Other posts worth a look:  MDF and Ptnr Mktg      Agencies Behaving Badly  

message post illustrationEver been here?  … marketing stakeholders disrupted and disconnected from what should be a common messaging platform… having to navigate how to support one product launch in the context of another…  or worse?

It should be simple, straightforward, but often isn’t.   Case in point, our tech-industry Marcom team was asked recently to troubleshoot a technology messaging discussion which required that two adjacent Business Units align to support the launch of a new product family into a downstream Channel segment in the context of many previous months of OEM messaging.  The minefield:  mediate and message the same underlying technology against different end-customer value propositions.

Adding to the urgency were: tight deadlines, changing market strategy, a complimentary product acquisition, and a silo’d marketing motion hampered by geography, new managers and new organizations.

The BU team tasked with the new product family launch loudly maintained that marketplace messages weren’t yet defined, and that messaging was yet to be written – despite production and distribution of several FLASH modules, a press release , a product sales promotion flyer and a global, customer rollout looming just six-weeks away.  The OEM-side BU team was baffled that the Channel team seemed to want to ignore the market conditioning and technology leadership context build previously, and disputed that the market audience targets could be isolated.

None of the leads were inexperienced; all believed in doing the right thing.  What resulted, however, was a clear disconnect and loss of opportunity to leverage previous messaging groundwork.  While BUs drive messaging, Marcom can/should drive the process of getting there, sanity checking the strategy, and to write craft both a message matrix and the respective message specifics, given target audiences.

I offered up the following framework to prompt cross-BU collaboration. 

  • A brief briefing call:  30 minutes.  Get the principal stakeholders in a room/on a call and talking.  Keep it small, just the core team who really care.  Don’t presume alignment from previous discussion.  Start fresh. Ignore all the previous calls and emails.  Start completely over. I asked the Channel launch lead for a 5 minute summary of his marketing requirements/needs; then the OEM lead took 5 minutes to paint the context and previous market conditioning.  The remaining time was a free-flowing discussion. 
  •  First, propose themes, not messages:  Following the client discussion, get in a corner w/your internal team and brainstorm themes, not messages.  Avoid the clammer to jump immediately to copy writing.  In this case, our internal Marcom team devised four messaging “themes” then did a brief follow-up call w/the core BU teams/leads to discuss, tweak and finalize.  The goal was to establish a benchmark approach against which the later specific messages could be validated.  
  •  Now, add the context:  With theme alignment, our internal Marcom team then layered in reminders of corporate brand pillars and did a recap of the technology messaging foundation that had been put into place from the OEM side.  Of course these were always present in the background but having the discipline to write it all down was a step that assured all parties were paying attention to the corporate context.  One outcome was discovery that several of the core stakeholders were not aware of corporate positioning and branding. This step moved fase.  All this was able tomoved very quickly (remember the urgency of the product family launch).  Don’t let time pressure cause you to skip steps.
  • Propose messaging platforms:  Formalize a messaging platform presentation.  We elected to build a short powerpoint foil set rather than using a Word doc or just discussion.  Building a formal presentation itself demonstrated thoughtfulness and commitment, beyond the content.   Prior to the formal presentation, we soft-sold/tested the recommendations 1:1 to understand and address concerns.  Don’t try to solve/answer every single questions ahead of time.  Seek open, authentic discussion.  But… have a structure, rationale for the recommendations and align stakeholders to the process and end goal(s).  Our results were positive and permitted us to launch on the same call to an audience target and  message matrix discussion.  You might find that this is better done in separate meetings.  Our messaging platform consisted of 4 key statements under each approved theme;  eg, a theme of “value” was translated into a messaging platform of “price/margin”… the theme of “brand/trust” was translated into a messaging platform statement such as “unique product DNA and breadth”.  From the messaging platform statements come the actual message matrix tailored to individual audience target segments.
  • Audience targets for the message matrix framework: Has two parts you must walk thru:  Audience Targets, and the Message Statements specific to those respective audiences.  Don’t forget to consider internal audiences (sales force, employees) and external, adjacent audiences:  competitors, stock holders/analysts, customer segments for other BU groups.  Also, consider audiences that are more “means to an end” than end targets themselves.  An example of this might be trade press journalists where you’re seeking coverage of your message but the real target is the reader, not the writer.   A sample matrix might look like:
(Messagine Platform) Connectivity Price-Margin Brand Value
Our Internal Sales Force      
Reseller Network      
Tier II OEM Management      
Tier I OEM Engineering Mgmt      
Trade Media/Journalists      


  • Now, write the specific messages:  Now you get to do what everyone wanted to do at the beginning… write the specific message statements.   But by using a framework and process, you have validation points to proof against, not just opinions and disconnected ideas.   You could elect to fill out the matrix with strawman statements as a starting point… or partially populate a few of the rows as an example and thought starter… or go in “blank” and do it live.  So long as the end result is a completed document that the stakeholders bless, your mission is accomplished.   Once completed, and as a proof point, our Marcom team went the next step to show both BU leads how the new messaging would implement.  We took an actual sales launch piece already in circulation, re-worked it using matrix messages to re-hone the piece. 

Benefits of having a matrix and putting the core team thru an alignment process in the context of brand, positioning and existing market conditioning was that for future work, not just the launch itself, there was now a benchmark to reference.  At the end of this exercise, we learned there was a large advertising campaign being developed.  The message matrix could now be used to more crisply discuss audience priorities and target ad spending discussions.

A caution:  guard against confusing the “messsaging platform”” step with the “specific message ” step.  The former sets direction, the latter is where you craft  language related to a specific target audience.   The BU teams walked away pleased, and with documentation that could be share and used to manage.  Marcom demonstrated its value-add role and reinforced the science and expertise available.  Now, it’s a matter of being accountable during the execution steps to the agreed upon messages and targets.  Not entirely easy, but that’s a topic for a future blog…

Please weigh-in:  Have you faced similar challenges?  Would this approach be useful?  Would welcome feedback and commentary.



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