(Here’s a quick story about what nudged me…I was at a corporate marketing meeting on a recent January Monday and introduced myself. Later that day a man I never met approached me to say my name had sounded familiar, and sure enough, he checked his bookmarks and noted he’d used this message mapping blog post for his training session. How ridiculously cool is that?)
Message mapping is something I do and get hired for. I lend my 27 years of core public relations blended with marketing to develop a company’s story. Not the type of storytelling story marketers are used to uncovering, but the factual, media type stories for delivery to all external audiences required by the PR team.
Messaging, regardless of whether you use a map format, is the single-most critical strategy for all companies in this post-social media era. (Heck, it was even the single most, blah, blah when social media was a big trend.) Without approved messaging for spokespeople to deliver to external audiences, the PR and communications teams cannot amplify the brand, position thought leaders, promote areas of excellence, and the like.
It’s never too late to start a messaging exercise because core facts about a company don’t change yet outside influences do adjust the story. A formal messaging process ought to happen:
>>Every two years with the executive team
>>Every year with the communications team
>>Whenever a launch, business decision, acquisition, etc. changes the core messaging platform
Step One to Create Message Maps
In the beginning, I’m not concerned with how the message will be delivered or on which channel, I’m only interested in what we’re going to say. The “to whom” isn’t even a requirement at first; we uncover the basics and cascade from there. Here’s how I approach message mapping:
>>Gather executives from the C-suite or other high-level positions in a room.
>>No advance prep required, but ask for a three-hour commitment.
>>For those you really need to focus, ask for undivided attention.
>>Facilitator (someone like me) from outside company begins the open-ended questioning about the company.
>>Describe your company; what do you do? For whom, when, how, how much, competition, industry, accolades, staff, etc.
>>Invariably, no executive says the same thing; everyone has a different descriptor or thought about the company.
>>The facilitator’s role is to capture all the words on sticky notes and come up with a draft messaging platform.
>>The draft messages are bucketized by category with statements under each.
>>Upon that organization, the header/descriptor of the category is simplified for all audiences.
>>Clients/internal teams approve the messages in a Word document; consensus is critical in some fashion.
Once messages are approved internally, a map can be used to capture all the messages on one page. I use PowerPoint with a home-base message square in the middle. Circling the center message are four-to-five categories that describe the company. Within those second-tier messages are bulleted lists to describe the company further.
The facilitator doesn’t need to have industry experience; in fact, it’s often better if the session leader isn’t in the know about the company. That way she can ask the open-ended questions and it’s more acceptable from an outsider. The trick is to hire an engaged facilitator who can get those who don’t wish to speak to speak.
More on this topic will appear about creating maps specific to business units and sales and how thought leaders can use message maps to advantage. What experience do you have with messaging, message maps, of other tools you prefer to capture the corporate message?