When you’ve got a big change to make—in your organization, in the market, in the world—one question comes up over and over again:
Where should you start?
Let’s say you want to launch a new product or service you’ve developed (and yes, all of this applies to a new talk, book, or idea!).
Do you start with figuring out the logo and packaging?
Or with taglines and ad copy?
Or with your PR launch campaign and talking points?
What about your positioning and differentiation?
Or your website, and the look, feel, and language there?
Or your content and social media strategy?
And once you’ve got one of those figured out, how do you make sure whatever you do next coordinates with it? I don’t know about you, but there have been many times when whoever was in charge of PR and earned media had very different ideas than the brand or content teams about what the “right” message should be. Not to mention all the times that something positioned one way from marketing was sold very differently by the sales team.
The result? Confusion and conflict internally to the organization…and confusion and conflict in the market.
So, yeah, figuring it out is important, but why is it so hard? Because too often we’re skipping the first step: figuring out the core message that ties it all together.
And if you’re thinking, “Uh, hey what now?,” don’t you worry, I’m about to explain it all. First up…
What is a core message?
There’s a small (but mighty!) group of us who all do message design work, but in our own distinct ways: me, Michel Neray (who got us started), Sheperd Simmons, Franciso Mahfuz, and Brian Miller. We think core messaging—the process of coming up with a core message—is so important, in fact, that we created the Core Messaging Collaborative, a group dedicated to elevating core messaging as a separate and distinct category of communications and marketing (à la content marketing).
Together we came up with this definition:
A core message is the simplest articulation of the fundamental principles that connect how you do what you do with what your audience truly cares about.
You regular readers will quickly note that that definition also applies to your Red Thread—the story people will tell themselves about why they should buy that new product or service you’re launching. Your core message is both the explanation of and argument for why your way is the right way for your ideal audience.
Why do you need a core message?
Simply put, your core message defines everything you need to build buy-in, packaged up in a way that makes intuitive and immediate sense to those who read or hear it.
When you have a new idea, and you know you need buy-in, it can be tempting to focus on all the trappings of the message: the words, the look, the snappy marketing copy, etc. But none of that matters if the message doesn’t mean anything to your ideal audience.
Meaning drives motivation. If your audience doesn’t understand your ads, or content, or even your product or service itself—they simply can’t buy in. And if they do understand, but don’t see, quickly, why it matters to them? Again, no dice. The cleverest ad copy, the most innovatively designed marketing materials, the most comprehensive content strategy will do nothing for you if it doesn’t convey something meaningful to your audience.
So to make all your launch efforts effective, you need to make sure the meaning behind your product is clear from conception. And not just what’s meaningful to you, but what’s meaningful to you and your ideal audience.
Why? Because belief is the point of connection. Someone has to believe what you believe to see your product and what it means to them the same way you do.
But if you don’t actually know what you believe? If you don’t know why you do what you do in that particular way? You can’t possibly create that connection.
That’s why our group is so passionate about creating core messages—I mean, just look at what a core message delivers for you (and props to Brian Miller for breaking this down so well originally):
A core message is:
the simplest articulation of… To get to “simple,” you have to make hard choices. Result: clarity, for both you and your audience.
the fundamental principles… To quote Ray Dalio, “Principles are fundamental truths that serve as the foundations for behavior that gets you what you want out of life.” When you identify them, for both you and your audience, you don’t just identify your company values (e.g., fairness, partnership, etc.), you articulate how your company values translate into guidelines for values-based behavior (e.g., “Partnership is the equal exchange of expertise”).
that connect… Principles don’t exist in a vacuum. Your products, processes, and programs—in fact, all your pursuits—are the manifestations of those principles at work. Your products are principles. And explicitly connecting them, to what you do, how, and for whom creates the alignment you need for your business and brand to survive long-term.
how you do what you do… While you can sometimes differentiate on what you do, or why, more often than not, it’s how you do what you do that sets you apart from others. Including your “how” in your core message, along with the principles that dictate why you do what you do that way, makes sure your differentiation (and your principles-based backup for it) is built in from the beginning.
with what your audience truly cares about… I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it many times again: relevance is required. Including what your audience cares about ensures you’re including the customer perspective in everything you do, and reinforcing relevance at every turn.
Why does your core message come first?
Guidelines for behavior.
Now, imagine if everything you did to launch your new product tied back to those things, cohesively, concisely. When you craft your core message, it can be…but only if you do it first.
Can you do it after you’ve figured out your website copy? Or after your brand positioning? Or sales messaging? Sure. But then you’ll probably have to revise all of it to bring it in alignment. Not to mention that almost every one of those other processes often includes some kind of “message development” phase…with a different discovery process, and a different team, and a potentially different outcome.
When your core messaging comes first, though, all of those other processes don’t start with a blank page to fill in as they wish. They start with your:
Guidelines for behavior.
Already defined. Those other processes use the core message as the foundation to build on. That streamlines your efforts, which more often than not, saves time, money, and effort.
How long does it take to build a core message?
Different practitioners have different processes (built on their different principles, naturally!), but in my experience, and using my Red Thread process, you can get to the core of your core message in a single day.
A day. (We call that a Red Thread Super Session, by the way)
How, you ask? Because articulating your message isn’t a process of invention, of figuring out what your core principles and ideal audience should be. It’s a process of excavation, of discovering and articulating what your core principles and ideal audience already are, based on what you’ve already done and on the stories you’ve already told yourselves about your work.
Now, will it be perfect after one day? No, but will be enough to start building the strategies and messages your ideas need to get the buy-in and impact they deserve.If your audience doesn't understand your ads, or content, or even your product or service itself—they simply can't buy-in. Click To Tweet
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