• Corporate messaging tends to be a generic and internally driven word salad
  • B2B sales organizations are hungry for a meaningful way to explain who and what the company is
  • B2B marketers responsible for the corporate message have five common problems

B2B corporate messaging is a hot topic among SiriusDecisions clients. We recently hosted an executive forum on corporate messaging in which there was lively discussion, and five key issues surfaced as common points of pain related to corporate brand messaging:

  1. Product message misfit. Many corporate messaging initiatives run from start to finish with little consideration of the portfolio of offerings for which the messaging must provide context and a halo of value. Not only does this result in missed opportunities for higher impact messaging, but a more dire situation can also emerge in which the corporate messaging is contradictory to or problematic for specific products or even entire categories within the portfolio. Recommendation: Map and agree on the portfolio architecture for the organization, and create a visual that everyone in the organization can discuss, agree on, align around and refer to. It’s a critical foundational element for corporate messaging development with many other useful applications within the business.
  2. Missing middleware. For organizations of any size and scale, there is a corporate brand message and then a system of messaging that explains the portfolio of offerings. In organizations not suffering from portfolio misfit (above), most still suffer from a lack of “messaging middleware” – the connective storytelling thread that explains the way that corporate brand messaging, advertising and thought leadership create value for the products, solutions and services that are actually sold. brand, messaging, positioningUsually this is considered in the creative process but never made explicit. Recommendation: Build a comprehensive messaging map that could act as a script for a rep to explain who and what the company is and does (corporate message) and then fluently and seamlessly explain how that value cascades down into the specific buyer need that the prospect in front of the rep has articulated.
  3. Lack of adoption and fluency. One of the most common questions we get boils down to “How do we make them say it?” – with “them” being sales, and “we” being corporate marketing. Certainly there are activities we can engage in to support adoption and fluency – e.g. role plays, scripts, templates, certifications – but the reality is that it is incredibly difficult to strong-arm sales into using a new brand message. In some instances, they have built their own custom “messaging middleware” (see above). In other places, the new message launch is treated more like a memorization activity. Recommendation: Keep in mind that the written message (used by marketing) may need short, long and verbal forms. More importantly, the enablement activities used to activate the message with sales should be focused on one core idea: How will this message help them create more value in the minds of their prospects so they are able to sell more, faster? Focus on fluency and conceptual understanding, not rote memorization and verbatim regurgitation.
  4. Internal myopia. Over the past few years, portfolio marketers (product, solution, industry and segment marketers) have made leaps and bounds towards audience-centricity – building dynamic buyer personas and using persona insights as the starting point for messaging that begins with the audience need, not the product. Corporate messaging must undergo that same transformation – shifting from being totally driven by executive vision and self-conceit to being more firmly rooted in the psycho-emotional needs and existing perceptions of corporate audiences. Many companies will say, “No, no, no! Our messaging project was informed by data; we did a survey and a number of interviews.” And that is great, but when we look under the hood, the design of the research is frequently biased toward the executive vision. So (for a silly example) an executive says, “I want people to think of a dolphin when they hear our brand name.” And so the survey goes off to find out whether or not people think of a dolphin when they hear the brand name, and how best the new message can ensure that dolphin association. But the reality for this same organization may be that the buyers don’t care about dolphins – the buyers care about whales. Recommendation: The communications leader must act as the diplomatic proxy for the external audience, bringing to the table the needs and interests of the different categories of corporate audiences, and helping executives bridge their vision with the way it meets critical needs or creates an opportunity in the market. Which leads me to…
  5. The corporate audience mire. Let’s face it, most corporate messaging is completely generic or stuffed with buzzwords and jargon. This is because the audience for a corporate message is a complex web of internal and external audiences with incredibly different needs from and relationships with the organization. This leads many of us to throw up our hands and say, “I GIVE UP – let’s fill this tagline with adjective soup, jam a bunch of inspirational jargon into a paragraph and call it the About Us page on the Web site, shall we? Recommendation: We shan’t. What we shall do is to map out the corporate audience to the best of our ability, understanding that while buyers and customers are probably our most important audience type, we also need to understand that our message has to have secondary resonance with business partners, investors, industry influencers, and current and potential employees. It may not be realistic to map out the granular detail of every audience, but at a high level, the corporate audience should be visualized as a foundational element for messaging initiatives, inspiring the research, conceptual development, editorial development, testing, launch and optimization of the final product.