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Randy Savicky

[June 16, 2004]

Strategy + Communications Column:
Key Messages & Support Points

BY RANDY SAVICKY


In the previous column, we began to discuss the process of leveraging your key strategic differentiation qualities and applying them to your marketing and public relations initiatives. As you remember, we developed a list of determinant attributes for your company -- 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. 

Here�s how your company�s determinant attributes were ranked in priority order (#1 being most important):

  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

JUST THE FACTS, PLEASE
Now, we�ll take your list of determinant attributes and explore how we refine them with factual support to bring them to life and make them real for all of your key audiences. Our goal here is to begin to define a core group of concise, clearly defined key messages that will guide all of your communications initiatives -- both internal and external. These key messages will be your framework to convey your company�s mission and business objectives in all facets of your marketing and communications process, such as media interviews, analysts briefings, executive speeches, news releases, bylined articles, company presentations, Web site, direct mail, employee newsletters and even your �on hold� message.

The first step in turning this list of determinant attributes into key messages for your company is to look at each attribute and add as many descriptive phrases that support the main point as possible for each one. This list should be compiled in a free-flowing session, with as many phrases suggested as possible. This list may be as short as one item or may include as many items that make sense.

For example, as you drill down to lend substance for the �technological innovator� attribute, you might come up with the following descriptive phrases:

  • Many new product innovations over the 40 years we have been in business;

  • Invented portable fuel cell generator;

  •  Sold first fuel cell to a public utility;

  • Invented solar fuel cell;

  • Twice introduced lightest on-road zinc fuel cell;

  • Worldwide investment in R&D at all facilities; and

  • Plan to introduce micro fuel cells -- electrochemical devices that create electricity from hydrogen gas or alcohol -- next year.

From this list, it is now possible to develop a single key corporate message for �technological innovator� that is based on concrete fact, yet expands that phrase and simultaneously brings it to life:

        We have a long history of technological innovation as an alternative energy company.

As you can see, this statement is based on the very first bulleted item from the list above.

Next, and equally important, you must be able to back up your claim, and that is where the other bullet points that were listed above come into play. These �support points� or �proof points� give this new key message substance and context for the media (and for your other key audiences as well). By adding these proof points, your key message now looks like this:

  •  We have a long history of technological innovation as an alternative energy company; and

  • Our worldwide investments have produced a stream of new and innovative products.

This second statement is based on the sixth bulleted item from the earlier list.

BUILDING SUPPORT
While this does begin to substantiate your innovation claim, it still does not provide enough information for the media to believe that it is true. That�s where the other bulleted items from our list come in. By adding them, we now have built a solid case that supports your innovation claim:

  • We have a long history of technological innovation as an alternative energy company;

  • Our worldwide investments have produced a stream of new and innovative products;

  • We invented the first portable fuel cell generator;

  • We sold the first fuel cell to a public utility;

  • We invented the first solar fuel cell; and

  •  We have twice introduced the lightest on-road zinc fuel cell.

Note that this key message for �technological innovator� does not include the final bulleted item that made up our original list (�Plan to introduce micro fuel cells -- electrochemical devices that create electricity from hydrogen gas or alcohol -- next year�). 

At this point in time, this is proprietary information that can only give your competitors a �heads up� on your product development plans; therefore, we recommend that information like this not be revealed until the product is launched.  Also, by not revealing this information, you eliminate having any concern over the actual launch date or the timing of any possible new product introduction. Why possibly place yourself in the awkward position of having to face questions about a product being late simply because you made a preliminary announcement too early?

Now that you�ve developed a solid, defensible key message from your primary determinant attribute, you follow the same steps to develop each of the remaining attributes into key messages. As you move through the process, you will find that some key messages are stronger than others. Don�t worry; that�s OK. This working draft of key messages should be reviewed internally at two levels -- for accuracy and to determine if there is any other material that can be added to build a stronger case for each message. During this process, support points will be added, dropped or altered.

It�s not uncommon for these key messages to undergo several rounds of review until they have been built into a solid and comprehensive platform. It�s this process that also gains buy-in across the organization -- from the executive suite and through the marketing, corporate communications/public relations departments to the division level and beyond.  

BREAKING DOWN THE SILOS
An important byproduct of this key message development process is that it can serve as a powerful facilitator to break down any real and perceived silos within an organization. Since these key messages are meant to look company-wide and be inclusive, they serve as a powerful mechanism to get everyone at an organization �pulling together� or �singing from the same songbook.�

Once your key messages have been established, the challenge becomes one of delivery and ensuring that the messages are heard. The method for achieving this has come to be known as being �on message.� In the next column, we�ll look at this more closely.

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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