Introduction Accurate and timely communication is pure oxygen to any company. It bathes every cell in the organization — employees, customers, suppliers, partners and investors with the information they need to make the right decisions concerning the company.But in many organizations, information travels the same haphazard route as raw gossip on the street. It gets passed around, e-mail by e-mail, conversation by conversation, until every unit in the company might be saying different things about products and services. Business development people tell potential customers one thing, marketing says another and you, the CEO, something else entirely.Customers won’t buy if they don’t understand exactly what is being offered. The same applies to the news media, recruits, partners and investors. If they can’t figure you out, they’re not going to pay attention.
Defining the Company Many companies (even large, well-established ones) don’t take the time to (1) define their company so it can be understood by customers and (2) create a good, solid set of messages. Both can be used by every member of the staff — and others outside your company who champion your cause, service or product — as a roadmap for effective communication.Some call this the “elevator speech,” the 15-second answer to the question, “So what does your company do?” What they are really asking is, “What can your company do for me?” A clear and compelling answer is often an opportunity to snag a potential customer, investor, strategic partner or employee. With a bit more detail, it’s also the “boilerplate” that lives at the bottom of your press releases.Look at what your competitors say about themselves. Your message needs to be more compelling than theirs. So look at all of your communication — marketing materials, speeches, letters, business plans, funding solicitations, Web site and slogans on those Frisbees you gave out at the last trade show. If you can’t find at least three markedly different ways in which your company is defined, you’re not looking hard enough. Save the best elements from these if they are any good. Toss the rest, even if they’re engraved on the building.Look at it from your customers’ perspective. If you’re a gadget maker, it’s not as important what you make as what your product does for the user. If it makes life easier or saves money for people at home or work, for example, say so. No one cares that you “make software.” Thousands of companies do. But if you make software that “helps law enforcement officers around the world share leads and close otherwise unsolvable cases,” that’s compelling. Compare that to “we’re a software company that makes products for law enforcement.”
Massaging the Message Using your company definition as a starting point, the next step is to build a clear, concise set of messages that everyone in your company can use to communicate with the audiences they deal with most.By answering questions similar to those below, you can build six to eight messages that make the case for paying attention to — and doing business with — your company.
What are we? What category defines us? What do we do for the client? What advantages do we give them?
Why do other companies do business with us? Is it because of our management team? Partnerships with other, better-known companies? If it’s OK with your clients and/or partners, drop their names into your communication. Just knowing you do business with Wal-Mart or Microsoft, for example, will make some potential customers warm and tingly all over.
What are the major attributes of your product or service? List them in order of importance. This will serve as a guide for anyone on your team writing a speech, a proposal, a pitch for money, a direct mail campaign or other communication. Include a few easily digestible statistics like revenue and staff growth, awards and even a testimonial or two.
Is it a good place to work? Why? Retention rates? Benefits? Make the case for joining your team.
Must-say messages Once you’ve created your overall messages, cull out three top-priority “must-say” messages. These are the easily memorized points you can make in any conversation about your company — particularly during a media interview. That way, regardless of the questions, those are the answers! You’ll have the chance to make your points, the ones that interest customers, investors, strategic partners or recruits. Vistage associate Robert Deigh is principal of RDC Communication, a Fairfax, Virginia-based communication, public relations and marketing firm.