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How should you describe your company's position in the market? If it's truly set to change the way people and companies do business, should you use words like “disruptive,” “cutting-edge” or even “bleeding-edge"?
At the same time, say you're in a well-defined market. Should you establish your leadership with terms like “world-class,” “best-in-class” or “industry-leading"? Which of these words should you use?
Try … none of the above.
"Every day, companies send me press releases about their latest 'disruptive,' 'revolutionary,' 'world-changing,' 'future-defining' products, and every day I press 'delete,’" Chris Matyszczyk, the writer of the columns "Technically Incorrect" for ZDNet, and "Absurdly Driven Inc.com," told me.
Matyszczyk’s feelings seem to be shared, according to a recent survey by my company, Bospar PR. With more than 1,000 U.S. business decision-makers polled, the vast majority said they were turned off by those same marketing buzzwords Matyszczyk was. In fact, 88 percent considered marketing clichés detrimental to a company’s credibility.
“Disruptive” was the worst offender, according to 32 percent, almost a third of those surveyed. The rest of the terms got a similar thumbs-down response.
“I have encountered a feeling among marketing executives that grandiose language is more serious or professional,” my company's chief content officer Tricia Heinrich, told me; she had worked with Propeller Insights to commission our research. “Unfortunately, [grandiose language] is also empty and imprecise," Heinrich said .
What's the solution? I asked. "Ideally, marketing materials spell out in clear and specific language how a product or service solves customers’ problems," Heinrich said.
Roxanne Ivory, head of brand strategy at WHM Creative, had a similar take: "Every B2B company I work with wants to lead with ‘digital transformation’ and promote the idea that they have the only solution for solving this massive business challenge,” she told me. “What they really need to do is focus on the goals of transformation — to be more agile, more customer-focused and more competitive, and find ways to be relevant to those goals.”
So, given these professionals' vews and the results of our study, how can entrepreneurs ensure their messaging actually rings true? Here are five steps I'd sugget to position your company credibly:
1. Do your homework.
Heinrich warned that uncertainty can lead to an over-dependence on platitudes and corporate clichés. “Don’t be a lazy marketer. Study your constituencies closely," she said. "You will soon recognize the jargon to be avoided.”
Ivory recommended thoroughly understanding what your competitors are doing and how they are talking about it. “Look at your landscape and the language they are using," she advised. "If everyone is using the same words, then it’s time to break out and speak with a fresh voice.”
“Listen to your customers, capture their voice and play it back to them in your marketing,” Ivory told me. “I guarantee that they are not actually saying, ‘I really need a digital transformation solution.’"
In other words: Don’t use buzzwords or overused terms. "When you do, you are assuming that everyone you are speaking to understands and values the same things you do,” Ivory said.
And that's an assumption that represents the epitome of corporate arrogance. "An effective approach is to use the exact language your customers use to describe their pain points,” Mark Phillips, founder of the Better PR Now podcast, recommended to me in an interview. “Your message will resonate powerfully if you describe your product or service using the same terms that [customers] use to describe their problem or challenge.”
Once you've created a framework for your messaging and positioning, you'll need to test it with others. Does it ring true with your sales team? Your customers? Even your corporate leadership and fellow employees? Better yet, what tweaks would they recommend? Revising messaging and positioning with “real-world” feedback guarantees that you are communicating what your target audiences most want to hear.
A good test audience can be found in your social media channels. Is your messaging engaging followers and influencers on Facebook and Twitter? Nearly 4 in 10 (39 percent) of the B2B decision-makers we surveyed predicted that within five years, PR will need to focus on more social media and will rely on AI more for outreach, reporting and sentiment.
"Invite your customers to iterate on your messaging and actually incorporate their suggestions," Tina Mulqueen, CEO of Kindred PR, told me. "In doing so, you show your investment to your consumer and foster a group of brand ambassadors who have a stake in your success."
4. Get the word out, regularly.
Once you have agreed-upon messaging and a positioning strategy in place, make sure other people hear about it. No one is going to know about how well-positioned your company is if you don’t invest in a PR program. Almost all our B2B decision-makers surveyed (98 percent) agreed that that is important. Their reasons were varied, including the need to shape people’s opinions (36 percent), increased visibility (20 percent), increased sales (17 percent) and the fact that people don’t believe advertising (12 percent).
According to our research, executives won’t necessarily go to your website the first time they see a news story about your company. Instead, they are more likely to visit the more often they see your company in the news, especially if those mentions occur in a variety of outlets. So, opt for a PR program with creative ways to get your messaging out there on a monthly basis in a variety of outlets.
“Get your company featured or yourself quoted in media that your customers consume,” Phillips recommended. “What magazines or newspapers do they read? What podcasts do they listen to? What YouTube channels do they watch?"
5. Maintain consistency.
To maximize impact and ROI, communicate consistently. Sending conflicting messages significantly diminishes your brand recognition and perception efforts. “One way to ensure consistency is to adopt what we describe as a ‘content repurposing’ approach,” Heinrich explained. “Any single piece of content — a bylined article, for example — can be rewritten as a blog post. And a blog post can be the basis for contributed content.”
Another activity that may not be fully leveraged is webinars. “Webinars require a tremendous amount of content creation, yet many marketers fail to take advantage of all of that content,” Heinrich suggested.
Using core content assets in multiple ways ensures messaging consistency and dramatically increases the return on your content investment, she said.