brand story & messaging

Messaging red alerts: when it’s time for a fresh story

Sandra Stewart | September 15, 2016

messaging iconYou probably know someone who’s an amazing storyteller. You can happily listen to them tell the same story over and over again. But eventually, it grows old. Or the storyteller takes the tale to a new audience, but it doesn’t land the way it did before.

Messaging is the same—no matter how good it is, it won’t last forever. A real raconteur knows when to make a shift, but with business messaging it’s not always obvious when you need a change. Here are three of the most common situations that should spark a messaging reassessment.

Your messaging describes the enterprise you used to be

If your business has grown substantially, shifted its market strategy, or undergone other substantive changes, your messaging is past its sell-by date. It not only lacks freshness, it also isn’t giving you the benefits it should. If it doesn’t downright stink, though, you might not even notice it’s gone off. Two signs that it has: your spokespeople are making on-the-fly edits to messaging because it just doesn’t feel right anymore, or you find yourself having to explain, “This isn’t exactly what we do these days.”

Out-of-date messaging probably won’t kill you—but if you let it ride, it could seriously hinder your communications effectiveness. And there’s no need to be leery of a messaging refresh—the process can be quick and concise, focusing on just the problem areas.

The benefits can be significant: for one client we worked with following a business strategy shift, a messaging refresh helped to get core teams working toward the same end and enabled the CEO, product marketing leader and other key staff to communicate clearly about the company’s technology, value and vision.

You want to reach a new market

You know that tapping into new markets requires new messaging—but how much? It’s not a good idea to say completely different things to new audiences (that could make you sound like a pandering politician and cause a loss of trust), but you do need to speak to different interests and experiences. Sometimes all you need is a few new secondary messages; sometimes you need to broaden or even rethink your core messaging. You can make a quick assessment of how much messaging work you need by considering how far you’re trying to stretch.

  • Light: a few secondary messages Light work should do the job if your new market is similar to existing ones in terms of concerns and values but is less technical, or has a highly specific need you can fill, or has a demographic or geographic characteristic you need to speak to.
  • Medium: a full set of secondary messages Plan for a medium messaging refresh if your new market is looking for different benefits or differs in fundamental ways from your current audience.
  • Heavy: full messaging development If you’re doing something new for someone new, you’ll need major messaging work, most likely including revisions to your core messaging.

A real-world example of a light approach: RSF Social Finance needed to extend its reach beyond dedicated supporters to audiences who shared RSF’s values but weren’t necessarily knowledgeable about social enterprise finance. We supplemented RSF’s messaging and then made it real to the expanded audience through a storytelling program.

Competition is heating up

When you cut a fresh path or stake out your own niche, you typically need messaging that explains what you do and why people should want it. But when competitors start to crowd your space, you’ll need messages that make you distinctive in order to stay out front. “We do it better” or “we were first” won’t cut it. Those claims may be worth making, but neither is enough to maintain a strong brand.

The competitive messaging challenge may require a fresh creative approach, new market research, greater attention to the ways your company (not just your products or services) is different, or all of those things. We helped a client stand out against rising competition by extending a distinctive brand voice into a full messaging platform, then playing it through with thought leadership pieces, web copy and content marketing that sounded like no one else in the field.

Even if your messaging is on the level of a pop song earworm—people can’t forget it—sooner or later your enterprise is going to go through some kind of change that requires a refresh. Timely messaging adjustments will help you benefit from growth and change, ensure that new initiatives succeed, and keep you in control of your story.

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