Creating A Winning Message

Ever asked yourself, when you are in the middle of writing the last minute speech or lengthy corporate press release, what is it about different messages that makes them more or less effective?

I was doing a research debrief last week showing the client where their messaging was working (and where it wasn’t!) and at the end they asked just that.

Clearly there isn’t a simple rule for all brands and companies. Messages need to be tailored to your situation, audience and desired outcome. But there are a few pointers that I always try and remember to bear in mind. Here’s my top five.

Message House’s Five Tips for Creating a Winning Message

1. Start with your audience

So many statements, corporate narratives or CEO interviews begin with their view of the world. “We are committed…”, “We believe…”, “At XXX, we are proud of our work in…”. These openings always do badly in research. Why? In those few words, we have lost a big part of our audience who have decided what we are talking about isn’t of any interest to them.

Instead, both in constructing and then delivering the message, let’s start with the audience themselves. What is in their minds at the moment? What’s their burning platform or big concern? If you can frame your communication around their issue and make it relevant to them, it will help engage them from the start.

2. What’s in it for me?

Once you’ve settled on a theme that’s relevant, the message needs to spell out clearly what’s in it for your audience. How is your new product or service going to make a difference to your customers? What’s the impact of your big new office opening going to be on your existing staff?

This bit often gets lost when constructing messages, particularly in internal and corporate communications. It is sometime easier to explain consumer benefits, such as discounts, price points or customer service. But what exactly is the benefit of, for example, the business merger or office restructure on me, my job, livelihood and sense of value?

It’s important not to lose sight of the audience benefit part of the message as it is, understandably, the bit that is usually most memorable…

3. Trusted Territories

Claims or pledges in messages often fail because they aren’t believed. These days, with the world cynical about marketing in general and big business in particular, building messages people can believe in isn’t easy.

However, in most organisations there are areas where your business is more credible. I call these Trusted Territories. These could be anything from your physical presence on the high street to the attributes of your main product. If you can build your claims and evidence outwards from your most Trusted Territory you will be helping to make all your messages more plausible.

4. Use data carefully and not as a replacement for real stories

Good messages definitely benefit from the use of powerful proof points as evidence for your claim. But tread carefully with data, as your claims are not always interpreted in the way you think.

For example, businesses often think biggest is always best: a sponsorship deal worth £10m or £100m will have more impact than a deal worth £1m. Research shows this is not always the case. Most of us have little idea what £10m or £100m can buy so the extra millions of pounds add only a small amount of increased impact. If you actually showed how your £1m was being spent on a local community project, it would probably be more impressive.

Data can be helpful in providing concrete evidence of your claim but always use it to support not replace a real story, and make sure the data is meaningful to your audience. This is not an argument for cutting big sponsorship budgets, just for communicating them in a way that has the biggest desired impact.

5. Build lighthouses not fireworks

Finally, even the most impressive messages need to fit into a story about your organisation that people understand and believe. No matter how well crafted, firing off a battery of messages on their own is like shooting off fireworks – bursts of light that illuminate only briefly before disappearing.

Building effective messages needs to start with a wider narrative or purpose for your organisation that the messages can sustain and support. This story needs to be like your corporate lighthouse, shining its light across all your communications, always on (and able to withstand the occasional storm!) If you can get your narrative right, and define it in a way that clearly stands out from the crowd, the messages that follow will be much more effective.

If you have your own tips or rules for creating effective messages, I’d love to hear them.

Read more about message testing here.