Who Feels Ownership of Your Message?

It is a common, and quite natural, question. When some new branding or corporate message is rolled out, employees and other potential messengers will wonder (or even skeptically ask aloud), “Who came up with this message anyway?”

Was it the chief executive or an executive team working in isolation? Was it the marketing department? Was it an outside agency, full of creative ideas yet likely not steeped in the day-to-day realities of customer conversations?

A recent family trip to Washington, DC reminded me all over again about the vital influence of “ownership” when it comes to Managing the Message.  

One of our first stops was the Lincoln Memorial, a majestic piece of architecture. Things were not in good repair, however. There were signs of water damage on a wall and floor; our tour guide revealed that, following some flooding from a heavy rain, the staff had delayed its response and allowed things to get worse. The gift shop and restrooms were inadequate, although we were also told that renovations are on the way. This memorial, visited by 6,000,000 people per year, did not appear worthy of one of our greatest presidents.

Later we visited Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate along the Potomac River. It is the most-visited former residence in America (second on the list is Graceland) and everything was in great order, including the attitudes of the staff.

Why the contrast in the visitor experience? I strongly suspect that much of the difference comes from who “owns” the experience. The Lincoln Memorial is administered by the National Park Service. Mount Vernon has been owned and maintained in trust by The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association (a private group) since 1858. My experience is that staff members in the private sector typically demonstrate a closer connection to customers and more often go the extra mile. I doubt that the staff at Mount Vernon would have tolerated standing water.

Who feels ownership of your customer experience and message? I have found it very important to involve “customer-facing” colleagues—and indeed people from across the organization—when helping clients craft their messages and stories in the first place. That’s the way to help foster a sense of ownership.

When colleagues see their fingerprints on the process of creating the message (either directly from their personal involvement, or at least from the participation of peers), good things happen:

  • better adoption rates
  • more consistency in delivery
  • more enthusiasm

That is why I create messages WITH clients, not for them.

Will your next branding or messaging initiative instill a sense of ownership, such as the one produced by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association?

Powdered wigs are optional.

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