To make a powerful impression, build (and use) a strong messaging platform

A messaging platform is the foundation of powerful communications. Why?

  • It provides a crisp and compelling explanation of what your company is all about—and that’s especially important if you have a complex or novel product or service.
  • It makes it easy for everyone in your organization to speak clearly and confidently about your work, which expands your marketing reach and turns employees across the business into brand ambassadors.
  • It makes your unique qualities and benefits more memorable—it’s hard for anyone to remember what you do if they’ve heard it described three different ways.

A strong platform rests on four pillars: It’s concrete—it creates a clear picture of what you’re doing. It’s relatable—it’s in plain language, relates new ideas to concepts your audiences already understand and feels authentic to the people using it. It’s catchy—it’s easy to remember and say. And it’s flexible—it’s readily adaptable to the person using it, the communication channel and the audience.

It’s not enough just to build it, though—you have to get people to come to it, embrace it and make it come alive. We’ve found in creating messaging platforms for a range of clients that follow-up support is the key to realizing full benefits. It’s essential that top executives promote the messaging enthusiastically, that everyone understands the benefits of using it and that people have appropriate tools and training in using the messaging in real-life situations.

Do all this and you’ll have powerful messaging—people throughout your company will communicate clearly and consistently about what you do and why it matters, you’ll be effectively positioned in media coverage and people will remember you.

Find more ways to energize your brand communications in Thinkshift’s Strategy>Shift guide, 9 Ways to Make a Powerful Impression. Dig deeper into building a strong messaging platform with Messaging 101: 5 Keys to Unlocking your Verbal Brand.

Want power content marketing? Take a page from networking.

Content marketing can be a powerful tool for business development executives as well as the marketing team. Think of it as networking, which aims to turn acquaintances into friends and business associates. Content marketing similarly builds relationships, turning prospects into clients and partners as you move them through your sales funnel.

With a bow of gratitude to Judy Robinett, author of How to Be a Power Connector, here are key networking tactics that apply to content marketing for SMEs.

Just say hello.
The first step in networking is, naturally, to introduce yourself. Your initial email should provide value and position you as a potential ally. Don’t open with a sales pitch: link to a blog post or attach a report you think they would find useful.

Find common ground.
Delivering content that speaks to the needs of your audience is critical to keeping them interested in you. Consider their job, industry and company in determining what content to send them. You can also learn about someone’s interests if you check out their LinkedIn profile or company bio.

Assume the other person is shy.
You can’t assume people will reach out when they need your help. Give them a reason to stay in touch that requires minimal effort, such as downloading a new piece of content or signing up for your newsletter. Taking that step should be easy and logical. When they know you well (see below), they’ll feel comfortable about developing a business relationship and be open to a sales pitch.

Provide value early and often.
Building a trusting relationship requires delivering value—be helpful and generous at every contact point. People tend to associate and do business with givers, thinking, “If they are this good now, I bet they’re amazing to their paying clients.”

Be present and listen.
This can be a challenge in any situation and with content marketing in particular, which tends to be a one-way communication. It doesn’t have to be. Pay attention to conversations wherever they’re happening—on Twitter, in blog comments, in social media groups—and respond. Pay attention to your own content as well, noting what’s popular and what’s not, and adjust your offerings accordingly.

Content marketing is a long-term strategy that focuses on building relationships. If you think of it as networking and focus on being as helpful as possible, you’ll position yourself as a trusted advisor who’s top of mind when people need your services.

For more content marketing strategies, check out our Strategy>Shift guide, Content Marketing: Myth vs. Reality.

How to fight complacency and spark action: hit a nerve

Marketing gurus often talk about speaking to your audience’s “pain” and showing how you can make it go away. That advice draws on a larger principle: when you hit a nerve, you get attention. That’s true whether you target pains, desires or aspirations. Communications that generate an emotional response put people in a frame of mind to listen to your rational case.

Doing this well and consistently requires truly knowing your audience—what motivates them and what drives them crazy; what hems in their choices and what brings them rewards. Be cautious about assuming that you and your colleagues “get” your audience in this way: even if you are demographic doppelgangers, you’re operating with the tunnel vision of insider knowledge. Do some digging: research that’s as minimal as structured interviews with five tar­get audience members will put you in a much better position to hit a nerve.

Our client Sage Consulting found its market’s nerve by working collaboratively with the first group to go through its training program for healthcare workers. Sage asked participants to talk about the reasons they entered the field and the factors leading to burnout. The resulting conversations were intense and emotional—and revealing. The company incorporated that process into its training programs as a way of opening people up to a new approach; it also used this audience knowledge in its marketing to address objections to the program that people might not state directly.

Want to hit a nerve? Remember these three rules:

  • Find out what people do, not just what they say. What people act on is the true sign of what motivates them.
  • Speak directly to your audience. Your pitch is about them, not you.
  • Address the emotional component—how this problem (or desire) makes them feel, and how they will feel after engaging with you.

Find more ways to energize your brand communications in Thinkshift’s Strategy>Shift guide: 9 Ways to Make a Powerful Impression.

Everyone agrees: brands are failing on sustainability—and marketing is part of the problem

New research confirms what the evidence has been pointing to for some time: companies are frustrated because even though consumers say sustainability is important, they aren’t buying it; consumers, on the other hand, say businesses aren’t living up to expectations in sustainability matters.

In short, almost everyone thinks that “business is failing to take care of the planet and society,” says the intro to From Marketing to Mattering, which follows up the UN Global Compact-Accenture CEO Study on Sustainability with research on the views of 30,000 consumers worldwide. What intrigues me most are the researchers’ conclusions about the need for better marketing.

Essentially, companies are failing to include sustainability in their core purpose. It’s not an integrated part of their brand—it’s an adjunct, something they do over there, in that part of the company, and write up in their CSR report. Brands are not connecting sustainability benefits to their products and services or to what matters to the people who buy them.

The report notes that “traditional skills of marketing have been either absent or detached from companies’ long-term efforts on sustainability.” Businesses offer a lot of facts and figures, but they’re not connecting to buyers emotionally. And people are frustrated that they can’t “easily identify” more responsible brands.

I’m sure that a look at brands with sustainability concerns at their core, such as Patagonia, Method and Plum Organics (to name just three), and the people who use their products would reveal a very different picture. These companies are adept at marketing communications: they tell a strong story that conveys values. And those values, in turn, are clearly reflected in their products, whose beauty and quality make them alluring to customers.

The researchers know this. “More responsible, sustainable brands are desirable and offer competitive advantage to companies able to effectively communicate the message,” the report says, adding that selling sustainability alongside other things people value (price, product quality, availability and service) is “likely to deliver superior returns.”

Yet companies aren’t acting. While most CEOs (76 percent) say they want to integrate sustainability across the business, they are stymied. And here’s the kicker: from 2011 to 2013, the proportion of companies reporting that their marketing function was “engaged” in sustainability dropped from 41 percent to 28 percent. (The report authors used the quotations; they don’t define what’s meant.) And framing sustainability in terms of what matters to people has been “abandoned in favor of a wave of data.”

I’m all for data—it’s needed to back up any claim. But we—brands, marketers and the people we speak to—also need a story that connects to our emotions and values.

How to tell if your messages sing the right tune

You’ve crafted your messaging platform. You built it on a foundation of research (your market and customers) and exploration (who you really are and what you want to be). It’s designed for usability and impact.

Your messages are woven into your website and sales collateral. You have talking points and a social media guide. You’ve trained frontline staff and others so they can talk about your business confidently and consistently.

But how will you know if the platform is effective? Successful messaging hits all the following marks. If it doesn’t, it’s time to take another swing at it.

Messages are authentic. A key test is whether people in your organization genuinely connect with the messages. For that to happen, messages need to be written in natural, ordinary language, so that your people are comfortable using them and audiences respond to them. Jargon, corporate speak and vague phrasing won’t cut it.

The messaging get used. Reporters use it when writing about the company. Partner organizations use it when they describe you on their website. Employees use it, not just in presentations and formal communications, but also on their LinkedIn and Facebook pages and when they talk about their work with friends.

For one company we work with, the test came with the release of significant company news requiring media outreach and a new partnership. It was gratifying to see the messaging take hold and appear in newspaper articles, customer blog posts and on a partner website. Meanwhile, employees used it on their LinkedIn pages and elsewhere.

The messaging is flexible. Good messaging provides a starting point for any communications task, whether it’s a pithy quote from the CEO in a press release, a boilerplate description of the company, or the brand voice and framework for a report, presentation or website.

A messaging platform should provide messages that are as close to plug-and-play as possible, with examples for as many contexts as makes sense. But messaging shouldn’t be rigid. It should adapt to circumstance and the person using it, the communications vehicle, the audience and other factors.

This is part two of a series of posts on messaging and how to use it. Missed the first one? It’s here. Can’t wait for the rest of the series? For the complete scoop, download our Strategy>Shift guide, Messaging 101: 5 Keys to Unlocking your Verbal Brand.