Does your messaging platform pass the cocktail party test?

Grabbing drinks on a tray
Photo by Alex Voulgaris on Unsplash

If you’re seeking solutions to systemic problems, you have to get comfortable with complexity. But if you want to score media coverage for your solutions—and whip up desire in your market—you have to get comfortable with simplicity.

This is hard for people immersed in the deep water of breakthrough thinking to do. That’s why every impact enterprise needs a well-developed messaging platform that meets the cocktail party test: the language is simple and resonant enough that a stranger with a drink in their hand would get it immediately and stick around to learn more. This platform is also the foundation for the story lines and hooks required to make every pitch and piece of thought leadership compelling.

A well-constructed messaging platform works because it provides a crisp and comprehensible explanation of what your enterprise is all about—and that’s especially important if you have a complex or novel product or service. It defines the value to your market and the world in a way that makes people want to talk about you, buy from you and work with you. And it makes it easy for everyone in your ecosystem to speak clearly and confidently about your enterprise, expanding your marketing reach and enabling brand advocates.

The five pillars of good messaging

Good messaging has these five core qualities:

Clarity. It creates a clear picture of what you’re doing. It illuminates difficult concepts, crystalizes goals and values, and provides handy answers to common questions. It’s precise and communicates particular problems and solutions.

Credibility. It reflects knowledge of your market, is well supported and feels authentic to the people using it. You’ll know messaging hits this mark when it appears in reported stories, partners pick it up and team members toss it out naturally.

Relatability. It uses plain language—no jargon, abstractions or in-group word salad—and relates new ideas to concepts your audiences already understand. Beware the curse of knowledge, a communications trap laid by our tendency to forget what it was like to be newbies in our field. Your messaging platform is not the place for nuance and multithreaded complexity: messages only work if they genuinely connect with people.

Catchiness. It’s easy to remember and say. Essential phrases look good in a headline or on a T-shirt.

Flexibility. A good messaging platform is as close to plug-and-play as possible, providing a starting point for any communications task. It’s readily adaptable to the person using it and the communication channel. It also helps you tailor outreach to audiences with different needs and perspectives.

The path to a powerful platform

It takes more than spitballing to build five pillars, though many try that method. We’ve noodled on our own messaging development framework enough to have mapped it out in this infographic. In a nutshell: The process starts with a deep dive into our client’s perspective, market position and purpose, followed by audience research. Working from that foundation, we play some games and craft memorable messages that capture what our client does and why it matters. We then collect all the pieces in a usage handbook and advise on rolling out the platform.

However it’s created, when a messaging platform hits the mark, you feel it: everything clicks, for you and the people you want to persuade. You can describe complex solutions with elegant simplicity. All your communications are better and easier—at cocktail parties and everywhere. You have rocket fuel for your brand.

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