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Staying “on message” with corporate communications

December 20, 2010

It’s amazing how the best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley, as Robbie Burns lamented to his mousie. Never more so in corporate communications when too many participants often conspire to trash strong messages on the altar of internal politics and irrelevant niceties.

Staying “on message” is about relevance and coherence within a marketing piece. Whether it is a brochure, sales letter, catalogue, PR press release or email newsletter, the importance of presenting a coherent argument can never be over stated. But so often a focused argument is often neglected once the “big idea” has been created.

For communication to be effective, a theme of a piece must be managed throughout. No-one starts a conversation with a friend by introducing a topic and then talking about something completely different. So why should this happen with marketing materials? Yet it does – and often. Especially when too many people get involved, often with their own agendas and writing styles.

If you are responsible for crafting a particular marketing piece, or if you are the manager of the process, then my advice to you is to define an over-arching message and then make sub-messages loyal or subservient to that message. Whatever happens, don’t go “off piste” and bundle a load of irrelevant messages together. Management must also play a part – not permitting strategic direction to be sent out of trajectory by having too many cooks spoiling the broth. Corporate communication must speak with one voice, one style, one language to be effective.

If, for example, you are crafting a newsletter to subscribers, don’t load it full of offers and articles which are unrelated to the main theme. Don’t simply insert contributions from other staff members and re-use the copy just to avoid offending them. If necessary, drop items which don’t match the message. Alternatively, think of an angle about a particular story which can be used then to support the main theme.

Let’s look at a Christmas Special Offer newsletter and assume that you were running a 30% saving on books and other items ordered before 20th December, tied in with special partner savings and discounts. The key theme here would be preparing for Christmas, creating a feeling of warmth and togetherness and not forgetting about commercial messages too.

The newsletter may begin with a themed introduction, followed by sub-themed articles which may – or may not – carry offers, depending on how you are crafting your tone of voice. Each sub article would then still carry the Christmas theme through it, remembering, where relevant, to contain a call to action. At the end, the newsletter will tie together the themes once more into the overall Christmas theme of the piece. Result: a tight communication package which hangs logically together and which generates a sense of giving as well as, hopefully, an uplift in orders.

The alternative to this is the mismanaged muddle we see often in publishing. The standard monthly newsletter perhaps containing a few Christmassy images but otherwise nothing special. The introductory copy is limited. Individual offers use text cut and pasted from the company’s website. There is no logical structure. A hideous strapline such as “Special Christmas Sale”. The whole thing reads like what it is: an act of laziness dressed up as something special. This is the very negation of trust-based marketing: the commercial imperative writ large. Anyone can spot cynicism a mile off in marketing.

Corporate communication is about developing trust and retaining credibility by focused dialogue. If you are responsible for managing perception of your business in the minds of your customers then there is no room for laziness. Staying “on message” is crucial to success. It’s just not good enough to view lazy outputs as an action ticked off the “to do” list. Customer perception is too important to be left to people who don’t care.

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