How to Move Beyond the Mission Statement to Messages of Value

When it comes to business communications, one of the biggest misperceptions seems to be that an organization or firm’s mission statement is the message. It’s easy to see why even professional communicators might think this way. Many companies and nonprofits spend months refining their mission statement as a core element of strategic planning. They engage in sometimes painful discussions of identity and purpose, especially as the environment around them changes rapidly. The process to develop a mission statement becomes the crucible through which a great deal of organizational blood, sweat and tears is invested. Once completed, leaders and their teams cling to this statement, coming to believe that their mission is their message.

Mission statements are like the staid undergarments that make it possible for the fine tailored suit to make an impression. Mission or vision statements tell you why you exist; and what your organization is on earth to do. Messages, on the other hand, explain and amplify why that purpose matters. Messages illuminate the meaning behind the mission. The best messages always find their origins in mission, but invariably end by tapping emotion.

When you think about it, your company is an unfolding story. Whether you are selling accounting services or the pursuit of a cure for cancer, you are writing a chapter of your story every day. Messages give you the tools to share that narrative with characters outside yourself. Customers and clients, employees, shareholders, donors, or vendors all play a role in your story. Some are major characters; others are bit players. Messages let you connect with each of them.

Before you can create messages, it’s important to understand what you want to express and why. You must find your clarity of purpose. For a doctor, that purpose is, not writing prescriptions, but easing pain. For a retailer like Amazon, the purpose exceeds the creation of great shopping experiences to saving time or money or hassle. For an accountant, the reason for being is not just doing the taxes, but growing your business while keeping you out of IRS trouble.

If you want to develop powerful messages, first answer three questions:

Who is the audience? Is it men, women, young people, business people? Commuters, shoppers, travelers, readers? The more specific you can be the better. Without knowing who you want to engage, it’s hard to craft messages that will resonate. And, as we’re fond of reminding people, “everyone” or “the general public” just isn’t specific enough.

Why is it important that they know about what you do? In other words, what’s in it for them to turn to you, buy from you, or partner with you? What will you bring to them that is of value?

How should they engage with you? Put another way, how should they become part of your story? What action do you want them to take?

To develop powerful messages, look to these four ingredients:

Appeal The most powerful messages connect at an emotional level. They speak to desires, fears, hopes and dreams. Ancestry.com, a company that helps people trace their family origins, boils down their promise with “Discover what makes you uniquely you.”

Value The strongest messages highlight the benefit your target audience will receive from engaging with your performance or product. Walmart promotes “Everyday Essentials” at fair prices. Xfinity promises to “respect your time” and “simplify your experience.” Marriott guarantees the best online rate. Each brand is straightforward in defining its value.

Memory The best messages are easy to digest and remember. What good is a message if your audience forgets? Use short words that people would use in everyday conversation. With three simple words, Nike’s “Just Do It” speaks to the company’s mission of “bringing inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.

Repetition You must deliver a good message again and again, day after day, year after to year. Watch enough television and you will undoubtedly see an ad for GEICO insurance with their messages about saving money. That repetition coupled with some clever storytelling has made them the number two auto insurer in the U.S.

Your mission is an expression of how you are changing the world. Your messages shine a light on that mission, giving clients, customers, donors, and others a clear and concise reason to single you out. Like a road map that leads to greater understanding, messages influence and motivate your audiences to act. Bad messaging creates confusion and apathy. Good messaging educates, inspires and excites.

This post is excerpted from Liz Wainger’s forthcoming book, The Prism of Value: Getting Your Point Across Any Time in Any Medium.

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