Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tips & Exercises to Tweak Association Messages

No matter how you slice it, messages matter!

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, the CEO of a national association asked me for suggestions on helping a “messaging task force” develop key messages for her association. 

I also shared the six key points from a FastCompany piece on neuromarketing.

So, here is what I suggested to the CEO to help her task force accomplish its goal:


1. Features vs Benefits: the Yellow Pencil 

  • Ask each person to prepare a “sales tool” to convince a neighbor to buy a #2 yellow pencil ... they need to assume the neighbor has never seen a yellow pencil. 
2. Explain Curse of Knowledge ... as involved members, board, committee and task force members know too much and have forgotten what it was like to be an “average” member ... have them “think back” to the questions they had about your association when they first joined. 


1. Questions to ask and/or judge messages by:

  • Is it “short, sweet and easy to repeat?” 
  • Is it actionable? 
  • Does it convey a key attribute about your association as it is now or as it is envisioned? 
2. Create an Audience/Message grid: 
                          Message 1       Message 2         Message 3         Message 4 

Audience A

Audience B

Audience C 

3. Paint a picture/Create a Collage 

  • As you begin developing messages, ask the Task Force to “draw a picture” of each of the key messages ... something visual that represents that message. 
  • Give participants copies of magazines and ask them to create a collage of images, words, fonts, symbols, etc. that reflect the organization. 


1. As you near completion, ask the Task Force to “convert” each message into a Tweet .... no more than 140 characters (letters & spaces). This helps refine the message to be short, sweet and easy to repeat! 

2. Before making the messages final, you may want to conduct formal message testing research or you may want to ask each Task Force member to talk with one non-member or one new member ... read the message and ask that person what they “hear” from the message ... to describe what it means to them. TF member should not prompt responses ... only keep asking “what else does it mean to you?” 

  • The goal here is to see if there is a difference between what your association is saying and what the audience is hearing 
3. Based on feedback from nonmembers or new members, refine the messages even more to help close any “gaps” between what you are saying and what they are hearing. 

So, tell me what  you think ... 

What tips can you share on creating and refining association messages?


  1. Great post Steve. Really practical and interactive session ideas.

    I think it is always a challenge for associations to squeeze everything they do into key messages, but it can be done. There is lots to be said for keeping it simple!

  2. Thanks Abby.

    Saw a great example of messaging yesterday at a mattress store.
    Photos of two people. One said "Sleep Happy." The other said "Save Money"

    Would be nice if we as association professionals could create such short yet impactful messages!