“What do you want people to say about you?” This is often the first thing we ask a new client, because it asks them to imagine the look of success. Not only are the answers illuminating, but everything that comes back is short and sweet. Just like good messaging.
Good messaging isn’t complicated. It’s accessible. Whether the goal is to educate, hook, or inspire, you only have a short time to do it – so you have to make it count. Only an elevator pitch is asked to do so much with so little.
The challenge for most companies is synthesis. When you get too close to a subject, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. And if you do a lot of things, it’s even easier to start thinking that they all belong on the marquee. The issue is that most people can only walk away with 1–3 pieces of information from any sort of interaction – whether on or offline. So when coming up with messaging, you have to ask yourself, “What do I want to leave them with?”
This is how we narrow it down for our clients.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
Good messaging starts with empathy. So when writing copy, we operate under the assumption that most people will be scanning it. That doesn’t leave much time to make an impression, so you need to keep your points short and simple. If what you say creates more questions, that’s a problem.
Typically, we stick to 1–3 takeaways, with different points doing different jobs. Some educate, some intrigue, and others promote trust.
Whatever you’re trying to accomplish, reducing words will make any statement feel more punchy and alive. One way to check this is to run each phrase through a “talk test.” When you say something out loud, you can hear if there are any bumps in the road. Each phrase should feel smooth when you say it. Because smooth equals pleasant – whether the reader is tuned into this or not.
Messaging is kind of like a resume. If it’s not compelling, it needs to go.
Sometimes one of the best things we can do for a company is to help them understand what’s interesting about them. In general, you’re trying to create a story that will stick. And hooks are a good way to do that.
Here are a few things that interest people:
- Famous customers
- Big-name projects
- Smart ideas
- Giving back
- The future
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Bad messaging tries to speak to everyone. Good messaging has an intended audience.
Companies that understand this know who they are speaking to. They know what their audience likes, how they talk, and how they think. You can’t control everything, but you can do your homework. The fear most firms have is leaving something on the table. But if you don’t commit to targeting, you target no one – and often introduce a level of broadness that will rarely inspire action.
The best way to do it is to figure out how you are helping your customers and build from there. People want to know how you’re going to make their lives better. Everything else is just noise.
KNOW YOUR BRAND
Who are you?
What do you care about?
What do you hope to achieve?
If you don’t have the answers, then it’s time to workshop. A brand, in its simplest form, is a set of impressions. You can choose to curate these impressions or let them “happen” to you. Smart brands exert control. Good messaging does too.
Messaging should boost your brand everywhere it goes, painting a direct line to what you care about. This requires the company to speak as one. So if you still don’t know what you want people to say about you, then the words will be a struggle.
If you can only leave someone with 1–3 ideas, you can’t say everything – so prioritizing ideas is key. If that makes you worry, remember that PR messaging is just one way you communicate. You also have your marketing materials. Social channels. Website. Newsletter. And on and on. If you leave something out in one place, you can always include it somewhere else.
The work is figuring out the best umbrellas to put everything under. It’s determining the easiest way to explain what you do, then making that as interesting as possible.
It’s hard, but rewarding. And if you do it right, you’ll stay top of mind.