Messaging: Finding the Balance Between Tension and Comfort

Jan 31, 2011 Beth Monaghan

When it comes to your message, I offer the same advice I give to any female friend who’s trying to convince herself that she should wear those skinny jeans, leather pants, mini skirt, or deep V-neck that requires fashion tape. I tell them to wear it like you mean it. Put that thing on, make sure nothing inappropriate is showing, and don’t touch it, look at it or think about it again until you’re ready to put on your pajamas.

Nothing draws the wrong kind of attention than someone who’s nervously pulling at her clothes all day. It creates an awkward aura that negates the sexy benefits you were hoping for you when you convinced yourself to wear it in the first place. What does this have to do with messaging? A lot. When it comes to your message, you have to find that perfect balance between tension and comfort that draws in an audience at first glance.

We frequently work with startups looking to carve out messaging as they prepare to enter a market, or with established companies looking to create a differentiated point of view on an important trend that is reshaping their industry. Although this topic could comprise an entire book, following are a few of the tenets we live by here at InkHouse:

1. Find your voice. What kind of culture does your company have? There is no correct answer to this question, but your voice is a critical piece of communicating the message. It’s the equivalent of immediate first impressions in face-to-face meetings, most of which are influenced by non-verbal queues. In messaging, your voice communicates almost as much as the message itself. But it has to fit with your culture. Think about the adjectives you would use to describe your company and get agreement on them.

2. Three is a perfect trinity. The messaging process is inevitably full of a good amount of projecting who you want to be. This is an important part of the process. But as my business partner, Meg O’Leary always says, messaging is frequently an exercise in leaving things behind. You can’t be the first, best or only at 10 things. Identify the one thing that defines you and then two supporting messaging. Four is one too many.

3.     Create tension. If you are creating messaging to carve out a point of view on an industry trend, make sure it is interesting to audiences outside of your organization. If you agree with all of the pundits, reporters and analysts, this might not be your issue. Find something that enables you to raise your message about the din with a differentiated, thoughtful point of view.

4. Never go negative. Companies are frequently tempted to carve out industry ownership through pointed criticisms of the competition. While there is a time and place for this, your company message or thought leadership platform is not it. Focus on who you are instead of who you are not.

5.     Make sure it fits. The most important piece of the messaging process is comfort among stakeholders and spokespeople. New messaging always feels strange and clumsy when you first begin communicating it, but you must be able to “own” it long-term. If a key stakeholder has reservations, either convert them or ditch the message. There is no room for in between. So say it like you mean or don’t say it at all.

Topics: Marketing, Messaging, Public Relations, PR
Beth Monaghan

Since the early days working around her kitchen table, Beth has grown Inkhouse into one of the top independent PR agencies in the country. She’s been named a Top Woman in PR by PR News, a Top 25 Innovator by PRovoke, and an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist. Beth designed Inkhouse’s signature Storytelling Workshop to mirror the literary hero’s journey and to unearth the emotional connections that bind an audience to a brand or idea. She also uses narratives to build Inkhouse’s culture, most recently through two books of employee essays, “Hindsight 2020” and “Aren’t We Lucky?”

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