In the first blog on messaging I asked if your company was a person, what sort of a person would it be? Have you been able to answer that? Is your company the sort of person you think it is?

Now we’re going to delve more deeply into how to effectively tackle your company’s messaging, and the one thing that is required is commitment. It’s not a lot, but commitment is definitely needed and it’s needed from the top.

To undertake a messaging revamp, you’ve got to dedicate a day or two of executive time to get this right. However, once done, you’ve got great content that can be utilised across your organisation for years to come. Sure, it may need to be updated occasionally, but you’ve got the basic context around which you present your company to the world.

Once everyone is committed, it’s time to host a messaging workshop. This workshop MUST be attended by all senior executives of your company and everyone must be focused on the job at hand – to define who your company is today and in the future.

A messaging session could take one or two days, so getting the entire management team and key people in your organisation together can be a struggle (especially in Asia Pacific,) but it cannot be left in the hands of junior people and “sold up.” The senior management are the visionaries of any company, so their dedication to this process is absolutely vital.

I’ve run messaging workshops all over the world and had entire management teams in attendance. Every time senior management appreciates the opportunity to step back, look at their company objectively and be part of the creation process of the new message to market. If they are involved in this process, they are 100 per cent motivated to sell the new message throughout the company – a top down approach – and this is what makes new messaging “live.”

By not being involved, they are not bought into anything created and that means they will not assist creating the necessary culture dedicated to this messaging. Trust me on one thing. If it’s painful getting their commitment but you eventually get there, they will be very grateful you convinced them to be involved.

As an additional motivator to get them engaged, mention that in a world gone mad with social media, not having effective and unified messaging can be disastrous. Everyone needs to be bought in and it needs to start at the top.

The people that should be involved in a messaging workshop, at a minimum, are the CEO/MD, all other C-level execs, the head of marketing and the entire marketing team, the head of sales and lead sales people, the head of R&D and the overall head of operations. If there are quirky, creative people in your company who have great ideas, bring them in as well. If there are socially popular people within your company, involve them and they will “sell” the message internally better than anyone else. For regional operations, try to bring in as many country managers as possible, along with VPs in influential roles to further enhance the penetration and acceptance of your new messaging. Getting this group together will ensure great success for a messaging initiative.

To get the greatest results, I recommend that a meeting be chaired by an independent consultant who you rate, and it must be held off site, with all distractions switched off. People must be focussed. It also needs to be an environment where anything goes and senior people do not dominate the conversation. It will be the job of the host to make sure everyone contributes. The reality is, junior people have terrific ideas and can contribute stunning thoughts when given the chance. BUT they must feel comfortable contributing – something a lot of people struggle with if the company is hierarchy-based. No idea is a bad idea after all.

The reason I suggest bringing in an independent host, is to guarantee an objective perspective. This person must lead and direct discussion, as well as be responsible for bringing together the final messaging. Some companies use PR firms for this work, but it is not always appropriate as messaging isn’t just about PR and not all PR firms appreciate the big picture and all of the audiences a company must influence. There are exceptions in the PR world, so choose wisely.

You also need someone who isn’t afraid to tell you what they think, so if one of your agencies leads this activity, make sure it is led by someone who understands your market, your company, your competition, and your customers and partners. This person should never be afraid to disagree with the most senior people in your company.

 The key objectives of a messaging strategy session are:

  1. Define what your company is today and how you want it to be perceived globally
  2. Clarify messaging and positioning top level down – vision, mission, business overview, vertical market messaging, customer achievements, and so on
  3. Gain buy-in to messaging and positioning, because it will define you as a business for the short to long term
  4. Clarify your business strategy and map messaging to this strategy
  5. Establish yourselves as a company of vision

At the end of a messaging strategy session, you should walk away with:

  • Revised vision statement
  • Revised mission statement
  • Corporate overview and position in the market
  • Corporate tagline
  • One line statements and paragraph summaries that capture the essence of your business
  • Market overview/vertical positioning
  • Product/service overview and detailed information
  • A definition of where you sit in the competitive landscape – today and tomorrow
  • Press release content – tagline, boiler plate
  • Refreshed Web content
  • Social media supporting content

The resulting content created from a messaging workshop should be used in all Web, sales and marketing activities, as well as be the basis of how everyone speaks about your company in any environment.

An example of the questions to ask in a messaging strategy session:

  • What are the key words or phrases that should be closely linked to your company?
  • How do you want your company to be perceived?
  • What is the long term vision for your company? Or what is your ultimate goal?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • What is unique about your business?
  • What is your value proposition to customers?
  • What problem do you solve?
  • Who is your major competition? What do they do better than you?
  • What is the competitive landscape of the future? Where do the challenges lie?
  • What are some of the competitive attributes that you admire?
  • Etc…

When messaging strategy sessions don’t succeed

If your entire management team is not dedicated to this process by actively attending and contributing to the messaging strategy workshop and any follow-up required to finalise the content, then you may not succeed here. Messaging must come from the top, and therefore, the senior team members must be actively involved throughout the process.

Set the tone up front for an honest and open exchange of ideas and thoughts.

Make the sessions open so that everyone feels comfortable contributing to the workshop. If people with great ideas are too timid to speak up, you will miss out on valuable feedback from people who know and understand the company, along with some very good ideas.

Put the effort in. Turn phones off, don’t bring in laptops or have internet access – focus, focus, focus – as only great things can come from this.

Don’t be afraid of voicing “crazy” ideas – the best ideas are always organic and start with a seed of brilliance.

Don’t be closed off or set in your ways. How you present your company can always be improved, so be open to new ways of looking at your company, and work with your team to build the company you want for the future.

Change and evolution, while scary to some, is a great thing, so put yourselves next to companies you admire, even if they’re not in the same industry. Consider what you admire in other businesses – even your competitors. And ask yourself are you capable of being more? Think big, think differently, be open.

Good luck

Embarking on an review of how you talk about your company is a very exciting process for any business, so I wish you luck as you move forward. By bringing together a team of exciting people – your people – you’ll be able to look at your company with fresh eyes, reenergise your team and you’ll then go to market excited and in tune with each other. Getting your message right has never been more important. You have more advocates and more detractors now than ever before, and many cannot be “controlled.” Therefore make sure that those you CAN influence are speaking in synch with what you want to say about your company, and you’re bound to be in much better stead than your competition.

Be honest, be open, be great.