Monday, December 29, 2014

What is Your Message?

We are all barraged with thousands of bits of information every day. Attention spans are notoriously short and everyone’s brain is working hard to sift through the noise. This reality makes a clear, effective message essential if your organization wants to be heard – and understood.

A clear message does two important things:
  • An effective message gives your audiences an overall structure, or framework, to understand what your organization does and/or its goals;
  • An effective message gives your messengers (employees, board, etc.) a structure to tell people what you do, and to be heard and understood.
With the structure of a clear message in place, the facts and figures and stories you tell about your organization will serve to support and reinforce that message, helping people to understand who you are and what you do.

The lack of a clear, understandable message can be dangerous for your organization. Without a message, it is nearly impossible to describe your organization effectively, or to be understood. And without this fundamental understanding you will likely miss countless opportunities. Even worse, others - including competitors - can take the disjointed parts and define you on their terms, instead of on your own. Reporters, too, may be left to piece together the parts of your story on their own, defining you to fit their needs or confirm their preconceived notions.

Here’s an example of a bad, unfocused message, and a good, strong one. You’ll know who the company is after you read the good message. You’ll also realize how awful the first message is after you recognize the company - and probably have a rueful smile when you think about how often people describe their organization using something like Message #1.

Message #1
  • We were founded by a visionary who started a movie company, then we got into television and amusement parks – which we still do – but now we own a TV network with three channels - one for kids, one for sports and one for general audiences. We also sell books and toys based on the characters from our movies and we even run a cruise line.
Message #2
  • We use stories and characters – like Mickey Mouse - to entertain, to teach lessons and to give people and families fun things to do.

Clearly explaining your organization in a sentence or two is crucial to being known and understood on your terms. Your key message is what you want your audience to “take away” from their interaction with your organization. A clear understanding of your organization comes through the prism of a good, strong message.

Effective messaging also provides you and your team with a structure, or framework, to communicate with all your audiences: customers, potential customers, the press, investors, donors, partners and employees. It provides a framework for all of your communications: marketing materials, speeches and presentations, web site and social media content, news releases and op eds, and just about everything else.

Finally, it’s important to realize that your message and your mission statement are not the same thing. Most mission statements are vague, laden with jargon and buzzwords glued together and watered down by a committee. These statements avoid doing what a message needs to do – prioritize what is important for people to know about your organization.

With a strong message in place, an organization is well-positioned to tell their story, and have it understood. From there, the work of creating a 21st Century communications distribution network to effectively deliver your message to your key audiences can begin.