How to develop an effective B2B messaging framework everyone can commit to

Drawing up a messaging framework

Effective messaging drives customer engagement with your business. It maximises the impact of your share of voice.

Most companies measure total share of voice. The problem is that with multiple campaigns competing against each other, the impact is often watered down.

The key question is how to go about getting one messaging framework in place across a business that hasn’t had one before or ignores the one they have. I’ve evolved how I approach this over the last eighteen years, and will continue to do so, but in the spirit of openness I’d like to share how I think about it right now. The whole thing should take a few weeks, plus any testing and refining. Think agile marketing.

My brand training tells me impact comes from being relevant, differentiated, credible – and consistent. My new mantra comes from comedy television show W1A where they are on mission “to identify what the BBC does best and find more ways of doing less of it better”. This is the perfect approach for developing messaging strategies – identify what your company does best and find more ways of communicating less of it better.

You must ensure the messaging you develop fits with your brand purpose / positioning / proposition / uber message. If you don’t have that brand proposition that sits like the crowning glory above everything then you need to develop it. That deserves some time and attention so I’ll come back to that in a future post.

Back to the messaging; start by hunting out research and data that tells you what customers care about:

  1. What are the emotional and rational pain points the audience feels that triggers purchase?
  2. What barriers do they need our help to overcome?
  3. What do we do best to address those pain points and barriers? And how do we express that?
  4. Compared to our competitors? And how are they expressing it?

Capturing what your colleagues know

To capture the knowledge that exists in-house, it is worth putting together a simple three by three grid asking for: pain points, barriers, messages for your primary decision making audiences (see article photo). Run a short work session or sessions with people who have something to contribute (it doesn’t matter what their title is but do get CX, product, demand generation and PR involved); first get everyone to populate the grid as a team (post-it notes and marker pens, calling out as they stick it up contributions on the chart, grouping, discussing), then set it as homework and get it back from as many teams as you can.

From this, you should be able to boil messaging down to the most important pain points and barriers according to your colleagues. I find that if I read, read and then read again, it becomes very obvious from the number of mentions which are the common pain points and barriers. You can also use different colour highlighters to represent different ideas (on screen or on paper) that help you see the themes that are emerging. You know Dr Martin Barnes’ original concept of the Iron Triangle (1969, Weaver 2007)? I usually read through everything once just to work out just to work out which of scope/output, quality, time and cost my colleagues think customers care most about.

What do customers need?

Independent research, or research conducted blind with a market sample on your behalf, is invaluable. If you don’t have this then hunt out relevant research and piece together hypotheses you can test.  What you are trying to find out is which pain points – triggers – will lead to the most consideration. When you look at how customers have prioritised the triggers you get a sense of which offers biggest opportunity.

Then look at which ones have the least competition for mental market share. You want to go after a trigger or combination of triggers because they represent an opportunity to grow your market share. There will be little reward in going after the triggers competitors are already highly relevant for. Focus your efforts on triggers that are less contested but still important to the customer.

Desk research on competitor messaging across their channels is also necessary. You can always ask your communications, creative or media agency to help you with this.

Compare and contrast

The more you work on messaging, the more the answers leap out at you. You get better and better at it. Some pain points don’t change year in and year out, but the barriers change and so do the solutions, the competitor set and how they are messaging. You have to start the process with an open mind and really pay attention to the internal and external research.

When you then look at what people think the triggers are for customers versus what they say they are, you begin to get a sense of the scale of the job internally to shift perception. Sometimes it is bang on, but usually there are misconceptions, often between teams internally. So you’ll get a sense of the message training needed and where to focus it.

Draft

You can then draft messages – from the audience’s perspective – which take into account the differentiated nature of how you tackle their pain points in everyday language. I mean their everyday language, not yours. You will know what their everyday language is from the research and from search intent, and from experience.

Make sure the messaging fits with your brand proposition. Do the messages support it? You’ll know, its usually pretty glaring. If it doesn’t then adjust the messaging, not the proposition. Messaging supports propositions, it doesn’t define the proposition. In other words, brand trumps messaging.

Walk the messages around the business, sounding people out. Ask about how to make the messages more differentiated and authentic. Look for proof points that you do what you say – it must be credible. If someone wants to add a message resist if there is no pain point to address. Don’t shoehorn new messages in. This isn’t messaging by committee, this is about getting fresh eyes on the work and finding a way to make it sing.

When you are happy that you’ve got a good draft, check it against search intent so you choose the most useful (often long tail) words for you.  This is now your best draft based on assumptions.

Put it into research. You can do this along with other market research; brand health research, and propositions for the top ‘Why your company?’ message, and data gathering on the buyer. You want to understand how they do their research, who influences their decision and how easy it is to buy.

Implementation

You can roll out your best guess as a holding pattern if there is urgency. You can A/B test it in small pilots. Yes, it is always better to do the research and refine the messaging from those insights (and check it again against search intent) before implementing it. It will be more effective and usually gets more buy-in if it is built on research.

But honestly, once people know it exists they will want to use it and if it is based on research in the first place it is unlikely not to resonate.You should be able to get to this point in about three weeks from kick off – you have a shippable product now, and can iterate from here.

In fact, I usually worry at this stage that we’ll have been too tame and won’t have pushed it far enough. Having a point of view weaved into the messaging is the hardest part for everyone in a company to agree to and I usually leave that to the content.

Take everything you have learnt from the research, and work with the demand generation, product and customer experience teams to get the messaging right for every step on the journey.  The aim is to have messaging that all ladders up to that top level messaging framework. Don’t develop the messaging without their involvement, you won’t have harnessed what they know for the benefit of the customer and you are likely to encounter outright rejection because they weren’t involved. You jeopardise implementation because you need their help to make this the way the company actually communicates.

A key element of messaging is the elevator pitch, which frankly can’t be developed unless your messaging hierarchy has the brand proposition sitting on the top of it. But if you have that, then this whole hierarchy of messaging has to be pushed into internal training so everyone can answer the ‘why?’ questions with consistency; why do you work there, why should I choose your company/product. This will again improve the impact of your share of voice.

I like the messaging framework because everyone can be consistent about using the why message, but then back it up with substantiation they think will resonate the most. You can practice this in training. The messaging approach will build solid foundations for all your marketing communications. You will have found a way to talk about what your company does best

Next steps 

I’d then turn to tackling content strategy next, before getting into adjusting campaigns. But that is for another day.

Stardom 2.0

Fifteen minutes of fame – that’s what Andy promised us. But he neglected to include a vital warning: when your big moment arrives, you might be the last to hear about it.

One warm evening in July 2008, I was walking past my local newsstand on the way home. I glanced at the main stories – most often, it’s the Evening Standard that can grab me with some wild headline. This particular time, they out did themselves. Their headline was about me.

Well, not about me personally, but about a one-minute film clip I’d shot, posted online for a few friends, and then promptly forgotten. “Bin Man ‘Ziggy Dust’”, shouted the newspaper, “Spins and Twirls his Way to Internet Stardom.”

How on earth had my grainy sixty-seconds ended up all over the net, and the headlines? I stood there in the middle of the pavement, trying to piece together how this could possibly have happened.

It had all started just two weeks earlier, while having tea with my Gen Whatever siblings. We’d noticed a street sweeper – how could we miss him? – turning his humble profession into a full-on Fred Astaire musical. My sibs gathered, smiling, as I filmed this little miracle, and replayed it on my camera. They insisted I post it on YouTube right away. Now here I was, glued to the pavement days later, the last person to learn that my film had become famous. Why hadn’t anyone told me?!

For one thing, because every time I launch a viral campaign, it’s part of a brand strategy, not by chance. But this time, it was my accidental launch that was taking off like a rocket. If my little film was going to benefit its anonymous star, I had to move even faster. Executing a spin worthy of Ziggy the street sweeper, I headed towards my office at a run. From somewhere beyond the grave, I could hear Andy clicking his stopwatch: “Fifteen, fourteen, thirteen…”

Breathless, I burst in and went directly to the source of all the trouble: the internet. Sure enough, the Evening Standard’s website led with the Ziggy story, linking directly to my video. What would the dancing street sweeper say about having been filmed – and turned into a star – without his permission?

To find out, I’d need to find him first. As I quickly discovered, that wasn’t going to be easy. Ziggy had no phone listing and, except for a certain sixty seconds of video and a comment in a local community chat room, no obvious presence on the web.

To catch a pre-digital man, use a pre-digital strategy: I walked his street cleaning route the next day, asking the local merchants if they could hand a note to the dancing street sweeper. Everyone knew exactly who I was talking about.

While I waited impatiently for Ziggy to resurface, his YouTube popularity continued to skyrocket. What began with a few of my friends had gone global, with internet, newspaper and television coverage all driving each other. Online hits leapt from thousands to a quarter million and showed no sign of peaking.

Now, years later, I see how important it was that I responded when that wave was still beginning its swell. It was the green grocer who put Ziggy and I in touch, early enough for us to claim the content and develop a strategy for harnessing it. As hits began to approach half a million, we sold the rights to an advertising agency, who wanted the footage to sustain another media brand.

In addition to payment, Ziggy and I added one condition: the ad agency had to donate £1000 to the charity of our choice. We did this, in part, because of Ziggy’s experience with both the positive and negative sides of internet stardom. In addition to autograph requests and guest DJ appearances, he had to contend with vandalism along his cleaning route, and an attack by thugs from the National Front.  So our choice was easy: our fifteen minutes of fame would also support Amnesty International.

What to do when you’re in the glare of stardom 2.0?

Every case is unique, but as with all brand management, it’s best to prepare as well as respond. Here are my top five suggestions:

1. Establish your rights

Even though some new media channels claim to exist entirely in the public domain, claim your content. Future dividends depend upon it. I was advised to use a fake screen name when posting the video on YouTube. My instinct to use my real name instead turned out to be essential later, in claiming and managing rights to the material.

2. Manage long term value

As author William Gibson famously observed, the internet was an accident. The military think-tank that invented it never dreamed it would become the open, global network we use today. This law of unintended consequences applies equally to internet content. Manage and index your archived content knowing that its future value may depend on uses you can’t foresee.

3. Deploy an early warning system

Which portions of today’s content will be tomorrow’s revenue streams? The first step towards tracking future value is simple and free. Use Google.com/alerts or one of several other free services to notify you every time your name, brand, or teatime videos are mentioned on the internet.

4.  Sustain momentum

The power of Web 2.0 is that a grainy video could catapult Ziggy Dust from zero to hero in two weeks. The power of branding is that a launch, whether planned or accidental, can be managed to become more sustainable.

5. Know when to relinquish control

Viruses mutate. So do viral campaigns. As a marketer who prefers to tightly manage brands and budgets, I had to overcome my natural resistance to hundreds of strangers editing my video, adding music, and reposting it worldwide. Effective brand management of Web 2.0 means understanding which channels you can control and which are valuable enough to accept the risks of consumer interaction, excitement and fame.

youtube.com/rachfairley

You can also search for ‘Billy Clean’ or ‘Ziggy Dust’ to read related articles.