Message Mapping for Stronger Relationships

I think Lewis Caroll said it best, “If you don’t know where you’re doing, any road will get you there.” I think a lot of marketers live by this quote. They arrive at their messages when they get there. Their messaging evolves over time, but as such is incredibly inconsistent to the eyes and ears of the audience. To build any form of message retention among your target audiences, you need to be consistent across all your interactions. Everywhere your audience interacts with your brand, the message should build upon the last interaction. One approach to making sure this happens with relative predictability is to map your messages across the stages of your relationship with any particular target audience.

Say what? Every audience you interact with is made up of people. Just like your interpersonal relationships, your relationship with these people builds over time. It gets stronger or weaker based on the stimuli you bring to the table. The thing about the strongest relationships you have in your network. What are the common threads? Chances are you make a deliberate or subconscious investment in the relationship. You make an effort to get together. You regularly share information via email or social media channels. Perhaps you just remember them on their birthday. The more frequent and positive your interactions are with this person, the stronger the relationship. Conversely, the people you only call when you need something – or the people you only call when you’re trying to sell something (or renew your contracts) – are probably among your weakest contacts. If you don’t think so, you’re in denial. Those people probably hate you. Be honest with yourself. I’ll bet there’s at least one person in your network that only calls you when they need something. How do you feel about them? Exactly. I suggest you take some time to plot out the stages in your relationship for the various audiences you communicate with (that is, the people in those audiences), and start to map your messages to each audience based on the stage of the engagement.

One of the easiest areas to work with this concept is your sales cycle. If you work in or around sales, chances are you have some stages to the customer relationship based on where the people are at in your sales cycle. It probably looks something like this:

  • Lead -this is your unqualified lead. You’ve got a name and some contact information.
  • Suspect -this is your qualified lead. They fit the profile for the type of customer that most-commonly buys your products or services.
  • Prospects – you’ve confirmed interest. They’re going to buy from you – or a competitor – let’s hope for the former.
  • Customer – hooray, you closed the deal. Now you have to deliver on your promises.
  • VIP Customer – a customer that has renewed for another tour, or greatly expanded their role.

I’ve never seen two companies that classify these groups the same way. I acknowledge that everyone has their own criteria for moving clients through the customer lifecycle. My point here is that your communication needs vary based upon the stage your audience member is at. A customer needs support for any problems they’re having or they need help to get more value out of their investment. A suspect needs to understand what makes you different or better – they need to validate their need for your product or service.

Look at some of your other target audiences and think about how the relationship evolves from the first meeting through your long-term relationship. If you need help with this, use a typical relationship analogy. You meet somebody for the first time, you start dating, you meet the parents, you get engaged, married, and eventually celebrate your 50th wedding anniversary. How do your relationships with journalists evolve? Here’s another pass at the stages of the relationship:

  • First Meeting – the journalist knows nothing about you and typically doesn’t like to be interrupted by annoying PR people trying to pitch a story. Knowing that, why not just introduce yourself and provide background information – so you’re on their radar.
  • Second Interaction -now you’ve actually got something newsworthy to share that fits the reporters needs and interests (hopefully based on what you learned from your first meeting). If you really provided information of value for the journalist, you’ve now established trust and started to build your reputation with the journalist.
  • Trusted Advisor – don’t just contact the journalist when you have a story to pitch them. Tip them off about things you hear that are relevant to their beat, but don’t help you at all. See an interesting research report or survey the reporter might not have access to? Share it with them.
  • Reciprocity – as the reporter moves on in their career, your relationship can grow too. You can get introduced to their replacement, but also have a contact at the new organization they go to.

Again, it’s more about thinking about how the relationship evolves over time. You can do this for any target audience. What communication needs does a new employee need versus a manager that’s been with you for 10 years? What needs do your partners have in the first year working with you versus the fifth year? Once you’ve mapped out the stages of your relationship, it’s time to develop messaging for each stage of the relationship.

Mapping Messaging to the Stages of Your Relationship

There are two components to mapping messages to audiences across the stages of your relationship. One clearly defines the message you want to communicate most at that stage and tie it to the desired result. For example, your goal communicating to leads in our sales example above is to determine who could buy and move them to the suspect stage. The second component of an effective message map is to outline all the touchpoints where you interact with each audience member at any given stage. For example, where do you first interact with potential customers most often? This is an easy one – where do your leads come from. These are the channels where you need to use your messaging for leads. Similarly, what media or other forms of communication do you leverage to communicate with customers? Are these channels effective to meet your need for communication for this audience, or do you need to expand your strategy to put more community-building and management options in place? For example, do you have a customer forum where customers can ask questions and get answers from you? A place where customers can exchange ideas with other customers? These are important questions to answer when mapping your message strategy specific to the audience and stage of the relationship.

Once you’ve gone through the creative process to think through the stages of your relationship and how to map messages to each stage and deliver those messages through the most effective channels you have at your disposal, you should put all of your ideas in a spreadsheet or similar format that can be shared with other members of your team. Across the top row of your spreadsheet (do this for each audience segment), summarize the stages of your relationship with the audience members. Down your first column, list out the different communication channels at your disposal, such as email, snail mail, PR efforts, social media, newsletter, events, etc. Now fill in the cells with your messaging ideas for each channel at each stage of the relationship. Print it out and use it as a reference as you’re planning your ongoing communications efforts. You’ll be surprised how effective message mapping is to moving the needle and encouraging the growth of your relationships with your audience members.

As one final thought, remember that the purpose of the map is to make sure you’re communicating with your audiences at every stage of the relationship. As I summarized at the beginning of this post, your strongest relationships tend to be with the ones you interact with most frequently – and relationships where it’s two-way, given and take. If you’re not willing to invest the time and effort to build the relationship, why would you expect the other person to do the same?

What do you think? Do you use message mapping to plan your communications across different stages of your relationships? How do you currently modify your messaging for different stages of your relationships? Please share your thoughts below.

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