PRINTER FRIENDLY VERSION
"What's In It For Me?" Guidelines for Developing Compelling Communications and Messages
Do your communications messages hit a bull's
eye with your target audiences?
While testing messages in focus groups for a large retail chain that
wished to improve its image as an employer, we reviewed themes identified
as important by the communications department. These included the
fact that the organization sponsored a sporting event to raise funds
for a major charity each year.
"That's very nice of them to do," noted a prospective
employee, "But it doesn't make me want to go work there.
What's in it for me?"
An "aha" moment for the communications department
the most meaningful messages for their target audiences went beyond
"nice to know." The most compelling messages were those
that directly impacted current and potential employees. For
the retail chain, these messages involved providing employees with
flexible work hours and formal on-the-job training.
Are your messages compelling? What, if anything, do they mean to your
key stakeholders? Even the highest quality, most professionally produced
communications program and materials will fall flat if their contents
aren't meaningful to their intended audiences.
Testing messages through focus groups or interviews allows us to explore
the core values and motivations that drive how employees and consumers
respond to corporate positioning and branding. On a practical level,
we can also test the message language. Is it clear? Is it believable?
Is there a better way to say it?
Subtle nuances can make all the difference in message development.
For example, when we tested messages among first- and second-graders
for a youth organization, kids responded negatively to the idea that
the club offered them a chance to do things they hadn't known
they could do. "That sounds scary," a young boy explained, "I might
get hurt." However, when we revised the message
to convey that kids could try activities they didn't usually
get to experience, focus group respondents responded positively, "Awesome!"
For seven- and eight-year-olds, the world can be a daunting place.
Feeling competent and looking cool in front of peers
can make all the difference when it comes to choosing which after-school
organization to join. This subtle difference was an "awesome!"
finding for our youth organization clients as they developed their
We have tested messages among audiences that include corporate staff,
company employees, customer groups, children, parents, retirees, physicians
and nurses. While our techniques are often tailored to specific audiences,
we note similarities across groups that can be very useful in the
development of impactful messages. Following are 10 guidelines for
developing meaningful messages that we have developed, based on conducting
research in hundreds of focus groups during the past 10 years:
1. Use examples or stories whenever possible. They improve credibility
and put a human face on the organization conveying the message. For
example, if a bank says it provides opportunities for advancement,
describe the former teller who is now vice president of commercial
2. Focus on benefits to the end user. Do you have a focus on safety?
Explain how this focus has increased workers' or customers'
3. Don't overlook the value of heritage. Have you been selling
turkeys for 50 years? Bourbon for 200 years? Talk about it. Being
in business for a significant length of time tells customers they
can count on you. "They must be doing something right,"
we frequently hear in our focus groups, "This lets us know they'll
be around if we need them."
4. Avoid superlatives, like "the best" or "the only."
People are suspicious of these claims. Use stories to demonstrate
leadership. Back up claims with data and examples.
5. Use specifics in communications to bring the message to life. For
example, explain that "unique work-life benefits" means
a 4-day work week, a corporate nanny- finder service or an optional
"work at home" day when children are ill.
6. Tailor messages to your audience so that they can see themselves
in the message. This might mean localizing examples to a regional
area, such as "Here at the Madison plant," or offering examples that
resonate for a particular profession or business unit.
7. Bring your corporate vision, mission and values to life for employees.
If your vision is, "Count on us," tell each business unit
specifically what customers are counting on them to do. Move beyond
the wallet card that states the vision to highlighting what employees
are doing to implement corporate initiatives in their daily jobs.
8. Keep in mind that external audiences often define words differently
than employees. It's fine to refer to hotel employees as guest
consultants in internal publications, but the term may be confusing
in outside media. Be as clear and concise as possible.
9. If your audiences include ethnic groups, test messages in those
languages and cultures as well. Our multi-cultural team of researchers
test messages in Spanish and across ethnic groups to ensure we understand
10. If your organization is global, be aware of potential anti-American
sentiments outside of the U.S. It's easy to come across as boastful
and omnipotent in message content. Gear message language towards focusing
on how your organization benefits local citizens.
The overriding benefit of message testing is ensuring that all communications
reflect messages that we know are meaningful to key constituents.
In other words, the resources that you devote to message testing now
will pay off in spades when you move forward with producing communications
programs and materials that hit the mark. Identifying how stakeholders
respond to what the corporation has to say is the lifeblood of designing
communications that attract and retain both customers and employees.
Jenny Schade is president of JRS Consulting,
Inc., a firm that helps organizations build leading brands and efficiently
attract and retain employees and customers. Subscribe to the free JRS newsletter on www.jrsconsulting.net/newsletter.html
© JRS Consulting, Inc. 2007