Messaging Management or Cognitive Dissonance?


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In dictionary terms, mixed messages are when someone is getting different opinions or answers from the same source. In psychological terms, this causes “cognitive dissonance,” the feeling of discomfort that comes from holding two (or more) conflicting views.

This is a concept that marketers and brand managers ignore at their own peril – and at the peril of their companies.

There are now numerous of ways in which we reach out to customers and prospects. Social media sites are growing at an almost exponential rate. These mechanisms allow us to personalize our messages, interact with real customers, engage in true dialogs with audiences, and get real-time feedback on what the marketplace is saying about us.

In addition, of course, we have web sites. Some companies do corporate and product advertising and PR. There is product packaging and product information. There are sales materials and marketing collateral. There are customer service reps and complaint lines.

In short, it has never been easier to reach out. It has never been easier for customers to get information – either directly or through electronic word of mouth.

Therein lies the problem. At the most basic level, the brand (as in corporate identity or product identity) is the source of revenue. Its reputation – how it is seen in the marketplace – is what marketers spend their professional lives trying to enhance. We craft messages to describe our brand’s value, its superiority, its elemental importance to our market space. (Indeed, we even take the time to put executives through “media training” to ensure that they deliver the company message consistently and don’t get thrown off point.) This is the basis of our strategies and our strategic messaging.

And then…

And then the implementation begins. The strategy and strategic messages are sent out into the world by the social media managers, the people in charge of web site content, product managers, brand managers, sales people, customer service reps, an ad agency, a PR agency, and on and on.

What do you think the chances are that the strategy remains whole and the messaging intact at the end of this chain? How comfortable should we be that the customers and prospects are getting a consistent and coherent picture of the strategy we have so painstakingly created?

While this problem remains largely under the radar, it is a marketing and revenue disaster waiting to happen. Without careful coordination and strategic messaging management, all the effort, the planning, and resulting activity has the potential to end up being dysfunctional. Uncoordinated branding and messaging can lead to customer cognitive dissonance.

We can avoid these perils, of course. But to do so requires a change in how we manage marketing.

A strategy, and the tactics to implement the strategy, is no long enough. We have to synchronize tactical implementation with the strategy. We must track and monitor implementation as carefully as we track and monitor leads and sales.

Marketing can no longer “control” the message and the brand; customers are talking about us in real-time. What we can control is how our carefully crafted strategic messages are conveyed to the marketplace. What we can control is how we manage, monitor, course correct, and address employees who are not adhering to the corporate messaging strategy.

And this is a management and marketing operations management function.

The CMO can no longer be “merely” a strategist, a communications guru, and a people manager. Today’s CMO is, in a very real way, an operations executive. The tools to manage marketing operations are being developed (as I have addressed elsewhere), and the most successful CMOs will be the ones who use these tools to keep their strategies on track and their messaging precise and coherent.

Implementing a strategy is always the hard part. The best strategic initiative can fail on the battlefield. Marketers and brand managers need to remember that a prospect with cognitive dissonance is rarely a customer, and a customer with cognitive dissonance is rarely a satisfied customer. Messaging management matters.

Emily R. Coleman
Dr. Emily R. Coleman is President of Competitive Advantage Marketing, Inc., a firm that specializes in helping companies expand their reach and revenues through strategy and implementation. Dr. Coleman has more than 30 years of hands-on executive management experience working with companies, from Fortune 500 firms to entrepreneurial enterprises. Dr. Coleman's expertise extends from the integration of corporate-wide marketing operations and communications to the development and implementation of strategy into product development and branding.


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