By Sarah Bradnum on 11 June 2019
Not on your Nurdle: Why Media Messaging Matters
Plastic production giant Ineos has become the latest corporate behemoth to play fast and loose with media messaging, and to Hell with the consequences.
The company is being targeted by campaigners including TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall over the billions of plastic pellets – known as nurdles – that have washed up on Britain’s beaches thanks to spills during production and transport.
However, a director of the petrochemical company dismissed as “pathetic” the chef’s campaign to tackle marine pollution in his new documentary, War on Plastic, in a brilliant example of how not to handle criticism.
By calling out the microplastic menace, Fearnley-Whittingstall is attempting to shame Ineos’ billionaire boss into cleaning up his company’s act. But rather than taking ownership of the environmental travesty, Ineos has instead accused Fearnley-Whittingstall of “having an agenda”, suggesting that the campaigner’s views on plastics are “simplistic”.
This defensive, finger-pointing approach – straight from the Trump playbook of business management – won’t get you far in growing a loyal audience base – especially if the message runs directly counter to one of your PR aims – as in Ineos’ case, which had been attempting to improve its green credentials.
At Journalista, we help our clients achieve their growth ambitions by teaching them how to identify powerful messages – supported by evidence – to underpin all of their external communications activity.
We had a great opportunity to introduce and work this approach through with a range of SME digital health and wellbeing companies recently in the third of our series of workshops run in partnership with health tech accelerator DigitalHealth.London. We supported the current accelerator cohort in developing their brand messaging and talking through the practical steps firms can take to ensure they build messages that resonate and drive engagement within their target audiences.
Take inspiration from what works
A good way for businesses to get started is by looking at some existing campaigns they think work well, and unpicking why. The DigitalHealth.London start-ups picked a diverse range of campaigns (This Girl Can – Sport England; Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything – Nike; Fly Fishing by J R Hartley – Yellow Pages). But all of these campaigns shared an ability to register an emotional impact on their target demographic; whether businesses are focusing on B2C or B2B, they’re always fundamentally selling H2H (Human to Human).
The bottom line is: if businesses invest time early on in exploring what makes their service so useful for those they are already working with, it will reap future dividends.
Pay attention to context
“Considering the context a business operates in is an essential part of the process,” explained Journalista Founder and CEO, Holly Sutton.
“For example, understanding how macro-environmental influences impact on the business means potential opportunities and threats are identified and factored into planning,” she added.
A useful framework for doing this is a PESTLE analysis to understand the wider context within which your messages will be considered externally.
Additionally, a SWOT analysis enables you to assess your share of voice as an organisation and the potential to grow this and your influence, and consider the internal factors at play in your messages’ success.
When building out the information at the PESTLE and SWOT stages, Sutton recommends “taking what you’ve learned from your current customers to the next stage by considering it from the perspective of the target business or customers.”
“What is unique about you from their point of view? What makes you and your business so special? And who – exactly – is the audience? If you are on top of what your potential customers want, why they want it, and why they should want it from you, you will be in a position to better target your messaging to reach your market. Business leaders may even be able to get insight from talking to the customers of their competitors.”
Develop a clear business strategy
Once a clear idea of the context – both specific to the business and in the wider environment – has been established, it is good practice to establish some goals. This can be done effectively using SMART principles to guide a communications plan that is cohesive with your overall business strategy.
Distil your message
When businesses truly understand who they are, why they matter, who they are going up against and what is meaningful to the people they want to work with, the final step is to carefully craft key messages that pack a punch.
Taking time to identify key messages and exploring the ways in which they can be made meaningful for the target audience is all-important.
Sutton added: “You need to understand your value – why do you matter? What makes you different? It’s really important to identify what you stand for and what you believe in that marks you out from your competitors and makes sense to your audience; after all, your brand purpose is what makes you relevant. Once you’ve established your key differentiator, you need to be able to substantiate this with proof points and qualifying messages – then, and only then, can you move on to bringing your messages to life.”
This crucial groundwork will inform every aspect of how you communicate with your audiences: your brand name, logo, strapline, website, social media content, campaign hashtags, press releases, recruitment campaigns – everything. So take the time to get it right.
If you would like to take part in a Journalista brand messaging workshop, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.