I spend an increasing amount of my consulting time advising companies about the strategic nature of messaging. Not PR, messaging. Not just small companies either, but large and very large ones too. At the highest executive levels. And the one thing that continually surprises me is just how few people realise one simple rule – PR, or public relations to give it the full title, is not a strategic activity. It is tactical. On the other hand, messaging – the crafting of the vision and goals of your company’s differentiated personality, for delivery to your target market – is strategic. In fact nowadays it is probably the single most strategic thing you can do, almost more than choosing the products and services you will be supplying to your chosen market.
So I have been watching the rise and rise of Web 2.0 with some interest. Everyone knows by now the corporate ethos that drives these new style online businesses – launch early and often, focus on social interactivity, deliver value through customer feedback etc – but one thing that seems lacking in many of the marketing approaches I see is the idea that you need to establish your differentiated message fast. Too often I’m noticing ‘me-too’ products come on to the market with no clear-cut list of what makes their product or service different from all the rest. Or if they do deliver that message, it is couched in such weak or vague terms that it’s hard to pick up.
To my mind one of the reasons most new businesses fail nowadays is because they fail to give their market a strategic – and by strategic I mean long term, DNA level – message detailing the company’s unique selling proposition. They rely instead on short term tactical launch PR and trendy new ‘word of mouth’ marketing to establish their product positioning. Hey, that’ll be enough to carry us through the early months until we can start advertising, right? Wrong.
Is this because they don’t have a real position when they launch? Or that they can’t be bothered or don’t think it’s important enough? Whatever the reason, it’s a flaw that will doom a company sooner than you can say ‘so what’, even if they’re lucky enough to get front page coverage on the WSJ, or an in-depth feature in Business Week.
Here’s the deal as I see it. If you do not, or cannot, establish clearly, strongly and without doubt what it is that makes you different from your competitors from the get-go, you’re going to struggle to convince your target market that you offer real value. There’s always a substitute for your product, no matter how innovative you are, and it’s the buyers of those alternatives that you have to convince, and quickly, if you’re to succeed.
So the next time you sit down to craft your back of a napkin business plan, think about messaging up front, and not just as an after-thought. Make sure your corporate vision fits like a glove with what you’re telling your market, and you’re not just paying lip service to a glib VC marketing plan. And above all, realise that it’s only when you have a fundamental concept of what your company is and does, and can communicate it clearly, that you will be able to cut through the noise in a world where information overload is rampant and convince potential customers to give you a shot. Good luck!