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Four reasons why your business needs a manifesto

Posted by Chad O'Connor  March 28, 2014 06:00 AM

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More than 30 years ago, Bruce Springsteen sang about a reason to believe, a hopeful song from the otherwise stark Nebraska album.

There's a reason this theme is a recurring one in music, literature and business. In relationships, as consumers and even as companies we need reasons to believe in the people and causes we stand behind, and for someone to believe in us.

Companies spend a lot of time developing products and services, creating messaging and engagement, nurturing customers and prospects.

Why? To create reasons to believe (which often lead to reasons to buy).
To powerfully communicate these reasons and instill a clear sense of mission for customers and employees, companies and organizations must create a manifesto. A manifesto elevates a business, taking it beyond a features and benefits or price-comparison perspective. It delivers a rallying cry, one that can be embraced by staff, partners, investors, clients and the media.

Asking why not or so what is good practice to elevate a manifesto, and to ensure its relevancy. In his book So What? How to Communicate What Really Matters to Your Audience, author Mark Magnacca asks the question: "What can you be doing to demonstrate the visibility, consistency, and repetition of your message?"

These four reasons guide an organization to develop a memorable, actionable rallying cry, and a manifesto that helps:

  • Find a higher purpose

  • Develop a new way of internal thinking

  • Deliver value to end-users

  • Create a cohesive message for external audiences

Find a Higher Purpose
Most entrepreneurs start a business because they believe they can solve a problem no one else has—the origins of their businesses are often aspirational. Sometimes that aspiration is noble, like saving lives; other times it is practical, like saving time or money. As other priorities emerge, that original purpose may get overlooked or forgotten. Regardless of the lifecycle of a company, it is still possible to establish an aspirational manifesto by going through an "elevation exercise."

Start with a candid analysis of the features and benefits of a company's product or service, and in a series of steps that may result in one or many escalations, determine the highest purpose those products or services meet.

A company like AG Mednet, for example, provides unique quality control and compliance technology for the clinical trials industry. An escalation exercise reveals that, since its technology eliminates much of human error in the trial process, doctors are able to more quickly determine if a drug in development is meeting benchmarks and should be advanced from a research perspective. AG Mednet has embraced and advocated for a "zero delay" clinical trial process. It recognizes the need to challenge the industry to work efficiently and get to results more quickly. Its zero delay rallying cry serves as an example of a higher purpose behind technology development.

Develop a New Way of Internal Thinking
It is critical for employees to know why a company exists, especially for talent recruitment and retention. Most staff want to believe in something greater. There's a reason companies like HubSpot, Netflix and others pay so much attention to corporate culture. As companies mature beyond an initial core team, the ability to verbally communicate a core belief system gets diffused. A manifesto creates a focal point that all staff can rally around.

HR, finances, legal concerns, marketing, sales—these and many more activities large and small tend to dominate our productivity and professional focus on a daily basis. A corporate manifesto forces us to step away from the day-to-day and to find the passion that guides our vision and work. While there is no right way to develop a manifesto—it can be executive-driven, the result of an all-staff exercise, emerge from marketing or come about in other ways—the simple act of developing a one and then sharing it with staff initiates a new way of thinking that can be contagious.

Deliver Value to Your End-User
In his book Disciplined Entrepreneurship, MIT’s Bill Aulet discusses making a company’s end-user persona a real person, unlike composite personas, which are slices of a "typical" customer stitched together to reflect who best represents a business’ primary customer.

Once this persona is identified, and all the details about the persona become factors that guide or reinforce the development of a product or service, an intimacy emerges. Manifestos elevated to the highest possible purpose also have an intimacy that is embraceable, passionate and emotional. Connecting the emotion of the manifesto to the emotion of the end-user persona creates a bond that is both powerful and practical: powerful in that it should connect with your persona’s belief system, and practical in that it helps the persona understand the ultimate end benefit of using a company’s product or service.

Aulet calls a correctly developed, real-life end-user persona a company’s North Star. Much as one would use the North Star as a guidepost to navigate during a journey, a corporate manifesto provides the reason to embark on one.

Create a Cohesive Message for External Audiences
Manifestos are everywhere. We may not even know that we subscribe to one, but they still impact our lives. The famous The Checklist Manifesto, explains the rationale for better processes in the operating room, and then develops a checklist to eliminate needless surgical errors. You don't need to be a surgeon to appreciate the book—the checklist works in many of our personal and professional settings.

Telling external audiences what a company believes in and aspires to builds loyalty and comfort, and creates advocates. Imagine if a board of directors could proudly and easily deliver a company’s rallying cry at a cocktail party or in a board room to prospective investors. The repeatability of it carries its own force, and the wider the net of believers, the greater the chance of propelling a manifesto into the culture and minds of those it is most meant to impact.

A manifesto gives a company its mojo. Its swagger. Its ethos. Its reason for being. As Springsteen sang: "at the end of every hard-earned day, people find some reason to believe."

Mark O'Toole manages the public relations and content practice for HB Agency, an integrated marketing and communications firm focused on solving B2B challenges. Mark's goal is to keep HB ahead of trends, and to set a few trends of its own, to the benefit of clients, using all the tools available to today's traditional and digital communicator.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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