In this episode, Erica helps you to unleash the potential of words through the messaging matrix. She lays out the two sides of the matrix: foundational messaging (values, vision, purpose, mission) and messaging by audience (pro tip: optimize for no more than 3 audiences). Erica gives practical steps so you can achieve concise, compelling, and repeatable messaging.
This is a transcript of Erica Mills Barnhart on the Marketing for Good podcast. You can listen to the episode here and listen to more episodes on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you enjoy listening to podcasts. Enjoy!
SUMMARY KEY WORDS
messaging, organization, marketing, engagement, values, foundational, people, clarity, audience, verb, matrix, target audiences, vision, words, mission, cycle
Erica Mills Barnhart
Unleash the words. Some people unleash hounds on a hunt for quails. I like to unleash words in the hunt for messaging that makes people say, tell me more. How do you do that? Right, a tricky question. Before we go there, because that is what we’re going to talk about today. Super quick refresher on the Claxon method, so we’re talking about in this episode, the How is step three in the Claxon method. How will you reach, connect and engage with your MIP is your most important people, aka your target audiences? So that’s step three, step one, what does success look like for your organization and for your marketing? For more on this, listen to episode three, where I talk about why you should not set marketing goals. I know sounds weird, but why you should not set marketing goals and what you should do instead. Step two is to answer the question, Who are your true believers? Your true blue believers? Not sure what I mean by that, or who yours are, check out episode five. So if you haven’t listened to episodes three and five, I would strongly encourage you to put a pin in this one, go listen to those two first, and then come back. Because if you go out of sequence, you really do risk missing your messaging mark. And, you know, that’s why that’s why I created the Claxon Method is because there were so so so many instances, where, you know, I saw clients, organizations going right to the how, and if you’re not clear on what success looks like, and who your target audiences are, you tend to do things like sort of projected to assume that messaging that works for you is going to work for them, and just a whole bunch of things. And just as a reminder, marketing is a means to an end, right? And in this space of marketing for good, you know, the end is a better world in some form or fashion. And so it’s just crucially important, you can listen to this and then go back and listen, you know, you can do whatever you want. But I think you will get more out of this episode, if you kind of have that grounding. And you have that like very, very solid for yourself. Okay, so we have what, who, and now we’re on to the how, how will you reach your true believers, your ideal supporters, your top notch customers, your MIP’s. The how actually has two parts, mechanisms and messaging. So mechanisms are things like newsletters, websites, blogs, social media, videos, podcasts, etc. I’ve talked about these things in previous episodes with guests who are experts in these things, who live and breathe that stuff. For instance, let’s see episode 10 Dana Van Nest talks about social media, episode 19 we had Deborrah Ashley who schooled us specifically on LinkedIn and in episode 17, Chris Dickey talks about search engine visibility. So check out those for fatar on the mechanisms. I live in breathe words, I take words and create sentences that become messaging for clients. And I want to share with you the process and framework I use to turn words into remarkable messaging. Why remarkable? Because you want people to remark on what you’re saying or what they’re reading about your organization. You want them to, to remark on it to you in the form of follow up questions, and to others in the form of word of mouth marketing. So to be remarkable, your messaging needs to be concise, compelling, and repeatable. And that is sounds so simple when I say like that concise and compelling and repeatable. Just do that. But that’s it. That’s a high bar. Right? There’s that phrase, I would have written you a shorter letter, but I didn’t have the time by Blaise Pascal, which we attribute in the United States to Mark Twain but he was paraphrasing. For the record. It’s a high bar. Right. The other thing that comes to mind is that as the quote from Antoine de Saint Exupery, who wrote the The Little Prince when my all time favorite books, and he said perfectionist reach not when there’s nothing left, but when there’s nothing left to take away. Nothing left to add, but nothing left to take away. And we you know, we don’t want perfection to get in the way of progress. But I do think that idea of sort of steady having a mindset where what you’re doing is pruning, right? It’s easy enough to add. That’s how we get to like, mission statements that have six semicolons in them, right? It’s just you’re just adding, adding, adding. And when you tell people, you’re everything, they remember nothing. Okay? So really hold on to this idea of concise, compelling, and repeatable messagings job fundamentally, is to move someone along an engagement cycle, from knowing you, your organization, to understanding about you and then to engaging. Okay? Know, K n o w, not no. Right? Like, does somebody know you exist? Right? So first, you got to get on the radar. And then what do they really know about what you stand for, we’re gonna talk a little bit more about this. It’s surprising how often people sort of just jump over the knowing or they assume that everybody knows them. And they like there’s been a misalignment between where somebody is, in terms of your engagement cycle and where you want them to be, right. I’m like, we all want people to be engaging, I want people immediately listening to this podcast, or hiring me to work with them, or whatever it is. But that’s not how it works for humans, right, we have to go through this process of knowing someone or something. And in this instance, your organization’s understanding it to engage in it, engaging with you. The other reason this is really important is if you if you jump over understanding you risk having like really low retention, right, and acquisition is, depending on the research, you look at seven to nine times more expensive than retention. And what I found is that organizations who like just try to rush the process too much, their marketing efforts, the return on investment is lower, because they have to spend more and more time acquiring, because you just somebody donates or buys or engages one time with them. And then they lose them, because they weren’t really deeply invested in, you didn’t really know each other before moving on to that engagement phase of the cycle. So that’s the engagement cycle. So what we’re trying to do is create a collection of messages that move people along that cycle. Now, you may have heard of a messaging framework or platform, I’ve used these terms in the past refer to this collection of sentences that make up an organization’s messaging. However, a plate, kind of take it a shine to thinking of it as a messaging matrix. A matrix is an environment or structure in which something originates and develops. And that’s what we want your messaging to do, right? You want your messaging to develop into a relationship, and engagement of some sort for to advance you toward your your specific your organizational goals, and your marketing objectives. So it kind of I’ve had I love that idea of the messaging matrix and having these pieces be mutually reinforcing. So what messages are part of the matrix? And how do they align with engagement cycle? All right, there are two types of messaging. One is foundational messaging. And this is messaging that does not change depending on audience, it does not change. It aligns with the know phase of the engagement cycle. The second type of messaging is messaging by audience, this moves somebody from understand, to engage. Now taking together your foundational messaging communicates what you stand for, and why you exist. This is an invitation, right? It’s a door opener, it is not a deal closer, just like you wouldn’t fundamentally change who you are to impress, I don’t know it’s a date or right, these messages shouldn’t change, because of your audience, like a penguin doesn’t get to parade as a panda just because the kid of the zoo wants to see a panda. I mean, the penguin could try. I suppose they’re both black and white. So they have that in common. But pretty quickly, the gig is gonna be up, right? Because it’s not authentic, it’s the penguin isn’t a panda. I just kind of want you to think about your foundational messages like, well, I’m gonna be good with being a penguin, right? We’re gonna be good with who we are. And we’re always going to show up in that way. Foundational messaging includes okay, the following four elements, I’m going to say the ones just so you know what they are. And then I’m going to go back and talk a bit more about each one. Values, vision, purpose, mission. I for you know, a long time use the traditional mission, vision values trifecta. It always felt like something was like a bit off or or missing. Like we were asking too much of the mission and vision statements. Professor Jodi Sandfort is the incoming dean at the Evan’s School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington where I teach, and we were having some conversations and she felt really strongly as she was thinking about, you know, the direction of the school, the purpose needed to be a part of the equation. So, thanks to her, thank you, Jodi, I realized the purpose was the missing link. Both vision and purpose speak to why you exist, but vision is the bigger picture. It’s why you do this work at all, and will be better in the world writ large, because you are doing this type of work. Whereas purpose is specific to your organization’s why, why specifically and uniquely do you exist? The rigor of distinguishing between the two brings so much clarity, internal alignment, which by the way, it pays dividends beyond marketing. I mean, it’s great for your marketing and your messaging, absolutely. But also, you know, what you have that that amount of clarity, it also can find itself informing organizational other organizational issues and including programmatic decision making. So okay, sidebar on that. Okay, so coming back, well, let’s do a little more defining, values. So values are the principles that guide your work values shape culture, they are a commitment to how you will conduct business and treat others, they guide internal decision making and external engagement, I recommend coming up with three values more than three just doesn’t tend to be actionable. It’s like if you have seven, it’s tough for I think specifically, if your staff if you’re always trying to manage and live into seven values, that’s just a lot of values. Three tends to be very actionable values are nouns. So pick three nouns, and then write short sentences to explain the importance of each to your organization. Like what does it mean to you? Why is that one of your three core values, you can write, you know, some organizations, I’m sure you’ve seen it, you can write a value statement as a sentence, which is fine. But I find that when organizations try to write a full value statement sentence, maybe that’s redundant sentence, anyway, you know what I mean? It just, it’s not quite the level of clarity that you’re going for. So that’s why it’s my preference to work the process that you identify the three words, and then you write the little blurb, I refer to it as the blurb that explains each of those nouns, each of your values, okay, so values, this is the principles that guide your work. Vision is, where you’re going and why you’re going there. Vision expresses what will be better in the world in the future because of the work you’re doing today. Vision is your inspiration. It is your inspiration, okay? Then there’s purpose. Purpose is why you your organization exists. Purpose is your reason for being and grounds your work in meaning on a day to day basis. It motivates your actions and guides you towards your vision. And then we get to mission, what you do and how you do it. So mission is the actions you take to get to your vision, and it brings your purpose to life. Okay? Now you may slightly like to before I go on with that mission. So if values are about nouns, mission is about action, therefore, mission is about verbs. Okay? So in then I, you know, when I’m doing this work with clients, we pick three nouns for the values. With mission, we start with your verb, right, pick the verb, it’s the action words is the superheroes of every sentence. And so this is from a messaging perspective, it’s really important, but it’s actually really, you know, your the verb and your mission statement is really the commitment to how you’re going to achieve your vision. It’s your commitment, so this is the way in which, and the explanation of the way in which you are changing the world on a day to day, hour by hour basis. So start with your verb, okay? With a Mission Statement. Now, you may slightly tweak these for different contexts, right, these these different elements, like when you’re writing web copy, it may just be slightly different versus say how it shows up in a donor appeal, or, you know, maybe you’re at a rotary club and you’re introducing your organization verbally. Sure, you’re gonna tweak them a little bit. And you may sequence them differently. For some context, you may start with mission and then speak to purpose, and vision. And you may not speak to your values, right? There’s there’s nothing saying like, you have to get through each of these statements before we do anything else, but they are your door openers, right? So so you do want to pluck from these before you move on to messaging by audience. And you really want the words themselves to be very consistent, because that’s how that’s how you fuel word of mouth marketing is how you grow mind share and market share. So consistency super, super key. Now, if one of your and MIPs in my mind, I say MIPs, every time I say that, I just want you to know that, MIPs likes when you have to say in your foundational messaging, they’re going to move along with you to the understand phase of the engagement cycle. If we think about this in the context of a web of a website, these are the statements that you will likely find on your homepage and or the about us or about page about your about the organization. So this next phase of or collection of sentences would would be further down on a web page, a deeper in a website’s sort of you might be able to visualize it that way, this is where message by audience comes in. At this point, you definitely do want to be tailoring according to the wants, the needs, the interests of specific audiences, I generally recommend optimizing for no more than three target audiences. Yes, sometimes you need to communicate with more than three audiences, but we’re talking about optimizing, for whom are you optimizing your messaging. And even in larger organizations, it gets pretty, pretty unruly, pretty quickly, to optimize for more than three target audiences. So just take it, you know, as a guiding principle, rather than a hard and fast rule. Okay, so that’s kind of the the frameworks or the matrix, the elements of the matrix. I mean, if I were you, especially if I was a leader of an organization thinking, that’s all well and good, yes, we probably need to do some of that work for our organization. How do we actually do it, like super tactically speaking, so I want to speak to process of it. I joke that I recommend that a process for developing your messaging ought to be democratic at the beginning, and draconian at the end. And what I mean by this is, you want everyone’s voice to be heard. Staff, board, volunteers, customers, clients, patients, you know, it just really depends on your organization, you want broad broad input, to get, you know, their two cents at a fairly high level, when I work with clients, I always do a survey, you know, I look at all you know, all the documents that they that they can offer me, I go through and you know, do discovery, then we create the survey, generally online, and we get input on very specific questions, then I work with, but you’re not like going back to everybody, as you go through the process and say, Hey, what do you think about this sentence, right? You get the input. And, and importantly, maybe helpfully, that folks know how their input is going to be used, let them know that they may not see the word that they wanted to, but that their input has been factored in. Right? And that, that, you know, just managing expectations upfront can be so so helpful in terms of adoption, and rollout and acceptance of the updated messaging down the road. So big, big, big inclusive survey, then I work with a small internal working group to develop messages themselves, ideally, okay, ideally, you test the messages. That’s not available to everybody. But let’s just say that, right? Yeah, if you have budget, there’s all sorts of ways to handle this. But I do want to speak specifically to the fact that lots of lots of you won’t have that type of budget. So you can get feedback by way of questions. So when, when you respond to the question, so you’ve done your messaging, and you have your matrix, and you’re starting to sort of, you know, roll it on out. People are gonna say, or, you know, they’re going to ask, what do you what do you do? What does your organization do? What questions do you get in response to your answer your answer, of course, being if somebody doesn’t know you hardly at all, some something from your foundational messaging, if they know you a bit more, it’s gonna be from your messaging by audience. Do the questions lead someone further along the engagement cycle? Right? Do they allow? Is it a generative conversation? If so, you’re on the right track. Okay. If somebody seems straight up, baffled, there might be some refinements that will bring clarity. Okay. I mean, here’s the tricky thing, figuring out if someone isn’t interested, meaning they’re anatheist, using the terminology I introduced in Episode Five, distinguishing that just they’re not your flavor of ice cream, your mission, what you’re doing what you stand for, it just really is not their jam. The secret to that and somebody who is interested, but the messaging isn’t landing, that can be tough at times. So again, really listen to and note, I mean, I asked my clients, when we’re kind of in this phase of the process to literally like, to the extent they can keep a journal, keep a journal. Sounds kind of goofy, but what we’re looking for there is to see, are you consistently getting the types of questions that are moving people along the engagement cycle, so if you keep a journal, then we can all compare notes on that. And pay attention to body language, if you’re in person, you’ll get a lot off of body language. And you know, if it’s if it’s the former, if it’s somebody who’s an atheist and like, your jam just isn’t their jam, you got to let it go. You have to let it go. Right, your your, the work of the messaging is to connect with your believers. Okay. So in future episodes, we’re going to start looking at examples of all of this, the foundational messaging, message by audience, you know, how does this matrix come to life for different organizations, but I want to first introduce you to the basics to the terms and the concepts and then we can and then we’ll build from there. Soon also, I’m going to be releasing messaging matrix resource, be free, that you’ll be able to download and work through on your own. So if you want to be sure to get it go to Claxon Marketing and sign up for Claxon’s email list and then you will be the first to know when that becomes available. Okay, because I mean, I want to acknowledge this is this episode’s fairly theoretical we’ve had, we’ve had a whole bunch of very concrete episodes. And so if you’re like, oh, but it doesn’t entirely make sense, stick with it. Like I said, we’re gonna be bringing this to life in future episodes. But to review, here’s what I’m hoping you’re going to take away from today’s episode. There are two types of messaging that make up your messaging matrix, foundational and by audience. foundational messaging aligns with the no phase of the engagement cycle. It’s that door opener. So what you stand for, by audience aligns with the understand and engage phases, okay? Foundational messaging includes four elements, values, vision, purpose, and mission. And honestly, when you really feel great about those four elements, when you have those nailed the messaging by audience and how to calibrate it for context, and all of that comes so I mean, it’s like a breeze. You will fight hard for those four elements that it is rigorous to prune, prune, prune away, but it is the return on investment is so so worth it. And if you need or want help developing your remarkable messaging, get in touch, I love helping organizations with this work, you know, I love unleashing the words. I’m not lying. I really really love it. So all my contact info is in the show notes. Thank you so much for listening. Thank you for making the world a better place. Do good, be well and I will see you next time.