Explain yourself

I've been working on core messages for a few social enterprise and charity clients recently (not to mention my own) so I thought I'd share a few tips on how to explain what you do in writing.

You know how it is. You've been working flat out on a project, service or new venture for months, maybe years. You know it's good. You know people will want your services. You've got everything ready to go except...

How do you describe it in writing?

There'll be plenty of times you'll be asked for a sentence or two to describe your organisation. It will need to be compelling and get straight to the point. Marketers refers to this as the 'core message' or 'core description' and it is closely linked to your elevator pitch and your visual identity.

You've most likely developed some patter to intrigue that dreamt-of funder in a lift and you've quite likely got a fairly straight-forward way of explaining what you're up to to your mum. But when it comes to putting it in writing it can still be difficult to capture exactly what you do.

Your core message could be captured in a few different forms.

Strapline - explains your proposition in just a few words, eg, Tesco's "Every little helps" or Cancer Research UK's "Together we will beat cancer". Straplines need to be exceptionally strong and accurately reflect what you do.

Short description - how you would normally describe your organisation and what it does. A short description should be no more than two short sentences and would likely appear on your website homepage or on your 'about us' page.

Long description - a full description of your organisation and its services. This might include bullet points of the areas that you work in and describe a bit more about who you work with.

Key messages - things you want your audience to know about you, different aspects of your services, and what makes you different or unique. You may have several key messages that can be weaved into any communications materials you produce.

1. Identify your core audience

Now, anyone who knows me will know that I'm always carrying on about the audience but this is absolutely crucial. If your market is business start ups, there's no point describing your services to them in the same way that you would to your bank manager or to funders. Think about who the core audience is and focus on them. What words would they use to describe their need and the solution you provide?

2. Think about your words - carefully

The way you describe things within your organisation is often not the best way to communicate them to outsiders. And the words that seem perfectly obvious to you might have unintended meanings in a different context. For example, would you really want "engaged staff" or "green" airline passengers? Think about all the possible interpretations before you settle on something.

3. Get outside help

If it's your project, chances are you won't be able to get enough distance from it to explain it clearly to the uninitiated. If possible, budget for specialist help (from an organisation like Poached, for example). You'll find that a new, professional perspective can really simplify and clarify what you're trying to say. Regardless of whether you get help or if you try to tackle it yourself, you will need to test your words out on as many people as you can - particularly your intended audience.

4. Decide on something and stick to it

Tweaking the way you describe yourself too often will make you look disjointed and confused. Over time, organisations do evolve different ways of describing themselves but make sure your published descriptions (on your website and on your latest leaflet, for example) match up. If you do have a few distinct audiences and you want to tailor a description for each, great, but make sure it's clear who each description is for. Also, try to always use the some common elements in each.

5. Create a style sheet so there's no doubt

All media outlets and large companies have style guides so why shouldn't you? Having a style sheet will help you and your staff to remain consistent, which will strengthen your brand. (It doesn't have to be as comprehensive as the The Guardian's free online style guide.) Agree within your organisation on the dictionary you will defer to (www.askoxford.com provides a good online version) and put in writing little points such as how (and if) you abbreviate your company name, whether you prefer to use the less formal "we" and "you" in business materials, and any other common terms.

Of course there's a lot more to it that this, but this should give you an idea of how to start thinking about describing your organisation in writing. If you'd like further advice or help from Poached Creative, please contact us.

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