Are We on the Same Marketing Planet?

Notes from the road to Marketing Nirvana - Part 12

True story.

Sometimes, the marketing process doesn’t go as planned. For whatever reason, the planets and stars don’t align and the universe does not unfold as it should.

There was one time when the marketing train got derailed over messaging and the experience provided a valuable lesson in making sure that everyone in the process understands the nature of the journey.

It happened during what should have been a routine meeting. Janet, the marketing director of the multi-million dollar, publicly traded, stock market favorite, was noticeably confused. There was a slight quiver of uncertainty and panic in her voice as she stumbled over words that might explain her confusion. Try as she might, she was unable to find the anchor she needed to regain her footing in a meeting that had obviously taken her to a place she had never been to.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” she stammered. “What is this?”

Suddenly, I was confused. Did I present it wrong? Or, was it possible for a marketing director to not know what a message house was?

I shot a questioning glance at our account manager who returned an almost imperceptible shrug of surprise, mirroring the confusion I was experiencing.

Our new client was looking to reposition and relaunch one of its underperforming divisions. To support that effort, we were contracted to provide content marketing services, which included the development of key messages that would be used in marketing content. As a first step, we took the client’s marketing team and the division’s senior directors through our structured message development process, which included a series of facilitated sessions during which we were able to extract the key points that allowed us to develop the message house. The process, expected outcomes, and final deliverables were discussed in detail and everyone was in sync.

Or so we thought. The reaction from the marketing director to what was on the conference room screen threw us all for a loop.

Not sure where to go next, I thought it might be best to fall back on basic marketing principles. I reiterated that the message house is the cornerstone of an effective content marketing program. I explained that it is used to develop rich content. I emphasized that the message house is a “toolkit” or a “guide” that presents the “story” we want to tell about the company. It positions all the unique selling propositions that make the company stand out in the market and the key messages marketing will deliver to emphasize the value and benefits of its offerings to the target audience.

To bring it back to what was on screen, I reiterated that this message house was a reflection of what we had been told by the division directors and our recommendation of how the division’s story could best be presented through all marketing efforts. Once approved, we would use the message house to guide the development of all marketing content, from table stakes content, such as brochures and the website, to rich content, such as briefs and white papers. So, the message house document, I concluded, ensures we have identified the right messages that will enable us to tell a consistent story at all times.


I started to get an uneasy feeling as the silence stretched for longer than it should have. The marketing director didn’t respond and her two direct reports were avoiding eye contact.

“But there are too many words,” Janet finally lamented in exasperation. “I can’t give this to the sales team. They wouldn’t know what to do with it.”

I was now at a loss for words. Were we all on the same marketing planet?

This sort of disconnect had never happened in the many years I had been developing integrated marketing strategies and messaging for business-to-business companies. To say it was out of the ordinary for a marketing director to not understand the purpose and structure of a message house would be an understatement.

I decided to try one more time.

A message house is not a sales battlecard, I explained as politely as possible. It’s not a brochure. It’s not web text. It’s not meant to be used as boilerplate text by the sales team. It’s the foundation upon which a seasoned marketing writer builds effective content. Developed properly, it’s the approval focal point for the key statements that cause the most review churn in the content development process. Once approved by all stakeholders, it eliminates the multiple, inefficient, time-consuming, and costly content review cycles that happen when stakeholders have different opinions about what the company does, what it offers, the value of its offerings, and the benefits of its offerings to its customers. It ensures everyone is on the same page about all those points and how they will be positioned for the target market at all times.

The room had gone quiet once again.

It suddenly occurred to me that more discussion was going to be pointless and that the best course of action would be to end the meeting as quickly as possible. With that in mind, I explained that, of course, if there were adjustments that needed to be made, we would make them before the presentation to the division directors. I suggested that the marketing director take some time to think through next steps and get back to us with how she would like to proceed. And with that, the meeting ended.

Unfortunately, the disconnect was never resolved.

A few days later, the meeting with the division directors was cancelled. It was never rescheduled.

We never got the chance to develop content based on the message house.

The client’s business division was not launched into its market on time.

Since then, we have added more explanatory slides to our key message development presentation, just in case another director comes along who doesn’t know what a key message house is.

Last we heard, the marketing director is still confused. So is the division’s marketing.

And I’m still somewhere on the road to marketing nirvana.

But that’s another story.

Aragona Agency - Road to Marketing Nirvana Part 1

This blog is based on a true story from my notes on the road to marketing nirvana. The names of the companies and people involved have been eliminated or changed to protect the guilty.

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