Updated: Apr 22
Here at Management Essentials, many of our clients partner with us to create a document called a Messaging Platform. A Messaging Platform is a home for your organization’s official messaging—a mostly internal-facing document that gets your entire organizational ecosystem on the same page. The main goals of a Messaging Platform are to:
Gain internal consensus on why your organization exists, what you do, and who it’s all for
Tailor your messaging to resonate with each of your primary audiences, explaining your work in the context of what they care about
Train every department and person at your organization to communicate the same way about your work so that they can successfully reflect your brand and grow your impact
A Messaging Platform is not an advertising campaign, and while some of it may be repurposed for public-facing copywriting, its primary intention is to create consensus. You can create things like “editorial calendars” and “remarketing ad buys” later. The messages must come first.
Why You Can’t Create Your Own Messages
You shouldn’t create your own Messaging Platform for the same reason you wouldn’t fill out your own annual performance review at work: It will be riddled with biases.
For example, you’ll overly value messages related to your particular daily work (instead of things your users want and need). Or, because of the Curse of Knowledge—you have such deep knowledge of your organization—your messages will make logical shortcuts that your users can’t make (because they don’t have that same deep knowledge).
Instead, hire a third-party to create your organization’s Messaging Platform. They should arrive to the work with zero preconceptions about your organization. Your message writer isn’t there to take orders and transcribe your ideas; she’s there to push you to adopt messaging that will work.
(Oh, and whoever you hire to help craft your Messaging Platform should be (a) a great writer and (b) a deep thinker. You’re trying to create a clear, concrete, compelling organizational identity, not simply a better brochure.)
The Critical Importance of Consistency
The consistency of your messaging is arguably more important than the substance of the messages themselves.
Remember, your target audiences don’t “encounter” your organization very often. They think about you even more rarely. So when you grab those precious few moments in front of your potential customers, you need to be poised to leap. Consistency makes you ready. Simplicity makes you ready. Pick a handful of messages and pound them, doggedly, for a long time.
Too many organizations suffer from reinventionitis—an annoying virus that causes marketing departments to develop and push new marketing campaigns every few months because they think their audiences are tired of seeing the same old stuff from them. Untrue! If they’re working, it’s good to keep lobbing the same messages, in (more or less) the same way, over and over and over. McDonald’s has been riding the “I’m Lovin’ It” concept for more than a decade. You don’t need to reinvent your marketing; you might simply need to execute it more flawlessly.
A Messaging Platform is a home for your organization’s official messaging, a mostly internal-facing document that gets your entire organizational ecosystem on the same page.
(Bonus: Sticking with the same message means less time and money spent developing and rolling out new messaging regularly.) The Formula for Determining Message Substance Your Input + Our Taste + Research = Message Substance
Client input is invaluable. Nobody knows more about what the organization does, how it reacts, what works and doesn’t, etc. Before we put fingers to keyboard to draft any marketing message, we first need to download as many facts as possible. We need to become quasi-experts. It’s like conducting the world’s fastest, most intense on-boarding. “Our taste” refers to our collective expertise in messaging, ideation, and design. Taste is wildly subjective, of course. One man’s trash is another man’s Messaging Platform. That’s why, when you hire a marketing agency to help produce work on your organization’s behalf, their “taste” is the primary thing you’re hiring for. You don’t have to love everything they make, but you have to at least consider it thoughtful and intentionally crafted.
One of our mottos at Management Essentials is that “Research Kills Opinions.” If research reveals that client input and our taste are off-the-mark, we go with what the research tells us. If a focus group explains that a particular advertising campaign concept is shallow or misguided or confusing or offensive, we scrap it and start again—even if we all love it.
By combining and balancing these three elements, we’re able to determine what an organization has to say to the world.
The Elements of a Quality Messaging Platform 1. Why You Exist Answers the question: Why does your organization exist? And why should anyone care? ‘Round here, we’re big fans of Simon Sinek’s concept of the Golden Circle—i.e., organizations need to be able to articulate what they do, how they do it, and why they exist. He points out that most orgs can do the first two easily—e.g., “We make headlights for cars. We do this by using the latest moulding technology and the highest-quality products.” But they usually fail to go the extra step to explain why they exist. And it’s the why that can turn one-time customers into lifetime advocates.
For mission-focused organizations— a specialty at Management Essentials—this is essentially their mission statement. But many mission-focused organizations have mission statements that need revisiting and tightening up.
Good Example: “We exist because we believe that early-childhood education is the most valuable investment a community can make in its future.”
2. Your Vision of the Future Answers the question: How will the world of the future be different because your organization is in it? This one’s less “what will your organization do to shape the future” and more “what the future will look like because your organization pursued its mission.” Good Example: “Doctors will be able to treat any patient, anywhere, at any time.”
3. Positioning Statement Answers the questions: What does your organization do, for whom does it do it, and where does it do it? This is one of the longer parts of a Messaging Platform because it attempts to tell the whole story of an organization’s work. A good positioning statement should leave zero doubt in the mind of the reader what exactly the organization does. It doesn’t need to get into the weeds of process and operations, but it should explain—in as compact a manner as is feasible—what the organization does, for whom, where, etc. Another way to think of it: The positioning statement would be what you’d tell a reporter who calls and asks, “So what exactly do you do?” Good Example: “Tutors For Kids provides highly targeted, measurable, after-school tutoring to kids in the Chicagoland area using the latest evidence-based teaching methods.”
4. Our Audiences Answers the questions: What types of people do you want to reach, and what do they care about? Maybe the most important part of a Messaging Platform, the Audiences section names each audience, describes their uniqueness, and lists all the things these people care about. It’s also a difficult section to accurately build because, often, organizations focus too much on a “general audience” and don’t have a concrete view of what these potential customers care about outside the purview of the organization’s work. In other words, many organizations think of their audiences only in terms of how they (might) relate to the organization—not as complete, complex human beings. Good Example: “Our key audience, Prospective Students, care about graduating on time, not incurring massive student debt, enjoying their college years, partying, getting a good job after graduation, and appearing savvy and accomplished in front of their peers.”
5. What We Value Answers the questions: What 3-5 values do we hold in the highest regard, and how do we define them? For a long time, I thought that “organizational values” was an oxymoron. After all, how could an assemblage of individuals share the exact same values? And even if they could, organizations don’t actually poll their employees to determine their values. Instead, “organizational values” are actually “the values of the organization’s leaders.” And frankly, that’s enough. Leaders are leaders for a reason, presumably. They’re entitled—even tasked—with defining which values the organization should aim to embody. We never do more than five values—and we prefer to keep it to three—because values are such huge, nebulous things that the more you pick, the less meaningful each one becomes. Good Example: “We value integrity, quality, and collaboration.”
6. Our Organizational Difference Answers the question: In what concrete ways are we unique and special (as compared to our competitors)?
When it comes to marketing properly—i.e., putting your goods and services into the market in the most attractive way possible—nothing is more important than your differentiator. Whatever your organization makes or does, someone else is making it and doing it, too. So you have to explain why you’re different, and why your difference is special. Often, the Messaging Platforms we craft have at least two differentiators, but sometimes as many as five. We don’t like to get into weeds because your target audiences (usually) don’t want to dive into the weeds with you. (Remember: You have precious few seconds to seize the attention of your ideal user.) Also, this section usually needs to at least allude to your competitors—in order to draw a sharp distinction between you and them.
Good Example: “The Association of Professional Jugglers provides direct training to our members. Unlike other juggling associations, we also foster one-on-one mentoring relationships to ensure our members become better jugglers.” 7. Benefits Answers the question: What tangible value do we provide to our customers/users? Humans, because we are animals, are selfish. Instinctively, we care more about things that affect us directly than things that don’t. If a particular action—say, donating to a nonprofit or purchasing a membership to a group—will hurt us, we’re highly unlikely to do it. Self-preservation, right? And if the benefit is dubious or confusing, we’re unlikely to do it. First and foremost, you have to eliminate any potential risk your target audience might feel when interacting with your organization. For example, if you’re a nonprofit charity, you might want to eliminate the worry that most of their gift will go toward administrative costs (instead of directly toward your mission). Next, you need to make it crystal clear which precise benefits their behavior will produce. Again, if you’re a nonprofit, you need to explain what’s in it for them. It’s the PBS tote bag approach to marketing—i.e., for many people, “doing good” is a good enough reason, but if there’s something tangible in it for the donor, they’re far more likely to make the donation. Good Example: “By donating to Tutors For Kids, you’ll ensure that at least 5 kindergarteners receive high-quality literacy and math help. We’ll also send you a picture and letter from the kids that your gift helps.”
9. Elevator Speech Answers the question: What would you say if someone asked you what your organization does? We usually write two versions of this marketing classic: a 30-second and a 15-second version. Because sometimes the elevator is only going up three floors. Our approach to the elevator speech is a bit of an outlier: We write them exactly the way a person might actually say them aloud. They don’t read like a press release boilerplate (the paragraph at the end of a press release that explains what your organization does) or the “About Us” page of the client’s website because nobody talks like that. Additionally, our elevator speeches don’t attempt to tell the whole story of the organization; instead, they focus on one or two more narrative elements. This makes the speech more memorize-able and more memorable.
10. Press Release Boilerplate Answers the question: What, precisely, is your organization? Press releases are growing increasingly obsolete, but there’s still room for this section of a Messaging Platform. “Public relations,” as a discipline is shifting, from the old days of trying to land stories in the newspaper to the modern approach of content marketing and blogs and social media influencers. That said, there is still a niche for every type of organization, where, if you get the right “industry coverage,” you can reach highly focused, highly influential readers. Press releases are for a small but powerful audience these days. The Sooner You Build the Messaging Platform, the Better Peter Drucker famously said that the purpose of any organization is to do two things: innovate and market. In other words, the only work you should concern yourself with is (a) making a better product or service, always, and (b) telling the world about it.
Let’s do that second part right :)