communications, marketing

Why do key messages matter?

key messages matterIf you saw Mike Coupe, Chief Executive at Sainsbury’s, on this morning’s news, you’ll have been impressed by his confidence and decorum as he told the nation about his company’s merger with Asda.

“The great thing for our customers is,” he said, “we’ll be able to push prices down by ten per cent”.

He followed this up quickly with “Our customers and our colleagues are important to us. This merger will benefit them both”.

Then “We won’t be closing any stores or cutting any jobs”.

Coupe has an impressive record of retail industry experience, which includes marketing, digital and online. He knew he needed those key messages to be top of his list when talking on mainstream news.

The news release issued by Sainsbury’s this morning focuses on more business-oriented key messages but still pushes the ‘bringing benefits to our customers’ line.

The news byline is ‘creating a dynamic new player in UK retail’, and they’ve created a simple infographic highlighting some key points – that shopping habits are changing¬†fast and that their brand family is trusted, along with the important ‘great deal for everyone’ section.

infographic habits

Image source: Sainsbury’s news.

Going back to what Coupe said in this morning’s news, he made sure he pre-empted the questions the journalists might ask. He knew, or his trusted comms person made sure he knew, that the interviewer would pick up on negative sides to this story. They’ve spent time planning the interview and it’s likely that Coupe had a single-page prompt sheet with a handful of simple key messages at the top, some secondary messages and some answers to the tough questions that might be asked. He probably read that sheet several times before bed last night and again on the way to work this morning. That’s why he was able to maintain his unfaltering TV persona and answer each question with ease.

Coupe did falter a little bit, because he initially said: “We won’t close any stores or cut any jobs”, then when pushed he said: “we won’t close any stores or cut any jobs as a result of this deal”. When pushed a second time, he said: “it’s a competitive market and things are changing quickly”. This could have been a backtrack on his original message, or Coupe could have been moving the reporter on to another of the agreed top key messages. Whichever his aim, this could have been misconstrued by viewers.

So what can we learn from this?

  • Be clear on your messages and stick to them, even when pushed
  • Tailor your messages for your different audiences
  • Use visual aids to get your key messages across
  • Support your messages with statistics
  • Make sure your audience understands your messages in the same way you do

It would be good to know why the companies have chosen Coupe as their spokesperson rather than Asda’s Chief Executive and whether this decision is related to the future management structure of the combined businesses. It would also be interesting to see the employee engagement plan for both companies, to look in-depth at how they’re managing this news with their 330,000 employees. Look out for future blog posts about these two issues.

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