Whose words are you using to promote and market your company?  When I start working with a new client, I always suggest we do a simple “core message” review before creating and implementing a long-term public relations plan. This review is really a message audit. It doesn’t need to be expensive, and it doesn’t need to be a long drawn-out process that creates a huge report that no one reads.

What your goal should be is to simply confirm that you’re saying the right things to achieve your desired results- increase awareness or sales. Otherwise, you’re spending a lot of energy spinning your wheels without getting anywhere.

Identifying the right core message

First, I ask company employees:  What are the top five reasons for why they believe their company is the best?

Second, I ask the company’s current and best customers for their top five reasons why they love the company.

The top five reasons that the staff provides, and what customers give are never the same. Two, maybe even three answers may overlap, but there’s always several that are different.

Here’s the key takeaway: It’s easier for a company to become what everyone already thinks they are in a positive way, than to try and convince people that already like them to think something else.

It’s their words, not yours

If you want to clone your best customers, use the words your best customers already use. Incorporate these them into your website, collateral materials, potential client and partner conversations, and media relations efforts.

Word changes, big and small

Some of the language updates might be easy to implement. For example, if you describe yourself as “warm” but your clients call you “friendly”, use their word instead of your own. The word obviously resonates better with your best customers, so it would be foolish not to repeat it.

Other changes might be more of a major shift. For example, a common attribute I hear companies say about themselves is customer service. But clients rarely list customer service as a reason they like a company. In fact, in all the surveys I’ve done I don’t recall ever seeing customers list the phrase “customer service” as a reason they like a company. That’s not to say customer service isn’t important; rather, it’s expected.

Think of a restaurant like a Jason’s Deli or Panera. When you go in, you expect your food within 10 minutes, that there will be clean tables, that they’ll bring your food out to you, and that they will clean up after you. That’s an expectation of good customer service. If any of those expectations aren’t met, people get upset.

The phrase customer service has become so overused and broad, that it’s almost universally ignored. Why waste your words on a phrase that won’t get you results? Instead, give specific examples of what makes your customer service truly noteworthy. Those examples will likely come from the customer survey results.

What to say to future customers

After you update your message, there’s a third survey that you should consider. Ask your potential customers what they know about your company, and what they look for when deciding whom to call. You shouldn’t change your language for this audience. Instead, change how you educate and talk to them based on their feedback. This is a lesson for another column.

In short, stop telling your potential customers what you think makes you the best and instead tell them why you actually are the best.