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Yesterday, I was having a delightful conversation with a recruiter and she asked me a very good question: “You’ve been out of corporate marketing for a few years. What’s changed since you left?”

The short answer is nothing and everything.

What do I mean by that? Well, in over twenty years of developing and executing marketing communications and brand programs, the fundamentals underlying every brand, campaign or program have not changed. If you don’t have a solid, customer focused story to build on, you diminish your brand and end up in a weaker position in the market. In my world it all goes back to the Five Imperatives For Effective Communications (Simplicity, Consistency, Relevance, Context and Reason).

What has changed, however, is that marketing and communications is no longer simply building messages and broadcasting them to the world. It has become a conversation with the customer. All of the ways for customers to gather information mean that you can no longer simply put your message out there and expect them to listen and conform. Social Media, the Internet, independent bloggers, tech/product media and many other sources. For many customers these are the first stops before even considering your company or product.

As a result, while the fundamentals of messaging and storytelling remain essentially unchanged, the way they are developed, presented and communicated are very different. A messaging framework can no longer just be a set of company focused messages that carry across all brand and campaign elements. It must be structured and presented in a way that all employees, not just sales people, within your company can have a dialogue with customers.

This does not mean that traditional marketing vehicles such as collateral, sales presentations, videos, etc. are irrelevant. They are more important than ever. The key is understanding that they set the groundwork for the conversation. They are all starting points rather than closing tools.

Social Media takes this dialogue one step further and makes the conversation transparent to everyone in the world. Now your marketing message is not only being broadcast, but your customer response is as well. Developing messaging frameworks to handle this kind of public discourse is critical.

How do you do this? My preferred method is through comprehensive messaging platforms that include conversational FAQs. Conversational FAQs are not simply questions and answers, but designed to promote dialogue with the customer, and are less restrictive and closed ended. They are also as honest as possible (lawyers hate this, but there are ways to do it while mitigating risk). With the amount of information available to customers these days, they know corporate speak BS when they hear it. If the customer feels like they are not being heard or having their issue addressed, they will respond in a public forum.

Who needs to have access to the messaging and FAQs? Everyone! If you think about all of the people in your company who come into contact with customers on a regular basis, it’s pretty daunting. It goes beyond sales and customer service, and your messaging platform – with accompanying FAQs – should be available to all employees. You want the receptionist at the front desk to be able to communicate your core messages the same way that your Social Media Director does. And since your CEO is your lead sales person they need to be saying the same thing too. All communicating a clear, coherent and concise message to customers and the marketplace at large.

So what’s changed? Nothing and everything. A solid, customer focused messaging framework and story is more important than ever, but it must be developed in a way that allows your company to have a dialogue with customers. It is no longer just a marketing vehicle, but a critical organization wide tool.