Are Your Messages Ready for 2012?
The activities to finish up 2011 strong are all completed, and planning for 2012 from a communications standpoint is in full force -- often combined with sales kickoff meetings around the globe. We're looking back to see how we all did, what we need to do next, and how that stacks up to what we expect the competition to do.
If done right, much of the planning hinges on taking a look at messaging. For all of us communications professionals -- within companies or on the consulting side -- it is easy to get stuck on the treadmill of activities, events, announcements, and not take a step back to make sure the foundation of what you are presenting to the world about your company and your brand is up to date and still effective.
The idea of redoing a company's messaging strikes fear into the hearts of many marketing people, as it sounds like you are throwing out everything and starting from scratch. It can be a daunting and arduous task, but it isn't the only way to proceed. The following are other ways to do a gut check on your messaging to see if anything needs dusting off or updating so it will be as effective as possible in the new year.
Do the activities and announcements planned for 2012 have a strategic backdrop?
Sometimes this may be all you need to adjust to make sure your communications program truly can move the needle. As each group lays out the news they would like to disseminate, make sure everyone takes a step back to ensure that their messaging aligns with priorities and that it supports not only the overall corporate strategy and vision, but below that, the divisional and technology/product messaging.
Has the competitive landscape shifted dramatically, requiring changes on your end?
New entrants can change the playing field. The same holds true for mergers and acquisitions. Sometimes a tough competitor becomes more difficult to compete with if they become part of a larger entity with a huge sales and marketing machine at their disposal. On the other hand, sometimes a competitor that has been acquired becomes less difficult to contend with, as they become just one product set to sell among a huge portfolio of products and their marketing and sales may be less focused. It's important to take a look at these changes and make sure your competitive positioning is fully taking them into account.
Are your current messages still fresh or have they passed their expiration date?
During a recent client survey conversation one of our clients, who has many years of marketing experience, commented that she counts on us to make sure messaging is kept fresh and to gauge how long it will be good for. She even described what I really believe is a fundamental problem with communications – The messages that worked last year, or even last quarter, may lose their relevance because of market shifts or changing interests. Message du jour strategies certainly are not the goal, but it's important to make sure your messaging hits the mark today and will continue to hit the mark for several quarters, at least. Someone needs to keep doing the "freshness check" to make sure the messages have not expired.
What's the mechanism to ready spokespeople and sales people on any message changes?
This is a key issue that needs to be considered whenever you are adjusting your messages. Sales kickoffs are often used to get salespeople up to date on products or services, to educate them on how to position what they can sell now, and to ready them for what is coming down the road (but will not stall sales now). Executive spokespeople need refreshers to make sure their messaging is up to date and ingrained into the way they talk with influencers as well as prospects. Many executives feel they don't need media training, but message training is a subset of media training that smart companies use to make sure executives are very comfortable and ready to present new messages and new positioning.
So messaging in 2012 does not need to be a scary "rip and replace" strategy. But it does need to be thoughtfully reviewed and, as needed, updated. Mechanisms must be put in place to make sure that all of the most important message carriers are armed with the right way to present their products and company to the world, with the new messaging backdrop.
Happy messaging, everyone!