In 1173 A.D. the Tower of Pisa was started and immediately the foundation began to tip.
By 1178 three floors were completed and the tower tilted noticeably.
In 1272 the lean had increased so dramatically that a new architect was brought in to build the next four floors at an angle to compensate for the tilt.
In 1374 the tower was completed with the lean permanently cast in stone.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa wasn’t built on bedrock. The initial lean forced building to continue at an angle to compensate for the tilt — a leaning structure with a bend in it. Its potential height limited by its foundation, built out of alignment.
Most suppliers are similar to the Tower of Pisa. They miss their messaging bedrock, start to lean, and then send their misaligned messages out into the marketplace.
As a result, customers get a skewed impression of the supplier not delivering the promise of their messages. The disaster culminates when enough supplier failures taint the marketplace, and the supplier’s only reputation is so bad they suffocate from a lack of sales and ultimately perish.
To avoid that self-fulfilling prophesy, here’s a holistic look at messaging to include its design and its ultimate implementation: the message cycle in full circle.
- 2 Lessons from the Leaning Tower
- Define Bedrock – the Messaging Kind
- Seek Messaging Bedrock in these 3 Areas
- Build on Messaging Bedrock for Maximum Height
- Align Efforts Vertically True to Match Actions with Promises
2 Lessons from the Leaning Tower
There are two primary lessons to be learned from the builders of that famous tower in Pisa:
- Build on Messaging Bedrock
- Align Efforts Vertically True to Match Actions with Promises
Ignore these lessons and does the sky fall down? No, suppliers still exist, but most are leaning. And their misaligned messaging only makes the lean worse every day. Their potential growth is limited by their tilt. And who knows about their long-term durability.
The Pisa stone masons couldn’t find bedrock. But they built anyway, blindly guessing and hoping.
Service suppliers are similar. They know their messaging bedrock exists. They just can’t see it. And if they can’t see it, they can’t build on it and tell their prospective customers.
So, what do suppliers do? Same as the Pisa stone masons.
Define Bedrock – the Messaging Kind
Before we can find messaging bedrock, we have to know what it looks like when we see it. Here are three characteristics to identify it.
Characteristic #1 – Customer Experience is the Sum Total
Messaging bedrock is the sum total of all the experiences customers have with a supplier. Not just the ones suppliers intend or plan, but all experiences, with all customers, all the time.
And customers experience a supplier in many ways beyond brochures or tradeshows, such as:
• How suppliers’ employees interact with customers on-site
• The supplier receptionist’s phone courtesy & attitude when customers call
• Accuracy, timeliness & clarity of supplier invoices
• How suppliers resolve customer conflicts
• Supplier web sites’ information & usefulness
Characteristic #2 – The Promise Kept
Messaging bedrock is also recognized as the “promise” a supplier keeps with its customers. Not the promises a supplier makes – but the ones it keeps.
Marketing smoke evaporates and mirrors shatter, leaving only the reality of the “promise” kept.
Characteristic #3 – Employees are Customers Too
It’s the suppliers’ employees that keep its promises with customers.
A supplier tilts when employees don’t know what their firm’s promise is to customers, or how to keep it. A supplier leans dangerously near falling when it doesn’t keep its promise with its own employees.
Why would a supplier’s employees treat customers politely and with respect if they’re not treated the same way by their own employer?
Seek Messaging Bedrock in these 3 Areas
Messaging bedrock is revealed, not created. It exists where three conditions overlap. All must be present, and only their intersection is bedrock.
1st – Look for What Customers Value
Customers value what they’re willing to pay for, which may also include qualities such as integrity, reliability, and diversity.
Where do you find what customers value? Ask them.
2nd – Identify what you’re Good At
Suppliers have strengths, but not all strengths are valued by customers. It doesn’t help to be good at something customers aren’t willing to pay for. Look only for strengths that customers value.
Where do you look? Ask suppliers’ employees for the present truth. Ask suppliers’ executives for their aspirational vision. Ask customers for their reality.
3rd – Find a Unique Place in the Market
A supplier can’t pick a place in the market that another supplier already owns – or they will be ignored.
Consider FedEx. No one would start an overnight courier service with the promise of “absolutely, positively overnight”, would they? UPS selected logistics and “brown”, DHL chose customer service and “orange.”
How do you find a unique place in the market? Check out the competition; scan the marketplace and its various message positions.
Build on Messaging Bedrock for Maximum Height
When messaging bedrock is revealed, a supplier can build its messaging from a solid foundation. When all messaging aligns vertically true over that bedrock, a supplier can effectively share its promise to maximum reach across marketplaces.
Tools for Building on Messaging Bedrock
Marketing knowledge and technologies are not building tools. They’re the ante to get into the messaging game.
Employees are what suppliers’ businesses are built with. Not standing-around, collecting-a-paycheck employees — but enthusiastic, energetic, creative, knowledgeable, friendly, and loyal employees.
To attract, direct and motivate those valuable employees to deliver its messaging promise, suppliers need specific tools. Here are the most common ones, and they’re often underutilized:
• Mission Statement
• Strategic Goals
Here are some uncommon ones, and they’re very powerful:
• Strategic Descriptors – of the desired customer experience
• Principle – unique approach to mission
• Personality – company’s voice & character
• Association – symbol of what company stands for
• Positioning Statement – 10 second company pitch
All tools are based on your messaging bedrock. But tools have two major caveats, or tool tips.
Tool Tip #1 – It Takes More than One
“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. Building requires more than one tool, ask a carpenter.
And so does messaging. Different tools are needed for different situations. A logo doesn’t help service employees deal with an angry customer. Nor does a tagline create the next service offering, or design employee incentive programs.
Tool Tip #2 – They Must Be Actionable
Here’s an actionable acid test. What do you hear when you ask your:
• Receptionist to recite your company mission?
• On-site employees what your company values are?
• Payroll clerks how do they make a decision in a new situation?
Mission statements and pithy marketing statements are etched in marble on many a lobby wall. Unfortunately, no one can remember them, or use them. All your customers know mission statements can’t be used, because they have their own hanging in their lobby too – and they couldn’t recite them to you either.
Align Efforts Vertically True to Match Actions with Promises
With tools and bedrock identified, it’s time to build. Here are three levels to align efforts vertically true.
1st Level – Messaging
Make all external messages consistent with each other. Simple, but it’s not easy. It means the look, the language, and the feel of anything that speaks to customers is aligned.
Everything; brochures, letterhead, web site, proposals, invoices, uniforms, vehicles, signage, business cards, and did I mention email signatures?
Getting messages in line with each other = NICE WIN
Aligning all messages with your messaging bedrock = PRICELESS
2nd Level – Serving Customers
Align all customer interactions with the promise of your messaging bedrock. This means customers are experiencing your promise when they:
• Call your office
• Talk to your site employees
• Review your invoices
• Receive emails from you
• Ask for the unusual
• Have a problem you caused
• Have a problem they caused, but you can help
• Make unreasonable demands
And how are customers experiencing all of the above? From your employees — but it takes more than training. See the next level.
3rd Level – Serving Employees
This last level is aligned when your employees are experiencing the same promise themselves that you make to your customers.
Avoid the hypocrisy of asking employees to provide exceptional service to your customers when their own needs and requests are ignored.
Everything in your company runs directly from its messaging bedrock, through your employees, straight and true, to serve customers.
This means your messaging promise is:
• Integrated into all internal policies & procedures
• Incorporated into employee training & orientation
• Removing bottlenecks that stop employees from delivering the promise
• Guiding each employee’s individual actions
Build on your messaging bedrock with the right tools at all levels, and there’s no limit to the success your messaging and business can achieve.
- Common tools: Mission, Vision, History, Values, etc.
- Uncommon tools: Strategic Role, Principle, Personality, etc.
- It takes more than one tool to build
- Tools must be actionable by every employee
- 3 Building Levels: Messaging, Serving Customers, & Serving Employees