Over the past few months, I have been doing a lot of core messaging work. It’s intellectually challenging and very interesting but it’s also an intense process because the end result can be elusive and take time to pin down.

But at the end of the day, strong core messaging is critical for every company, particularly start-ups looking to establish themselves within noisy or competitive markets. Effective core messaging provides the foundation for pretty much everything a company does to operate their business – PR, business development, marketing, sales, social media, et al.

Not having clear and well-articulated core messaging means not having a well-defined focus about what you do, the value consumers get from using your products or services, and why anyone should care. Without core messaging, you’re at a competitive disadvantage because consumers will not get a good sense of why they need what you’re selling, and how you offer more or better value than the competition.

Given this situation, the strange part is how badly many companies do when it comes to core messaging. For all the effort put into sales and marketing, their core messaging is unclear, scattered and confusing. Not only is it difficult to tell what they offer but it misses a key element – something I describe as the “What’s in for me?” question that consumers ask when considering a purchase. If you’re unable to provide this answer quickly and clearly, you’re doomed.

Without realizing it, I’ve really been doing core messaging for years. As a technology reporter, a key part of my job was interviewing executives about their companies, strategies and products. Then, I would craft a story with a particular angle that I found interesting. The story emerged after spending time reviewing my notes to discover the “nuggets” from marketing-speak that many companies embrace that lets them talk without saying anything.

These days, I go through the same process with clients. I gather a lot of information, ask a lot of questions, pore through their Webs sites and marketing collateral and focus on the needs of target audiences to get a strong sense of who they are, what they and why anyone would care.

Sometimes, the core messaging is obscured or buried so it’s just a matter of dusting it off or giving it a little love. Sometimes, there’s no core message at all, which means starting from scratch.

At the end of the process, I deliver a core messaging “boilerplate” that spells out the who, what and the why I should care. It’s a short document but it gives a company a foundation upon which to layer on other activities such as Web site content, marketing collateral, presentations, sales documents and social media.

Today, I’ll be doing a presentation at MaRS about how start-ups need to look at marketing. Not surprisingly, core messaging is at the top of list because I think many companies focus more on making sure they’ve got it nailed rather than spending their time adding yet another feature or widget to their product or service. But without solid core message, you’re really just spinning your wheels.

Jump-start your marketing! 

My new book, Marketing Spark, delivers strategic and tactical guidance on how to embrace the power of story-driven marketing. Learn how to:
1. Create messaging that makes an impact
2. Develop a strategic roadmap for success.
3. Tactically leverage marketing channels.

Marketing Spark is an everyday resource featuring  fworksheets, templates, tools and case studies.
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