Print CEOs: nail your business development messaging

Small and midsize print company owners or CEOs who take ownership of business development messaging typically drive success for three reasons:

  • Business strategy is the ultimate domain of the owner/CEO.
  • They’re often close with top customers.
  • They are often the ones most intensely focused on profitable new growth.

Customer-centered managers and employees certainly should be involved in developing strategic messaging, but delegating majority responsibility to them or outside consultants often results in wasted effort, time and cash.
Generating messaging that wins new customers and expanded business from existing customers takes focused work.  And one thing is certain – it can’t be done without a clear articulation of your company’s strategic narrative.
Particularly today, when all of us are overloaded with information coming at us in big bites and small bits, it’s tough to make the case for developing even a single-page written strategic narrative about your company.
If you don’t have one, or what do you have on paper is long expired, remember this: we’re talking about very clearly articulating your differentiated business case to your customers and your prospects.  What’s more important than that?
What’s more important than everyone on your team deeply understanding the most effective way to frame your company’s unique story?
The strategic narrative gives clarity to your business focus and how the entire company will work together to maximize revenue opportunities from existing customers and to attract targeted prospects.
It’s critical that this narrative is truly customer-centered—it’s only about your company insofar as it’s clear that everything is focused on helping the customer’s business, helping them reduce or eliminate complexity and pain points.
Shorthand bullets won’t cut it.  Decades ago, executives at 3M were among the first to show that senior managers couldn’t just bullet-point their way to a strategic business plan.
Leaders there realized that the plan itself was more effectively embraced and disseminated when it was the basis of a story featuring a traditional storytelling arc: 1) set the stage; 2) introduce the dramatic conflict and 3) reach resolution in a satisfying, convincing manner.
Today, the call for a compelling, differentiated story is stronger than ever—if it’s not crystal clear, your business is harmed.  That said, your own strategic narrative very rarely should exceed a single page.
What could this look like for a Canadian or American commercial printer, for example, that offers its customers and prospects new digital and offset printing techniques and formats along with new marketing services?
Define the target customer and prospect groups.  Are they small and midsize companies?  Are they primarily B2B or B2C companies? What specific industry or industries?
Define the problem or problems they face.  What are their top needs and wants when it comes to print and communications?  Are they largely on their own to solve these problems or do they have well-intended but often cost-inefficient, piecemeal help from vendors?
Define how your company solves these problems in a truly differentiated way.  How does your total offer help them grow their business and increase marketing effectiveness while reducing their burden, cutting complexity and reducing total cost?
Mark Bonchek, who’s advised companies including IBM, Adobe and Staples, and is a contributor to Harvard Business Review, wrote last year that the “strategic narrative is a special kind of story.  It says who you are as a company, where you’ve been, where you are and where you are going.  How you believe value is created. It explains why you exist and what makes your company unique” to your customers and prospects.
Once your company’s strategic narrative is developed, putting together your customer messaging becomes a whole lot easier: the differentiating brand proposition, logo, slogan/tagline, the defining one sentence and one paragraph descriptions—together with a tight elevator speech or pitch customizable “on the fly” depending on the audience.
Your other essential messaging asset is your company’s own Messaging Matrix, which is the master message plus the three most important sub-messaging points for each of your top target customer groups (and other external audiences as needed).
Once you’ve got this completed, quickly tested, tweaked and finalized, the next step is to start figuring out how to distribute your company’s new messaging.  We’ll be taking a detailed look at that critical topic in coming issues.

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