The phrase “core messaging” can mean different things to different organizations. Typically, we think of a mission statement and core values when we hear “core company messaging,” but there are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to writing core messaging for your company.
If you’re wondering how to create core messaging – or where to begin if you’re ready to get started – we documented our entire process and are excited to share what we learned.
Hennessey Digital is a different breed of digital marketing firm, and we wanted our core messaging to represent who we truly are, not who we think we “should” be. We had been operating as a company for five years before we arrived at our final core company messaging, so it needed to reflect how we’ve already been doing business.
One of the cornerstones for how we work is total transparency into our processes and tactics. Hennessey Digital was built around our founder Jason Hennessey’s reputation for honesty and integrity in the SEO industry and we wanted our core messaging to reflect this.
To create our core company messaging, we approached the project in three key phases:
- Info-gathering from executives and company leaders
- Drafting core messaging with core messaging committee
- Finalizing core messaging and announcement company-wide
Just Get Started
We started by looking for inspiration in companies we admire. We love the core messaging at Warby Parker, Basecamp, and Moz because their messaging is unmistakably “them”. Their brand DNA and company culture shines through in their messaging, and we wanted to emulate this in what we created.
At the suggestion of our CEO Jason Hennessey and COO Scott Shrum’s business coach, Cameron Herold, a few of us completed Jennifer Hudye’s Conscious Copy Workshop, where we learned how to use words to narrow our focus and accomplish our business goals through strategic copywriting.
Now that we had the inspiration and the tools to move forward, we needed to get the team involved.
The Right People On the Bus
First, we made sure to include all the right people in this project. We involved members of the executive team, People Success/Human Resources, Creative, and each department leader to get their input and ideas for our core messaging. We wanted to make sure we weren’t just translating one person’s ideas and that we included voices from all functional areas across the organization to make our core messaging project a true team effort.
With our Lead Storyteller from our Creative team acting as project manager, we started by clarifying the vision for Hennessey Digital with our executive team. Where did we see ourselves in three years? Five years? 10 years from today?
As the company vision came into focus, we formed a core messaging committee to help steer the project and contribute ideas and feedback. We also sent a questionnaire to each department leader to solicit their input on core messaging.
To get the qualitative information we wanted, we asked our leaders open-ended questions like:
- What makes you proud to work for Hennessey Digital?
- What do we do differently from other digital marketing companies?
- What does “success” look like in your department?
Back to the Drawing Board
Now that we had feedback from all areas of the organization, we were ready to review responses and see what common themes emerged. When we looked at what we got back, we noticed some recurring words and phrases right away:
- “Smart people”
- “Consistently learning”
- “Invested in each other”
- “Constant communication”
For our core messaging — especially our guiding principles (what we call our ‘core values’) — we made sure to incorporate a lot of this feedback from department leaders into what we created. Because our leadership is on the front lines working with clients and directing strategy and tactics for each of our functional areas, we know that they see where the rubber meets the road: how we work together, communicate with clients, and learn from our mistakes.
Aligning our leaders’ thoughts with the executive team’s vision turned out to be the easy part. We know we want to be known as the top digital marketing agency for the legal industry, and because we’re a 100%-remote team, we bring the best talent in the industry to achieve this vision.
Bringing It All Into Focus
With responses from all department leaders and plenty of ideas and feedback from our core messaging committee, we were ready to create some initial drafts of core messaging for Hennessey Digital. There are no rules here: differences in industry, organization size/revenue and employee demographics, and geographic location might affect how companies approach their core messaging. Some organizations have a core purpose statement in addition to a mission statement, and others combine their mission and vision statements into a single statement. Some companies have two or three core values; others have a list of several.
We tried different permutations of core messaging components for our core messaging, and at the end of our project, we walked away with the following:
- Why We Exist (The Mission)
- Where We’re Going (The Vision)
- What We Believe (Our Core Values)
- How We’re Different (Our Unique Value Proposition)
- Company Tagline
As the project team worked through variations of our mission, vision, and unique value proposition statements, it became clear to us that every word matters. When the overall feeling of a statement bothered us, removing just one word made a big difference. Even changing out an ‘and’ for a ‘&’ affected how we felt about certain phrases!
Moving Forward with the Right Words
Now that we have exactly the right words to talk about who we are, what we do, and why we do it, Hennessey Digital is ready to take on our next phase of growth. Our core messaging guides our decision making: who we hire and who we do business with, how we operate, and the greater “why” that propels us forward.
Our core messaging lives on our website so that prospective and current clients can see how we work and what our values are. Alongside our core messaging, we also finalized the 127 Code of Honor: a ‘rules for the road’ for how we operate at Hennessey Digital that also applies to our clients.
Because we created a community standard with our core messaging that includes our clients, our core messaging helps us evaluate who we want to work with and the services we provide.
From an employer branding perspective, potential candidates can also see if they’re a good fit for open positions at Hennessey Digital. If you’re aligned with our guiding principles, believe in our mission, and are excited about our vision for the future, you’d be a great fit for our team!
Our People Success team can now start to tie feedback and employee performance back into our core messaging. We encourage our Team Members to give recognition on the spot, and now that feedback is tied to our four guiding principles in our performance management system, it’s easy to give and view shout-outs and see how what we do relates to what we believe and who we are as a company.
A Checklist for Your Core Messaging
Now that we’ve been through this exercise, we’ve learned what to do—and what not to do—to create core messaging for an established company.
After the project was completed, Hennessey Digital President & COO Scott Shrum had this to say about our core messaging process: “This is definitely not a tackle-it-in-one-meeting kind of initiative. Not only do you need to spend a lot of time getting to the heart of what the company stands for, but you also need to deliberately spend some time away from the work and then review it with fresh eyes. I’ve lost count of how many times I loved something one week, but then thought differently about it after I gave it time to marinate. Give it the time it needs.”
Here are our top tips for success in creating your core messaging:
Do keep an open mind. Inspiration can come from anywhere, and we checked out many different organizations’ core messaging to see what we liked and what we didn’t. We had an idea of where we wanted to go with our core messaging, but we wanted to stay open to ideas.
Don’t wait for the “perfect” time to create your core messaging. Have you been operating without core messaging to guide your organization? Without a ‘North Star’, your employees lack a clear direction for where the company is going, what you value, and how to make decisions.
Do involve different areas of your organization. If your executive team or human resources staff are the only ones with a say in creating your core messaging, it may not be the best representation of your business — and you may encounter problems getting buy-in from the whole company.
Don’t be afraid to be picky. When you’re creating your core messaging, keep in mind that it will be the final, set-in-stone copy for your business moving forward. Make sure every word and punctuation mark is exactly right, because your core messaging should never change. And, as Scott shared above, don’t rush the process: make sure you’re giving the project the time and space it deserves.
Do share your final core messaging with the world at large. Just like our 127 Code of Honor, our core messaging applies to Hennessey Digital employees and clients alike. We expect everyone we work with to understand and adhere to our standards for how we work and treat each other, and with our core messaging on our website, in our Team Member Playbook, and woven into how we communicate every day, there’s no guessing what those standards are.
Do you have questions on our core messaging process? Like what we’re about and want to join the team? Message [email protected] and let’s talk!