In a fast-moving world, it’s important to have messaging that tells people what you do, who you serve, and how you’re unique. Simply put, people want to quickly know how your brand or product is relevant.

It’s Marketing 101.

Yet many businesses struggle with bad messaging. It’s confusing, vague, and ambiguous. Their business is a mystery rather than obvious.

messagingWhy would any company do that? Why would any business operate with one hand tied behind its back?

In working with dozens of startups and small businesses, here are the key things that I’ve learned about messaging.

1. Many entrepreneurs are obsessed with their products.

As a result, their marketing usually involves price, features, and benefits. Truth be told, this type of information is table stakes.

More important are your customers; the people who help your business thrive.

Messaging needs to be about them, not you. It needs to reflect their needs, pains, problems, fears, and aspirations.

It’s all them, it’s not about you. As a result, your messaging should use “you” rather than “we”. It’s a simple concept but you’d be surprised by the number of companies whose marketing is “We do this….”.

2. Entrepreneurs operate with implicit prejudices about their business and products.

They work in a bubble. They believe what they’re doing is amazing or unique.

The problem is they have little or no third-party perspective. No one is providing counter-arguments, different opinions, or better ideas.

As a result, their messaging reflects their take on what they sell, their target audiences, and the competitive landscape.

They lack something extremely valuable: perspective. Getting third-party guidance, feedback, and criticism matters because it surfaces new ideas, directions, and mistakes.

3. Messaging is obvious…after the fact.

When I develop brand narratives, value propositions, elevator pitches, and positioning statements, some clients scratch their heads. They look at what I’ve created and question why they couldn’t have done it themselves.

They have the insight about their business but sometimes it’s difficult, if not impossible, for them to articulate it. They’re too close to the action to properly position their brand or product within the competitive landscape

This is why a third-party has to facilitate the process. It is someone who can gather information from multiple sources and package it in a fresh and unbiased way.

The big challenge for fast-moving companies is recognizing and admitting that they need better messaging. It’s easier to stick with what they have rather than developing something new. But better messaging makes a difference. It resonates, connects, and makes an impact.

4. It takes a lot of work to create good messaging.

A lot of information is collected before the story emerges. When I work with clients, the process involves:

  • Discussions with key stakeholders (management, employees, partners)
  • Research about the marketplace and the competitive landscape
  • Talking to a variety of customers
  • Conducting a competitive analysis

This process takes weeks to complete because different perspectives provide perspective and different views of the world. This is surprising for many entrepreneurs who assume that messaging is quickly created after a few conversations.

The development of messaging is a process. It shouldn’t be rushed and it’s not a good idea to take shortcuts. When done properly, messaging gradually develops and unfolds. Along the way, you’re getting input from various sources and building a shared view of the world.

5. Messaging underpins marketing and sales.

When messaging is clear and coherent, there’s a solid foundation in place.

Marketing activity – be it blog posts, sales sheets, infographics, social media, eBooks, videos, or speaking – features consistent themes that resonate with target audiences.

Everyone’s on the same page rather than telling their personal versions of the truth.

With rock-solid messaging, it is easier to create marketing and sales collateral and campaigns.

6. When messaging resonates, it’s exciting for everyone involved.

Key stakeholders (executives, employees, investors) want to believe in messaging that makes an impact.

They want messaging that tells the world what their company does and why it matters. Good messaging creates anticipation and new possibilities.

I recently worked with a software company in the travel business. After weeks of work, the management team unveiled the new messaging at an all-hands meeting. The initial reaction was silence, which seemed troubling given the time and money invested.

Then, I realized the messaging made sense to everyone; no one had objections. This is not to suggest the messaging was perfect but it worked because employees could rally around it.

Now what?

As you head into 2019, here’s a good exercise: ask yourself if your messaging clearly tells the world what you do, who you serve, and how you’re unique.

Take an analytical look at how your company is positioned and, as important, how it stacks up against key rivals. Then, solicit opinions from third-party sources; people willing to offer honest feedback.

If your messaging is clear, congratulations. If people don’t quickly get what your company does or employees tell different brand stories, you have a problem.

For more guidance on messaging, check out this blog post on the six key ingredients for awesome messaging.

If you’re looking for marketing and storytelling inspiration and guidance on how to get marketing done, I recently published a new book, Marketing Spark. It’s not your typical marketing book that puts the spotlight on ideas and concepts; it’s a workbook featuring frameworks, templates, worksheets, tools and how-to guides. It’s available on Amazon.