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What’s Your Story? How answering this question results in stronger messaging

Over the holidays, you probably attended a few get-togethers. In the midst of small talk, someone probably asked you about your work, which means, you inevitably had to articulate your company’s brand message.

How’d you do? If you’re a sales manager or marketing director-type person, it probably wasn’t too difficult. Odds are, you have a strategic “elevator pitch” you trot out for just such an occasion. But if your company is like most, the rest of your organization doesn’t have a standard answer. Just imagine how many different messages were presented about your company in the last few weeks.

The truth is that every single employee in your company can be a walking, talking brand builder — if you’ve taken the time to hammer out the answer to the question, “What’s your story?” ahead of time. If not, those cocktail party conversations are more than missed opportunities; they’re weak links eroding your brand.

What’s needed is a strong messaging foundation. This is no big revelation. We talk with marketers all the time who fundamentally understand the importance of communicating a clear, concise message to a target audience. Yet it’s surprising how infrequently messaging is actually developed with the goal of building a brand story. Inevitably, when we talk with various members of an organization, from the consumer-facing front lines all the way up to heads of sales and marketing, the story they tell about their company is far from consistent, much less clear and concise.

This is an advertising and marketing problem that extends outside the boundaries of the advertising and marketing departments. At OnMessage, we encourage the marketers we work with to start thinking about messaging from a broader perspective.

Scattershot messaging tends to happen when marketers get caught up in a vehicle-driven cycle: a looming ad deadline or an event in need of a brochure. But brochure or ad copy is not messaging. It’s copy. Sadly, we find many marketers who use and reuse copy created for a singular vehicle as their “messaging.” No wonder sales people spend between 40 and 60 hours per month re-working “messaging” because they don’t feel it speaks to the customer. The age-old clash between sales and marketing will never be resolved without fully developed messaging that is backed up by customer insight.

Instead of approaching your message on a vehicle-driven, “need-now” basis — meaning create copy for an ad campaign, lead generation, online banners, or whatever is “needed now” — take a step back and find out what your customer is thinking, feeling and needing. How do you fit in? Take the time to discover your story. Build a messaging foundation around it, and make sure the entire organization understands it. Then give them the resources to communicate it and use it as the basis for all your marketing and advertising.

Practically speaking, recreating the messaging wheel every time is a resource drain. The goal is to thread your story through each vehicle you deploy. Our five-phase messaging methodology includes building a series of copy decks out of the foundational message that can then be repurposed throughout the necessary vehicles.

We also surface mandatory messages and rank them in order of importance. This up-front due diligence creates long-term efficiencies while ensuring a consistent, clear message across the board.

The result is a series of actions that fortify the story you’re trying to tell and ultimately solidify your positioning. Imagine the impact it could make if every touch point supplemented your brand and each customer engagement tied back to your core message.

Building from a solid messaging platform helps you create marketing vehicles that support a brand. Even direct response campaigns can play a part in telling your story. Beyond that, a solid message builds trust. These days, trust is something not earned (or kept) easily. When your message is all over the place, it does nothing to create a trusting relationship with potential customers. Beyond that, it affects how they communicate your message to others.

While social media has taken much of the control over the message out of marketers’ hands, having a consistent, solid story that resonates with your audience allows you to influence more of what your audience says. Without a messaging platform in place, your social media efforts simply can’t create the kind of engagement that solidifies a brand promise…leaving customers feeling empty and unsatisfied.

We’re in a new decade now; one filled with promise and opportunity for those who find focus. We believe marketers can do that by honestly answering a few questions:

• Are you spending more time focused on deploying marketing vehicles than on the messaging contained within them? (Consider inverting your priorities and see what a difference it can make.)

• Do you know your story? Does your team know it? Does your entire company know it? (If not, how can you expect it to be told consistently, no matter if that’s through your marketing and advertising efforts or simply in a casual conversation at a social gathering?)

• Do you know how and where your story should be told? (Are you taking full advantage of the opportunities of new media?)

• Is someone in your company responsible for keeping your story consistently on message? (If not, do you have a partner who can?)

Take a hard look at the answers to these questions in 2010 and you’ll build the foundation for great success in the years to come.

This is a guest post from Kimberly J. Smith with OnMessage. As OnMessage’s resident wordsmith (pun quite intended), Kim has a history of penning award-winning copy — but she’s more than a copywriter, even voicing and producing podcasts while developing messaging strategy and guiding conceptual creative. Outside the office, Kim cares for two sons, a dog, a cat, and a husband (not necessarily in that order), and finds time to write children’s books while the family sleeps. Which explains why she’s been known to mainline coffee. (She swears she’s trying to cut down.)

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