One of the biggest challenges for organizations is speaking with a consistent and compelling voice. Silos abound, and even those enterprises that have a positioning platform find it difficult for it to take hold in their organization.
The reason is simple: most executives look at messaging as being about finding the right words, and that is certainly part of the process. But good messaging is mostly about articulating a purpose-the "why" of your business-and engaging everyone fully around that purpose. Messaging is not an island but rather part and parcel of management and organizational development. In fact, we find the message development process can lead to important breakthroughs and A-HAs about challenges and opportunities that often are not revealed during strategic and business planning.
Here are five keys to incorporating messages into your organization's culture and personality:
1) Understand the External Landscape. All too often, organizations send messages that are about them and their wants, but do not speak to the needs and wants of their customers, clients, donors or other key audiences. Do you really know why people buy your product or donate to your cause? What makes them come back? What turns them off? What messages have you been sending until now-and do your audiences embrace and believe them? Taking the time to ask your key audiences these kinds of questions is vital. You don't have to spend thousands of dollars on market research. But you do have to find mechanisms to enlist this kind of feedback and information.
2) Get a grip on how your messages need to relate to your unique brand and/or personality. All too often, corporate and organizational messages are abstract: "We are the leading provider of..." or "We are committed to client/customer service." But what does being the leading provider look like? Do you have a unique product or service? Do you deliver it in a way that addresses particular needs? And what does being committed to service mean? Does everyone in the organization fully comprehend what these concepts mean when tied to your enterprise and only your enterprise?
3) Understand the Internal Landscape. Do your teams and/or employees truly get what you stand for, why your enterprise matters, and who you're trying to reach? You must also step back and take a look at your organization or firm's attitudes from the silo standpoint. What's keeping every employee or partner from fully accepting, endorsing, and using your messages? Do agendas vary? And if so, how do you build internal bridges that bring your closest allies to the same chapter, if not onto the same page?
4) Involve your internal teams in the messaging process. Make sure that the process to develop messages involves more than the marketing and executive teams. Create mechanisms through workshops or sessions where people from across the organization can come together to help shape the messages. There are two benefits: your team will begin to feel ownership of the messages because they helped to create them and your staff will get to know each other better and break down silos because they will be interacting with people they might not work with on a daily basis in a meaningful way.
5) Create a flexible Messaging Architecture. Much as you might create a speech with bullets to describe key points, we like to create a messaging architecture that identifies core concepts to be communicated with key words, and then a series of messages under each theme that employees can tailor to specific purposes and audiences. Too often employees are handed a mission statement (which, by the way, isn't your message) and/or a set of talking points. Then they're told to use them. As a result, when the messages are used, they sound hollow and robotic. When staff, partners and other messengers understand the key ideas and have the flexibility to make them their own, they can be more effective.
6) Repetition and Training. Where the rubber meets the road with messaging is in arriving at a place where everyone can use the new platform comfortably. You can't simply hand your team a messaging guide and tell them to spread the word. After all, introducing new messaging is about significant change-changing the way we talk about our company, changing the way we relate to our key audiences, even changing attitudes within the corporation's or organization's culture. Change is a process and so is the adoption of new messaging. Roll-out and training are as critical-even more so-than rolling out a new product or service line. Follow-up is just as crucial, so you'll want to hold periodic internal workshops, and reinforce the messaging at every turn.
The 21st century is the age of communications. Good communications begins inside your organization. It's not enough to have winning words. You must win the hearts and minds of your team so that they can carry your message and brand forward.