Your Corporate Messaging Needs A Makeover

Mar 2, 2022

Recently, I was listening to a podcast featuring the CEO of a healthcare tech company that’s doing fantastic things in a new way—an actual innovator, as much as that word is overused. The podcast wasn’t sponsored, so the line of questioning was broad and geared toward thought leadership. In response to the host’s first question, the CEO launched into a detailed explanation of the issues with just a quick “At [Company Name], we deal with [thorny topic] all the time, starting with A and B.”

The rest of the conversation bounced around from there, and it was a decent interview overall, except for one thing: I never found out what the CEO’s company did, exactly. I agreed with many of his sentiments about the industry and was already predisposed to think highly of his company, but the onus fell on me, the listener, to search online for more info. That CEO had one shot to make a first impression, but he failed to take advantage of it: he didn’t introduce his own brand.

As an account director, I see clients fail to effectively communicate their corporate message. When prepping for an interview, clients tend to focus on which successes to share. They talk about how to answer tricky questions that might come up, and discuss whether a data point from Client 1 or Client 2 would be best. But they don’t focus on the messaging basics: how to say what you do as efficiently as possible, in a variety of settings. Your leaders need to agree on the language they’ll use to give a quick introduction, and they need to practice this phrasing until it becomes second nature.

When I was listening to that podcast, if I had heard something like this: “At [Company Name], we provide [innovative feature] to [type of customers] to help them [accomplish this result]” before the CEO continued with “So we deal with [thorny topic] all the time…” I would have had a context for all the insightful things Mr. CEO said from then on. I would have been properly introduced to the company, grounded in what they provide to a particular market.

You Need More Pitches Than You Think You Do

At large companies, marketing departments will hammer out corporate messaging templates with several components: the top 3 bullets that describe the company’s accomplishments; the 25-word elevator pitch; the 50-word elevator pitch; the 100-word boilerplate; the corporate mission; the list of values. Smaller companies, being nimbler and more mission-driven, tend to think of such messaging docs as unnecessary—and completely disconnected from what their leaders will say to the press.

They’re not. Just as all companies must determine their market positioning, they must also determine their specific language: how will we introduce ourselves? Your company’s oral and written messaging needs to include both features and benefits. What do you make/provide/enable for customers, and how does that feature benefit them?

Once you’ve got your messaging down, you need to spend time iterating it in multiple formats. Contrary to popular belief, the best 25-word intro to your company is not the first sentence of your “About Us” page on your website. Be thoughtful about each version, and note who it’s for: 50 words to describe us to investors; 5 bullets to include on slides for existing customers; 3 key messages for trade shows; etc. This legwork will pay off in spades as you apply for awards, send reporters background information, complete RFIs, connect with potential clients, and more.

Lastly, don’t forget to train your leaders in the verbal version of your messaging for conversations and interviews. While it doesn’t need to be exact every time, you should certainly have at least one or two phrases that are consistently said aloud by your executive leadership.

Revamping Your Boilerplate

Found at the bottom of all press releases, a company’s boilerplate is a standardized paragraph that describes the organization’s purpose, size, and presence. It often includes details such as the year the company was founded, its annual revenue and/or financial backers, and market share or angle. Your boilerplate should also incorporate a few key words—or even better, a unique phrase—to enable search engine optimization.

Unfortunately, many companies write their boilerplate once and then forget to refine it as their messaging evolves. Along with your messaging, you should review your boilerplate at least once a year. Does it reflect where you are now? If your key phrases aren’t getting any traction, but your customers all respond enthusiastically to one specific value prop, consider the SEO version of that value prop. Will it work in your boilerplate? Is it clear and meaningful, or did you accidentally jargonize it?

While this is not an exhaustive how-to post about how to write an excellent company boilerplate—for that, see this post from PR expert Dmitry Dragilev—I do have a few tips for you.

#1: Don’t be aspirational.

If your company makes teapots, but your five-year plan involves the creation of compostable coffee, tea, and mimosa single-serve pods, you’re not an “major vendor in the eco-friendly breakfast beverage supply chain”; you’re still a teapot manufacturer.

Startups in particular are frequently tempted to include their overarching vision in their boilerplate, as they can’t yet do what they mean to do – and they want everyone to know the scope of their ambition. While this is understandable, companies run the risk of undermining their own success if they stake their reputation on future-state aspirations. Potential clients may simply want a beautiful teapot; they need to know that your company makes them.

Don’t let your excitement about what your company will eventually do overcome reality; market what you have now, and market it well. If you’re afraid that your company will be discounted because everyone’s talking about single-serve beverages, then find a way to incorporate your proximity to the Hot Topic without overselling what your company does in the present moment.

(Apologies to the Ask a Manager readership for the teapot analogy. This site answers reader questions on workplace dilemmas, and it’s well worth your time: the letters are often hilarious, and writer Alison Green gives useful advice for navigating difficult work situations.)

#2: Keep it modest.

This is not the time for verbs like ‘transform’ or ‘revolutionize,’ nor for adjectives like ‘impressive’ or ‘powerful.’ Your boilerplate should state what you do and why you do it, but not offer its own opinions on how well you do it. We don’t include self-referential compliments when we’re introducing ourselves for a reason. While you may call yourself “adept” in a cover letter, you don’t say it in conversation; your boilerplate should not be the corporate version of “I’m Jessica, a skillful communicator!”

You should also stay away from superlative phrases like “the industry’s leading platform” or “the world’s largest system,” especially if you’re relatively unknown. Even if your software has twice as many users as your closest competitors, comparative phrases invite readers to respond with skepticism. There should be nothing in your boilerplate that is arguable; your statements should be clear, simple, and unassailable.

If you work for Amazon, then sure, you could say you’re the world’s largest online retailer—but readers would know that already. For everyone else, it just sounds like a humble brag that may or may not be true. If you want to show size or range, opt for facts instead: “used by 65% of U.S. health systems” is more believable than “the industry’s leading platform.” If you’ve won a prestigious award, make sure to include it in your boilerplate. Let others do your bragging for you!

#3: Avoid nonsense taglines.

My husband’s favorite tagline of all time was for the beer Stella Artois: “Reassuringly expensive.” For 25 years, the company used this phrase in television and print ads in the U.K., where it hit just the right note: this beer tastes so much better than its low-end counterparts that it’s not even in the same category—nor are you, discerning drinker!

In corporate America, and especially in healthcare, there’s a tendency to choose random inspirational words for your tagline. Often these aren’t even connected to what the company does, but just a collection of positive qualities or actions: “Collaborate. Innovate. Accelerate.” Taglines should be clear, practical, and instantly relatable to what your business does, according to this advice from entrepreneurs.

In healthcare, I’ve seen many variations along the lines of “We move care forward” or “We put the care in healthcare.” Avoid stating the obvious (nobody moves care backward), and avoid being cheesy. Your tagline requires real thought and a sense of what sets your company apart from competitors. This is where you can get creative and evoke your company’s higher aspirations (as long as they relate to what you do now). Where do you want to be in ten years? What mission connects your present and your future?

You won’t be able to encapsulate every last thing that you do in one tagline, but you should be able to come up with an evocative phrase that distinguishes your approach. Don’t be afraid to test it out across your company, or ask your employees for help brainstorming. Once you have a good tagline, use it to close out your boilerplate, along with a link to your website. Now, you’re ready for prime time: You have everything you need to make a good impression.

Jessica Smith

Jessica Smith is a seasoned healthcare writer with a passion for compelling narratives. She has more than 17 years of experience creating strategic marketing materials for payers, providers, and consumers in the healthcare IT market, and has developed content for numerous sales campaigns, product launches, acquisitions, and employee engagement initiatives. Before joining Amendola, Jessica served as senior writer of content operations and marketing communications at Change Healthcare, partnering with both payer- and provider-focused lines of business to create targeted white papers, case studies, articles, podcasts, videos, infographics, press releases, and product brochures to drive sales and market visibility. Her areas of focus included the company’s clinical decision support and enterprise imaging solutions. Her previous experience includes more than a decade in marketing publications at McKesson, where she managed collateral creation, marketing campaigns, customer newsletters, and digital content for the company’s internal and external websites. Her areas of focus included the company’s population and risk management, capacity management, and strategic intelligence solutions. Jessica also worked in corporate communications at PPD, a global CRO, supporting its finance, quality, and IT teams and writing for the company’s intranet. Jessica holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, with a minor in Psychology, from Duke University, as well as a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing (Nonfiction) from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.