Provoking People to Build Great Messaging

“I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost

How do you get from the way you currently talk about your company and your products, to differentiated talking and storytelling? With the help of other people.

But how do you get the best out of people? How to turn their brains on? Excite them for the muddy slog of brainstorming, argument, and iteration?

The key is provoking them. 

  1. Before you get provocative, ask each person one-on-one How do you describe what we do?

    Ask concise, open-ended follow-up questions: 
    • What do you mean by that? 
    • How is that different than what other companies/products do?
    • How else are we different?
    • It sounds like you say we do X, did I get that right? 
    • Keep them talking, good product marketers (like good interrogators) keep asking the same question in different ways to pull out more. 
  2. Pull together everything you heard in step one.

    Write it all down on a really big white board or a big piece of butcher paper. 
    • What are the themes?
    • What are the dorkiest things you heard?
    • What are the hardest-edged economic things you heard?
    • What are the most human, emotional things you heard?
  3. Create two (rough) ways of telling the story, as different from each other as possible.
    • One could be stirring, anthemic, world-changing, emotional
    • The other could be matter-of-fact, descriptive, producty
    • Or something else
    • The key is that they be
      1. Radically different from each other
      2. Same level of unpolish or polish
      3. Both good enough that you’d be proud to pitch them to a customer
  4. Go back to each person you talked to one-on-one, and pitch both messages.
    • Ask what she thinks. What she liked. Why. What didn’t work as well. Why.
    • [aside: it’s fun how much one person will love something that another person hates. Humans are awesome.] 
    • Don’t defend. Don’t react. Keep her talking.
  5. Revise the two to change any elements that are clearly losers. If you heard enough to suggest there’s a third direction that might be good, create that third version.
  6. Bring all of the people into one meeting for you to pitch the revised potential stories.
    • Lead a discussion: which things worked best for people, which worked less well. 
    • When someone says she loves/hates/is-bored-by something, ask the room whether anyone sees it differently.
    • Ask them which of your audiences (customers, prospects, employees, partners) would prefer which story line. And then ask them why.
  7. Then – and only then – assemble a candidate storyline that you want to start bouncing off of additional people beyond your initial group. You’ll likely be taking from each approach one or more elements that worked .

Positioning is hard, but if you can provoke your partners-in-crime into really engaging, you’ll get a better result. The best way to provoke them is with specific, radically different approaches that get the strongest reactions.

Taking these less traveled roads is your best way to get to great, differentiated messaging. 

Go get ‘em!

The Front Porch
Moss Beach, California

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