Choose your words carefully

chess move strategy

One of my favorite parts of marketing is developing the brand through the careful selection of words.  I am a nerd. I readily admit that and am totally comfortable with that label.

This past month has been great spending strategic time on words. We made considerable progress for one of our clients in further development of the company’s messaging, positioning and terminology. In the past month we announced a new product and all the various efforts of preparing for that launch led to pages of notes, questions, and points of clarification. Additionally, and true for any small, rapidly growing company, the message naturally evolves over time. Two of us on the For Marketing Matters team led the charge to document standards to solidify and clarify positioning, messaging and word choice. Over the course of two meetings with the CEO we honed in on specific word selection to discuss, confirm and document standards including examples and explanations for the word selection. This document is a tremendous resource for our marketing team, but also for the company as a whole. The sessions with the CEO resulted in further clarity and alignment to the point the CEO requested the asset be included in the board package for this week’s meeting.

Why words matter (and how you could benefit from this same effort):

  1. Alignment.  How aligned is your team? For this client, the management team is geographically dispersed across the globe working at a rapid pace. This poses a real challenge for broader, strategic discussions to occur across the management team on a regular basis. We literally kept a running list of inconsistencies and questions to bring the challenge to light while developing press releases, sales tool kit materials, web content, technical specifications and sales presentations. As engineering was finalizing the product, operations was selecting final exterior finishes and sales was building the pipeline and the risks of mixed messages was high. Everyone had the right intent, but it felt like herding cats.
  2. Ownership. Words should not be casually selected with little to no grasp of the implication it can have. Example.  I was on a call reviewing a PowerPoint presentation and an idea was casually raised wondering if we should edit a bullet n the PowerPoint to describe the product as a “smart device”. I literally almost dropped the phone. Huh? This is not a casual edit to then move onto the next bullet. This type of descriptor needs to be thought through in terms of the implications to the product positioning and to the market and target buyers. If you are a CEO, ownership of messaging and the resulting choice of words needs to be made clear – this is not to be casually edited by anyone in the organization to decide they want to jump on the bandwagon of ‘smart devices’ or ‘Made in the USA’.
  3. Clarity. Literally don’t leave it up to chance. Don’t assume other employees are on the same page. Get it in writing and then distribute it – especially valuable if key personnel are geographically dispersed and don’t have the benefit of being in the same office, picking up important tidbits throughout the day.
  4. Scale. Just like the old telephone game played at many a sleepover as a kid, the message gets distorted with every person added to the chain. If scaling your organization is a priority to achieve your growth goals, don’t ignore the critical role that words have in enabling your company to scale. Capture the words you want employees to use; capture the words you want customers/clients/prospects to hear and understand. Use this asset as part of your on boarding plan.

focus definition in dictionary

 

Some tips to help you build, expand and manage this asset:

Ground rules:

First, it is important to recognize and embrace that this asset is never done.  It is a working document and marketing should own it. If you don’t have senior marketing expertise on your team, you need to. They don’t need to be fulltime, but you still need the expertise.

Second, this is not distributed for review and comment!  The danger of everyone in the company feeling they have a voice in weighing in on word choice is not realistic nor recommended. Marketing owns messaging. Marketing is not part of everyone’s job description. Working closely with the CEO is critical, but the reality is that others in the organization are most likely not well-suited for the nuances of word choice and let’s face it we all have our view of the world (remember those old posters where Boston would dominate the Globe, or New York etc.?)

What to include in establishing messaging, positioning and terminology standards:

Messaging – should include company-level and product level. Include the elevator pitch.

Terminology – document the terminology that is critical to your value proposition. Use examples of how the terms are to be used and what terms should never be used.  Example – for this client, the product is NEVER referenced as a ‘device’.  If this makes your head hurt, secure the right expertise to facilitate this investment – it will deliver a ROI if implemented correctly across the organization. No doubt.

Trademarks and registered trademarks – from a branding perspective, develop standards of how TM and R will be used. Again, consistency and clarity builds the brand. Don’t leave this to others in the organization to know how to handle. Document it and distribute across the organization.

Let’s face it most small, entrepreneurial companies don’t have a lot of overhead. They are nimble organizations. Many have not secured an outsourced marketing department like For Marketing Matters to develop and manage such assets to enable scaling of the brand and the organization. The reality is we can’t review every manual, document, proposal, client report that goes out the door for this client. We can build standards and manage the brand as part of the team and ultimately serve as the internal police to protect the brand.

So what words matter for your company?

As CEO, do you cringe when a team member uses a certain word that you never want used? Do you have a visceral reaction when a client is referred to as a customer or serving a customer is described as ‘dealing with the customer’? If your word choice is not clear internally, how can you possibly be well-understood by the market?

Watch this great Inc. video of how Dermalogica focused on words to build their brand.

The nerd in me celebrates the progress made in establishing standards in terminology this past month.  It feels great and paves the way for scale, efficiency, clarity and consistency.  The ROI is unquestionable.

 

 

 

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