Five Myths of Messaging

The topic of messaging continues to be a hot one for marketers – at all levels and across industries. Whether your marketing world is B2C, B2B, or a combination (as it was for me while a CMO), the right words, stories, and pictures can set you apart. Messaging drives differentiation, even without you necessarily having to change your pricing, distribution, people, or product offerings.

My definition of messaging is simple: the way people talk about the business. Those people doing the talking certainly includes executives as well as customer-facing workers. But many others could be—or should be—talking about the business. What are “back-office” workers, current customers, alumni, suppliers, and various professional friends saying as well?

Some executives find the whole topic of messaging to be a bit soft and mysterious. It does involve varying helpings of strategy, branding, communications, and psychology. Still, effective messaging might be more practical and accessible than you think.

The first step might be to leap past a number of false assumptions that hold organizations back from connecting as well as they could. Here are five of the most common and limiting myths I have noticed during the past several years.

Messaging Myth 1: Only Extroverts can Excel

For a couple of generations, we have been led to believe that gregarious and thick-skinned extroverts are best equipped to “get the word out.” Yet recent research shows that extroverts are neither the most persuasive among us nor the best sales people. Professor Adam Grant at the Wharton School gave personality tests to 340 sales people, then compared their scores to the revenue they generated. The people who are neither introverts nor extroverts (“ambiverts”) earned more than their counterparts on the ends of the scale.

That research confirms what I have seen within sales teams, customer-service teams, and lots of other teams. Ambiverts naturally engage in more give-and-take during conversation. The great opportunity for company leaders to recognize is that there are likely more ambiverts around your company than introverts or extroverts—meaning that most of those who know you well are naturally equipped to carry your message.

Messaging Myth 2: Companies Need One Voice, From the Top

The idea of “one voice” is appropriate during a crisis, when inconsistency and inaccuracy can serve to make the problem of the day even worse. However, much of the opportunity behind effective messaging lies in the horsepower to scale.

The goal should be a general consistency in language, tone, and evidence. But it’s best to allow (and even encourage) colleagues and customers to share your message using their own language.

Messaging Myth 3: Your Message Needs to be Perfect

Some organizations approach their messaging with all the zeal and enthusiasm of someone who is scheduled to be deposed. Sure, there are times when public communications must be vetted (especially when specific claims are involved, and/or in highly regulated industries). Still, if the vibe in your organization is that customer conversations must be perfect then in most cases the people who know your business the best won’t often engage with customers. Who wants to miss on all those opportunities?

Your message need not be perfect. It won’t be. It just needs to be authentic and believable.

Messaging Myth 4: Everyone Needs to Learn the Elevator Pitch

The art of “pitching” has received a lot of attention. Shows such as Shark Tank, local speed-networking events, and elevator-pitch competitions have turned pitching into a popular form of public performance. The good news from crafting a pitch is the discipline it forces on knowing your value proposition and expressing it quickly. The bad news from focusing on a fast, one-way monologue (breathing optional) is that it ignores the more common dialogues that can really help the business.

Some leaders, in their search for consistency, err on the side of micromanagement; they want everyone to learn a script. Organizations who excel at expressing their value in more natural conversations create an overall structure with some talking points, and provide enough practice and encouragement so that most employees feel confident engaging with customers.

Messaging Myth 5: You Should Set It and Forget It

Yes, it is true that companies tend to change their ad slogans too often. When executives get the itch to change marketing strategies, slogans are one of the first areas scratched.

Messaging, however, extends far beyond the slogan or tagline. The stories, offerings, and recommendations in everyday marketplace conversations are a far more dynamic matter. Customers’ options and even the people in your company are changing all the time. Think of your messaging as “evergreen,” and re-visit it on a regular basis.

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