While the last national election was frequently chaotic, one aspect offered an important lesson to companies. Whenever both sides took up an issue, they used common language and a common voice. Even more remarkable, they achieved that unanimity almost immediately.
It wasn’t magic, and the congresspeople and other party faithful aren’t mind readers. They arrive at their common language through the use of a very simple communications tool called talking points.
Talking points are a short list of statements that summarize the organization’s stand on a particular issue, or an explanation of an important matter. They can save your company hours of confusion and marketing missteps.
“But we’re not involved in politics!” you protest. “We’re selling industrial products in a crowded, ever-more-competitive marketplace. So what good are those talking points to us?’ Well, most business leaders understand the importance of branding and ensuring that their brands are presented in a consistent manner. That’s why so many companies have brand guidelines and graphic standards. Walk into a Starbucks in El Paso, and it will be just like the one you visited in suburban Boston. In fact, we typically choose national brands largely because they’re predictable.
Consistent messaging is every bit as important as consistent branding. When everyone in an organization uses the same language, important messages are strengthened and supported.
Let’s say your company was forced to implement a two-percent price increase in a highly price-sensitive market. If you simply announce the price increase, you’ll have little control over how customers and employees react to it. Your customers — as well as your sales team — may wonder why you upped the cost. If you don’t supply any information, they’ll come up with their own explanations — and given human nature, their explanations are far more likely to be negative and disparaging. “I guess the CEO just wanted to buy a bigger house.” “All I know is that when the price went up, I didn’t get a raise.” “Does anyone ever know what those idiots are thinking?”
Now suppose you took a different approach, and send that price-increase announcement to your employees with a list of five simple talking points:
- Our raw-material costs have increased by 27 percent in the last three years.
- This is our only price increase in that time.
- We’ve absorbed most of the increases by becoming leaner.
- Our quality remains much better than that of our competitors.
- We have no plans for additional increases in the foreseeable future.
Because you shared that information, employees are ready to respond with meaningful insight if a customer asks a question or expresses a concern. Just as important, if that customer talks to three different people within your company, they’ll hear a consistent message. When we hear the same explanation from multiple people, we don’t think they’ve been brainwashed — we assume they’re telling us the plain truth.
I recently developed a set of talking points for a group of organizations that joined forces to address concerns about legislation. The organizations were diverse, but all shared similar views of several key aspects of the proposed laws. Through talking points addressing those aspects, I helped them simplify the message and make sure that every time a member of those groups had a conversation with or wrote an email to a legislator, they used the same language and stance.
That’s powerful, because if a legislator hears the same things from a long list of constituents, they’ll assume the view is common. Often, the legislators will start using the same language as they talk with their colleagues and the media.
When you create talking points, it’s easy for your sales team to memorize them. It’s easy for your advertising agency to make them the basis of ads. Your graphic designers will add them to your packaging. Know what else will happen? Your customers will remember them, too.
If you’re developing talking points, don’t try to say everything. You want to distill the most important issues into short statements. Don’t make your talking points long, either. The fewer you have and the shorter each is, the more powerful they’ll be. You can go into greater detail in places like your website, or in response to specific customer questions.
You can distribute talking points in many ways — from mass emails to employees to a printed business card-sized summary that your team can refer to when making a sales call or working in a trade show booth.
They’re a great way to get your key audiences to talk about you. Even more important, they’ll make sure everyone is saying the right things.
Scott Flood creates effective copy for companies and other organizations.