sending mixed signals, assure them that you are taking an approach that works for other companies.

Your next step is to convene a Message Map workshop to co-create a unified strategic message.

This blog is the third in a series about pitfalls that marketers need to avoid with their marketing message. Here are blogs on pitfalls one and two.

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