“To say things have changed is a very egregious understatement.” Early in Linda Jackson’s Spirited Conversation talk for the Leadtail community, she acknowledges the new reality that confronts B2B marketers in the wake of what she calls “the corona-coaster.”

“We’ve all turned into ballerinas. We’re out there pivoting away,” Linda says.

Linda is a seasoned marketer, sales professional, and business advisor with both corporate and startup experience. As the principal at JacksonLee Group, Linda helps businesses “explain what they do and why it matters.”

As companies find their way in a challenging new environment, the time is right to refresh corporate messaging to address potential buyers’ shifting needs and attitudes. Customers are looking for authenticity from the brands they do business with. 

Unfortunately, Linda says, too many companies are failing to adapt their messaging. “A lot of people are still talking like it’s 2019. This is a moment in time when every company should take a look at its foundational messaging and make sure it’s still current.”

A Messaging Framework

Brands that are undertaking a messaging refresh should begin with a simple framework, Linda says. Any corporate messaging needs to answer three questions:

  1. What do you do?
  2. Who do you do it for?
  3. Why should they care?

Your messaging needs to answer these questions, and it needs to do so in clear, concise language that anyone can understand. So, how do you know if your messaging measures up? Linda suggests a five-step process for auditing your existing messaging.

“This is a simple and effective internal reality check,” Linda says. The audit consists of five questions:

  1. What does my company do? Begin by asking yourself this question. Then invite three clients or colleagues to answer the same question. Do the responses line up? Getting several different answers to this question can help you identify alignment issues with your messaging.
  2. Does your messaging directly address your target audience? Effective messaging is tailored to the customers you want to attract. Your messaging efforts will be wasted if you’re not reaching potential buyers.
  3. Does your messaging clearly state what matters to your customers and show that you understand their challenges? Once you’ve identified your target audience, you must demonstrate you understand what they need. The strongest messaging will empathize with your potential customers’ pain points and clearly show how your product or service addresses their needs.
  4. Does your message align with critical points in your buyer’s journey and make it easy for them to move to the next step? As your customer interacts with your messaging, they need to see how they can engage with your company to take the next action step toward buying.
  5. Does your messaging appear in the channels your target customers are dialed in to? The best messaging in the world is useless if the right audience never sees it. Make sure your messaging is meeting your buyers where they are.

This exercise is a fantastic starting point for getting a handle on your messaging needs. It’s also quite effective for getting marketing-skeptical executives on board for a messaging refresh, Linda says.

A Foundation for Success

The unfortunate reality is that many messaging projects fail, Linda says. 

“One of the things I’m often asked is, ‘How are we going to make this work this time? Last time we did this, nothing happened; nothing changed. Nobody adopted it. Nobody changed it.’ Well, there’s never any guarantee. But there are a few things that you can do to help with success.”

Throughout leading many of these projects, Linda has discovered some basic things that can dramatically improve the odds of success. 

One of the fundamental elements of a successful project is balancing the need to get adequate input from across the organization with the risk of putting too many cooks in the kitchen. 

“Message creation is not necessarily a team sport,” Linda says. But, at the same time, messaging that is pushed from the top down will often fail to take hold within the company.

“If you want people to adopt your new messaging, and to put it into play and help you get it out there in the world, and socialize it, and activate it, you have to take the time to get input,” Linda says. “And you have to allow a cross-functional team to contribute to the project. And it’s really important to build consensus at the very initial stages.”

Linda’s recommendation is to build a team of ten people. More than ten members make it difficult for the team to accomplish its mandate. If you need to involve more people, create additional groups for the bulk of the work and merge the ideas later in the process.

Linda also encourages including outside voices in the process. Involve customers, partners, investors, and board members to better understand what matters to your potential audience.

“Their perception is going to be different than yours,” she says. “And they’re going to have different things that they feel are important. I think you have to get everybody’s views on the table before you can take that and make it into that messaging that you want to deliver.”

Herding HIPPOs

The key to running successful messaging projects is allowing ideas to flow freely. An Achilles heel for these projects is the tendency to defer to senior leadership in brainstorming sessions. When less senior team members don’t feel comfortable sharing their ideas, it hamstrings the entire process.

That’s why every team needs a HIPPO wrangler—someone who can help the “highest paid person in the office” allow other team members to have a voice in each brainstorming session.

“You have to have somebody who is not afraid to look that person in the eye and say, ‘Yeah, that’s great input. But can you just step down for a second? We’ve got to give everybody a chance to have a say.’ Because that HIPPO can derail these efforts in a heartbeat.”

The tools you choose to facilitate these sessions can be a massive asset for including diverse voices in the process. Linda uses an online collaboration tool called Howspace to help organize, manage, and facilitate the messaging refresh projects she runs.

“It really democratizes the input process,” Linda says. “It’s really fun. They have a lot of really cool widgets where you can add things to your presentation or to your discussion to let people collaborate.”

Launching the Refresh

“The launch is probably one of the things that often I find, from a corporate perspective, gets overlooked,” Linda says. “And the importance of it can’t be emphasized enough.”

The launch is important because, at this stage, the new messaging will take root within the organization or die on the vine. If the new messaging isn’t operationalized, the hard work that went into creating it will ultimately amount to very little in terms of results.

“You have to have a plan,” Linda says. “How is it going to get updated through our internal comms? How are we going to get it on the website? What are we what are we going to do with the press? Are we going to have presentation decks? There needs to be some clear ownership. And there needs to be control so that we minimize the changes.” 

As the refreshed messaging launches, you must allow time to let it manifest across the company and gauge its success. It won’t take hold overnight, but with a strong launch plan, you can maximize the chances that your team’s updated messaging plan becomes deep-seated in the corporate culture.

Four Keys to Success

Linda has four fundamental recommendations to help ensure a successful messaging refresh. 

  1. Every project team member needs to be committed to the project from start to finish. “Drive by” input is not helpful for the project’s long-term success. It’s critical that team members participate in the entire process. It’s also vital to maximize buy-in from the group. Minimize discussions around “here’s what I think” and focus on consensus within the group.
  2. Data wins. “Hope is not a strategy,” Linda says. ”We back things up with numbers. We go out—we survey if we have to. We talk to customers. We get direct input. We don’t guess.”
  3. The final version should be definitive. It’s essential that the final messaging launches with clear safeguards against creative tinkering. “We can’t allow interpretation,” Linda says, “because, with the ownership and support from the project team, we build these solid guardrails. And we have to intervene when people start coloring outside the lines across the company.”
  4. The messaging needs to be universally adopted. Creating a solid launch plan is your project team’s final task. Good planning and execution at this stage are critical to ensure the new messaging is adopted across the business. “The outcome of this project needs to be codified and socialized with a solid launch and rollout plan to ensure adoption across the company,” Linda says,

Watch Linda Jackson’s complete presentation on Leadtail TV.

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