Communicating Your Business - Start With Your Message
By Matt Friedman
As businesspeople we've all been asked the question "What do you do?" and hoped our brains would emit a clear, concise answer that would be the catalyst for a conversation, business card exchange and just maybe, a business relationship.
But it's usually not that easy. Most of us give answers that are too long or too short. Then, there's the businessperson who goes right into a sales pitch rather than just answering the question. Sometimes, it's the setting that can be a challenge - outside of where you normally conduct business - such as a social function or a Chamber networking event.
The solution? Easy-to-say, easy-to-remember messages that describe your company, what you do and how it is different that are consistent and put into action across work groups in your organization.
Most companies - from entrepreneurial start-ups to corporate giants - struggle to talk meaningfully about themselves. To overcome that challenge, it takes a commitment to develop and uphold messages for your company. In this competitive economy, pinpointing then delivering your message can help to separate you from others in your industry and create lasting impressions in the minds of your customers and business targets.
Here are five tips to help you begin to create messages that will guide what it said about your business:
1. "Take It To The Bank"
Every company should have a "Message Bank." When you have an occasion to talk or write about your business, you just make a "withdrawal." All key messages about your company should be included in the "Bank" - so it is all in one document that can be used to dictate future communications. This should include the "soundbite" answer to the "What do you do?" question, as well as other scripting to guide you and your company through other, more detailed, instances when you need to write or talk about your business.
Your company's statement of values, mission statement and vision statement are all good places to start. But, also, seek out and gather input from all levels of your organization, particularly those who spend much of their time in contact with your customers and other business contacts, who can provide perspective on how the company is perceived and how effective messages would be.
Often, companies bring in professionals to create the "Message Bank" in collaboration with in-house staff. This provides you with third-party perspective as well as specialized writing ability.
2. The Eye vs. The Ear
When crafting your messages, be aware of the difference in language between the written word and the spoken word. Written words need to read well and spoken words need to flow from the tongue. Often, companies will prepare two sets of messages - one drafted for the eye, to be used in letters, emails, brochures, web sites and other written communication - and one written for the ear, to be used when talking to potential customers, giving speeches and other verbal communication.
3. How Are You Different?
Your messaging should include language that explains why and how you are different from your competition and why the realities of your business and/or industry are different from perceptions that could ring in the minds of your audience.
4. Sing From The Same Page
Once you develop messaging, it should not exist exclusively for company leadership. It should also guide all of those in your organization - whether they present in front of customers or just have to answer a question about the company baseball cap there are wearing in line at the grocery store. Ideally, your "Message Bank" would be shared - electronically and via hard copy - to each member of your company. It would also be best to gather your organization together, or in small groups, to communicate in person the contents of the message guidance, answer questions about the documents and train staff on how and when to use particular message.
5. Stay "On Message"
Companies that deliver their messages effectively are those that communicate with clarity and consistency. One you develop your messages, it is imperative to not veer or waver from them in any form of communication by anyone in your organization. Remaining "on message" is the best way to ensure that you can tell your company's story.
Prepared with strategic messages for your company, you will be able to handle any encounter. Whether it's your "elevator pitch," a proposal to a potential customer or the language on your web site, investing the resources into developing your messages will offer a return to your company for years to come.
About the Author: Matt Friedman is a partner in Tanner Friedman, a strategic communications firm based in Farmington Hills and a member of the Detroit Regional Chamber. He also Chairs the Chamber's Public Relations and Marketing Advisory Council.