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Randy Savicky

[May 14, 2004]

Strategy + Communications Column:
Key Message Development

BY RANDY SAVICKY


Last time we looked at the importance of strategic differentiation as the key ingredient in developing an overall communications strategy to the media, and, by extension, to all of your key audiences -� customers, business partners, employees, stakeholders and both industry and financial analysts. The key to this strategic differentiation was to focus our thinking on those determinant attributes that clearly set your company apart from the competition

As you remember, determinant attributes are the characteristics that are important to your customers, yet distinguish your products or services from competing products or services. By identifying the product or service attributes that your customers use to differentiate among competing products or services, we learn why your customers purchase from you and begin to understand what makes your company unique. 

A list of your determinant attributes may look like this:

  1. Technological innovator
  2. Strong partners
  3. Wide distribution network
  4. Strong after sales support
  5. Wide range of products
  6. Products are good value for price

From this list, it is then extremely important to determine how strongly your differentiation is on each attribute as compared to your competition. This discussion more than likely will result in a reordering of the list based on these comparable strengths. For example, your company may be seen as a technical innovator with a slight advantage over your competitors when it comes to technology, but with a clear and overwhelming advantage over all of your competition when it comes to after sales support. The other attribute that sets you apart from your competition is your pricing, which for a technological innovator is perceived to be a good value, rather than premium pricing. The remaining attributes do not resonate strongly with your key audiences, and you rank them in decreasing order of importance based on your analysis.

Your reordered list of determinant attributes would then look this:

  1. Technological innovator
  2. Strong after sales support
  3. Products are good value for price
  4. Strong partners
  5. Wide distribution network
  6. Wide range of products

PUTTING WORDS INTO ACTION
Once your determinant attributes have been quantified and qualified in this manner, the next step begins the process of putting strategic differentiation to work for you -- the process of defining your company�s �key messages� or �communications pillars� (picture a Greek or Roman temple and how the pillars give the structure its strength).

The primary goal of this step is to formalize a core group of concise, clearly defined key messages that will guide all of your communications initiatives -- both internal and external. Developed in close harmony with your company�s key management and communications teams, these key messages serve as a framework to convey your company�s mission and business objectives in all facets of the marketing and communications process. This would include, for example, media interviews, analysts briefings, executive speeches, news releases, bylined articles, company presentations and other communications tools such as your Web site, direct mail, employee newsletters and even your �on hold� message.

By creating a defined set of messages that are closely aligned with your company�s business goals and using them as a foundation for all your communications activities, you have taken the first step toward creating your own distinctive brand.  The consistent and thoughtful implementation of these messages across all of your key audiences will help ensure a clearly articulated market position for your company in the business, consumer and technology communities.  Depending on your company�s mission and business goals, these key messages may remain consistent over a long period of time or may be revised as you introduce new products and services or as the competitive landscape changes.

FINGERS ON A HAND
As you saw earlier with determinant attributes, it is important to create a list of key messages, which may be as short as one or as long as a dozen items. Our recommendation is that the list contain between three and five items. Why? It�s like going shopping at the food store. If you have a list of three to five items (milk, bread, eggs, cheese, orange juice), you will most likely remember them without writing them down. (This is the �fingers on a hand� rule -- one finger for each item, so five fingers for five items). If the list grows larger than five items, it becomes very hard to remember every item without writing all of them down (now add soup, coffee, tomatoes, grapes and crackers to the original list -- see what I mean)?  And since we are defining these key messages to use them, it�s easier if you don�t have more than five to remember.   

To summarize, developing a list of key messages will enable you to more consistently:

  • Communicate better with your key audiences in terms they will understand and embrace;
  • Create highly effective communications quickly and easily by following an approved �roadmap�;
  • Gain executive buy-in and their commitment to participate in communications initiatives more readily;
  • Ensure that all company personnel communicate clear and consistent information about your company (the �all singing from the same hymnbook� analogy; and
  • Leverage a strong marketing and communications strategy as a key component of your overall business plan.

In the next column, we�ll take our list of three to five key messages and explore how we refine them with factual support points that bring them to life and make them real for all of your key audiences.

With his unique "both sides of the editor's desk" perspective, Randy Savicky�s advice and counsel on public relations and marketing has been sought after by some of America�s largest corporations and best-known brands.  He has designed strategic plans, managed communications programs and obtained major news coverage for such Fortune 500 companies as IBM, Fujifilm, Motorola and Sony, early stage companies like Arbinet, Dialogic and Juno as well as startups like Barnesandnoble.com, ClubMom.com, New Paradigm Software and Viaweb.  As President of Strategy + Communications Worldwide, he helps companies gain mindshare and win market share by improving their communications to their key audiences through the use of outside experts.  He welcomes your comments and questions on how to put his ideas to work and can be reached at (516) 467-4122 or randy@strategypluscommunications.com.

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