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Discordant Messages

November 2002 Communication

On Thursday, November 7th, Chicago hosted two events of high interest. At the Sheraton, business leaders met for the first day of the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue. Two blocks east on Michigan Avenue, opposition protesters congregated behind riot police lines. Yours truly witnessed the events, albeit only to attend the eBusiness Roundtable at the University of Chicago GSB Gleacher Center located between the business leaders and their opposition protesters.

While the protest was peaceful compared to the revelry in Chicago during the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th NBA championships when Michael Jordan played for the Bulls, they were poorly received by outsiders. Onlookers were dismayed and dismissive not because people were taking to the streets and protesting business, but because the onlookers could not understand the protestor’s message.

The opposition protestors carried signs, chanted, marched, and danced to a number of different tunes. Union leaders, the Green Party, Pink Bloque, Industrial Workers of the World, Cabrini-Green Residents and a host of other individuals congregated. Placards read: “Wal-Mart is a bad neighbor”, “Give us clean energy”, “Globalization equals neo-colonialism”, “Art. Not Adds”. Voices were heard against police brutality, globalization, genetically modified foods, and fair wages. A violinist even played “scary tunes”.

With this plethora of disorganized voices, what was an onlooker to understand? What went wrong with the protests? While many things went well, a key dimension of failure is that the protesters did not clearly communicate what they were protesting. They failed to clearly pitch their agenda.

As business executives and sales and marketing professionals, a lesson we can learn from the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue Protest is the need to present clear sales and marketing messages to our prospects and customers.

Whether we call it “Branding” from a marketing perspective or “Customer Messaging” from a sales perspective, too often businesses present the same discordant message to the market. When this occurs, the reaction from prospects is similar to that of the protest onlookers: dismay and dismissal caused by confusion. To avoid this detrimental state, a clear market message is in order.

At a minimum, a clear market message should be formulated at two levels. (1) An integrated marketing communications effort takes a holistic viewpoint of the overall revenue generation activities. The outcomes of this approach set the objectives for individual sales and marketing communications. (2) A detailed sales and marketing communication effort address specific communication opportunities. Individual communications are prepared to properly address specific audience’s concerns while moving forth the business’s objectives.

In using an integrated marketing communications approach, the entire lifecycle of the prospect is considered. From prospect awareness and investigation to customer choice and sales opportunity closure, the goals of different marketing and sales communications are determined for different situations. In the integrated marketing communication plan, overarching themes are repeated and details are clarified in specific mediums and communication pieces. The integrated marketing communications approach includes consideration of all various sales and marketing tools available such as white papers, sales presentations, advertisements, conference exhibits, public relations, direct mail, and web sites.

At the detail level, individual communications can be improved by asking three basic questions: (1) Who is the audience and what are their objectives? (2) What is the message and how does it fulfill their objectives? and (3) What action do we desire the audience to take after hearing the message? The answers to these questions can be used to guide the presentation and/or communication. Each time a communication is prepared, the mantra of KISS, Keep it Simple S*, should be invoked. Keeping the message simple leaves room for further dialogue and, at the same time, it does not confuse an otherwise distracted audience.

Yes, high tech is complex. Moreover, business-to-business sales and marketing must communicate a number of messages prior to moving a prospect to closure. To avoid confusing our audience with too many issues, we should learn from the mistakes of others and plan our sales and marketing messages.



About the author

Tim J. Smith, PhD is the Managing Principal of Wiglaf Pricing, and an Adjunct Professor at DePaul University of Marketing and Economics. His most recent book is Pricing Strategy: Setting Price Levels, Managing Price Discounts, & Establishing Price Structures.

Tim J. Smith, PhD
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