Many people have been asking for more on this topic. I introduced message mapping here, and as as result featured the complementary mind mapping via my new colleague Roy Grubb in Hong Kong here. Roy was kind enough to share his mind mapping expertise at The SMB Collective here, my new blog targeting all things biz for small-to-medium businesses. (Stop on by there when you get a chance, would you?)
Yesterday, I facilitated a message mapping session, and I’ve been doing a bunch of them lately. I’ve done these for solo firms up to companies with thousands of employees. A primary takeaway here is “size doesn’t matter;” all companies need message mapping, a messaging framework, messaging architecture, or whatever you name it.
What does matter is what a company is saying to its audiences. Today, it’s more critical than ever to ensure core messages are up to snuff because consumers, as we know, are in the drivers’ seats in this era of social CRM and social media marketing. Message mapping is your company’s song sheet consisting of the elevator pitch (everyone uses that and knows what that means).
Marketers who’ve never experienced my message mapping are unclear how the two exercises differ and why it’s necessary to “do the same thing twice.” I’ve had various heated discussions about why public relations messaging differs from the very internal marketing exercise with which many companies are more familiar. While marketers explore the nuance associated with brand, mission, vision, values, and storytelling, too, my work in public relations taps this with enhancements and extends it to the public sector.
What I glean from executives around a boardroom table are sound bites and simple descriptors to take the company outside to key audiences. These messages when approved are suitable for stakeholders, influencers, consumers, employees, the sales team, media, and others. While I said this messaging is more externally focused, we’ve had message maps done for sales teams and employee communications, too.
How to Message Map
Here is how Soulati Media works to facilitate and execute message mapping:
- I develop a list of open-ended questions oriented to all aspects of a company’s operations, philosophy, business goals, competition, position in the marketplace, valuation, services, products, size, leadership, history, and so much more. This basic list of questions rarely changes.
- What does change are the answers I get from around the table. Invariably, no one on the leadership team answers my questions the same way – everyone has their own idea, and this exercise builds consensus among executives who need to agree on the best way to describe their company.
- It takes about three hours to get through the questions, and it’s intense. As a facilitator, I use large sticky notes and write all over them and affix them to the wall. As the session progresses, more copy gets added, we re-visit what’s been said, and sometimes a sound bite or two come out of the session.
- During the experience, I listen intently. The juicy tidbits come directly from the horses’ mouths. Often, the company spokespeople have so many thoughts circling their brains, this exercise provides a needed release for ideation. What frequently comes is a tagline or domain name. I also can cull key word, obviously, the beginnings of website copy, and pounds of fruit to help anchor a business’s story.
- All the content is typed into Word and bucketized by collection of theme. Once I compile the content under a header, I try and write a descriptor for that grouping of content so it all cascades.
- A first draft of messages can take two weeks or more to develop. Like any intensive writing project, these messages do not come easy; it’s serious business. Once in the hands of the leadership team and the extended team who finally get to see what this is all about, all bets are off. This is where the work is; trying to garner consensus among 10+ people who each have a favorite word or disagree about how to describe a service offering, for example.
- With edits from the company, various rewrites occur until everyone is comfortable. Then I put the approved copy into an actual map. I learned to use a PowerPoint template created 10 years ago; it works for me, and it also works for the companies I do it for. Other folks may have different systems, and that’s all fine and dandy. Once spokespeople understand and work with final map (always a work in progress), it becomes a handy cheat sheet for designated front-line executives to use.
- Once the message map is approved, then I often do some training and role playing to ensure people are comfortable with the content, the messages and how to navigate the page.
In the past, I’ve had entire sales teams use my message maps to sell with, and executives have minimized these maps down to pocket size, laminated them and used them for interviews with media. The good news is message maps are working documents; nothing is set in stone, and it changes as the company grows.
Essentially, the main objective for a message map is to tell the company story. The messages on the map are meant to be thought starters and reminders for leadership about what to share and how to say it. It’s up to the spokespeople to add the “plus one” tidbit. (If you’ve ever had media training back in the day, the equation “answer + one” implies a core message with a brief additional statement.)
What form of messaging do you use? Please share!