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Messaging Platforms: What They Are and Why You Need One

At its most basic, a messaging platform is a document that describes what your organization should say about itself.

More specifically, your organization’s messaging platform should:

This isn’t strategic planning; this is getting to the heart of your organization’s purpose and describing it with clearest, most compelling language.”
  • Define your brand message across multiple formats
  • Use each word on purpose (“say this, not that”)
  • Encourage unified, effective messaging across your organization
  • Be written by someone outside of your organization

    The messaging platforms we create with our clients are around 20 pages long and contain a dozen unique sections (depending on the client’s needs and the industry they’re in).

    The table of contents of a typical messaging platform includes:

    • Mission Statement
    • Vision of the Future
    • Positioning Statement
    • What Each Audience Cares About
    • Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
    • Elevator Pitch

    …and about a half-dozen additional sections. For mission-oriented organizations, such as nonprofits or associations, some of these sections look familiar—especially mission and vision statements. Sometimes, we work with our client to completely rethink their mission statement, but most often, we take the sentiment of their current mission and wordsmith it into vibrancy.

    Why You Need a Messaging Platform

    There are two big reasons your organization needs a new messaging platform.

    First, everyone who works on your organization’s behalf should be speaking from the same “script.” The messaging platform is this script.

    The most effective marketing strategy involves your people. If everyone who communicates on your behalf is unified in their message, your brand will become clearer and more compelling. That means everyone—officially or unofficially, at work or off the clock. Remember, it can take dozens of encounters with your organization before a customer/client/user/student remembers and engages with you. That’s why simple, concrete, and consistent messages are so critical: If people keep hearing different things about you, they won’t know what to believe or hold onto. That’s no way to create an emotional connection.

    The second reason you need a messaging platform is that the process of creating it may be even more valuable than the messaging platform itself.

    Even though you should hire an outside agency to write your messaging platform (see below), you and your staff will provide the source materials and insights necessary. If your agency guides you well, your team will have a number of fascinating and revealing conversations about your organization—often, these are conversations you’ve never formally had (or at least not in a long time).

    This isn’t strategic planning; this is getting to the heart of your organization’s purpose and describing it with clearest, most compelling language.

    Why You Can’t Write Your Own Messaging Platform

    You cannot write your own messaging platform because of the Curse of Knowledge—a concept brilliantly described in Dan and Chip Heath’s superb book, Made to Stick.

    The Curse of Knowledge says that once you know something, it’s impossible to imagine what it was like not to know it. Your intimate knowledge of your own organization and industry makes you blind to how outsiders see you. You’re unable to empathize with them, to see yourself with the same “blank mind” that most people see you. As such, your communications tend to be loaded with assumptions, shortcuts, and lingo that make true engagement impossible, or at least more difficult than it should be.

    In order to properly describe your organization’s message(s) in ways most likely to “stick” with outsiders (especially your target audience), you need an outsider to put them down on paper. This outsider should arrive to the work with zero preconceptions about your organization. Your message writer isn’t there to take orders and transcribe your ideas; she’s there to push you to adopt messaging that will work.

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    Good vs. Bad Messaging Platforms

    The difference between good and bad messaging platforms is significant, but it may not be easy to spot right away—especially by stakeholders and other decision-makers who aren’t professional marketers.

    If it’s to be usable and memorable and worthwhile, your messaging platform needs to contain two key components: concreteness and simplicity.

    First, concreteness is the use of words with real physical presence in the world. Messaging platforms with non-concrete language—i.e., using subjective words like “leverage” or “empower” or “inspire”—may be poetic, but poetry can be the enemy of communication.

    And worse, this fuzzy language can make you sound like everyone else. Without concrete language, each person who reads those words will have a personal, unique interpretation. For example, the word “empower” means one thing to me, another thing to my neighbor, a whole other thing to you, etc. But when I use a concrete word like “high-school diploma,” there’s no room for confusion.

    Your messaging platform should use as many concrete words as feasible, so the people who use the messaging platform more easily internalize it and the people you communicate to know exactly what you’re trying to communicate.

    Second, you need fewer messages than you think, and the simpler your messages are, the more they’ll be repeated and remembered. Some communicators, in an effort to display their deep understanding of their audiences and industry, overcomplicate their messages. They show off. But showing off doesn’t move the needle; simplicity does. The different elements of your brand message should be simply stated—like your mission statement, value proposition, tagline, etc. Each word of a messaging platform should be selected for a specific purpose, and if a word isn’t needed, it must be cut.

    How to Get a Messaging Platform

    First, you have to decide that it’s worth investing in. Even if you’ve done some internal marketing planning, your messaging may be scattered, siloed, or outdated. You may need a total rethink or a simple facelift, but in either case, leadership must buy into the value of a messaging platform.

    We’d love to hop on a call to answer your questions about messaging or offer some advice. Simply drop us a line here and we’ll get in touch right away.

    In any case, best of luck. If you spend some time gaining internal consensus on what your organization is, stands for, and has to say to the world, you’ll see the benefits soon enough—and they’ll grow exponentially over time.

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