Guest blogger UpHouse Inc. shares its tips for driving the most creative values-based messaging

A few weeks ago, Winnipeg marketing agency UpHouse Inc. came on as the major sponsor and presenter for the International Association of Business Communicators’ professional development day. The event was centred on a holistic approach to communications, integrating internal and external messages to come out with the best strategy for your organization’s success.

The “Inside Out” philosophy was the perfect topic for the new agency to delve into – finding a gap in the traditional agency model, and recognizing that more and more organizations are keeping work in-house, UpHouse positions itself at the halfway point between an outside agency and an additional member of your in-house team.

They work closely with clients to ensure they help drive communications that are rooted in real, lived experiences throughout the organization and among its audience, and develop strategies with tactics you can tackle in-house, or collaborate on when you need an extra hand.

With a mandate to “make in-house marketing better,” co-owners Alex Varricchio and Kiirsten May held nothing back from their keynote, which offered up many of the tips from the branding exercises they guide organizations through. Now, in an IABC guest blog, they share their 15 best practices to help guide real, values-based communication starting from the inside out.


Build a strong brand position

Modern brands must be authentic. Brand advertising sets a customer expectation, and if your company’s staff cannot fulfill that expectation, you run the risk of letting customers down. To create an authentic position, look inside your organization to find the special characteristics that already exist. Then, build your outside marketing message around it. Here are five tips to help you get started:


  1. Make vision and values actionable.

Hold brainstorms with every department to help employees at every level understand how they can live the vision and values in their everyday work. Customers will then see your core values come to life in every interaction they have with your company.


  1. Storify your brand purpose.

Combine your company’s history, guiding values and future goals in a compelling story. Don’t shy away from the challenges – these show what you are willing to overcome to do the right thing. We recommend Robert McKee’s Story in Business model.


  1. Know your uber audience.

Don’t know which company qualities to elevate to external communications? Find out who your VIPs are – the long-standing advocates or people who share your brand’s goals and values. Serve messages that resonate with them, and your larger target audience group will follow.


  1. Share the small stories.

Create a platform for gathering the internal stories and interactions that symbolize your brand’s mission and values. Anecdotes are powerful because they reflect a larger system of beliefs. That’s why real brand magic exists in the small actions your staff take to do right by customers.


  1. Use logic and emotion.

When organizing your inventory of brand stories and key messages, use emotion to hook an audience and affirm their decision to choose you (awareness and retention stages). Follow it up with logic-based proof points to support decision-making (consideration and decision stages).


Engage customers with your marketing strategy

Once you have uncovered what’s special and authentic about your brand, use your marketing plan to communicate it to your target audiences. A good marketing plan paints a clear picture of future success and maps out smart, efficient paths to make it happen. Avoid common marketing plan pitfalls with these tips:


  1. Build one plan around people.

Often we build plans around platforms (social media strategy, content strategy, PR strategy, sponsorship strategy), which fragments your objectives. Get really clear on your different audiences and the goals for each one, then build a plan around them.


  1. Fill in the gaps.

Once you’ve laid out your tactics, map them to the Buyer’s Journey and check to see where gaps may exist. Are you neglecting the decision or retention stage? You may be missing opportunities to create a more loyal following.


  1. See the people in the funnel.

For each audience, set conversion goals for every stage of the Buyer’s Journey. If you don’t have the numbers, make this year a benchmark year, and then measure and improve next year.


  1. Have a “why” for each tactic.

Answer the five Ws and 1 H for every tactic in your marketing plan, and keep it in an easy-to-access format. Jotting down the reasoning behind your plans will help you quickly field questions when other departments come knocking with questions and suggestions.


  1. Use project management tools.

Subscribe to a tool that allows you to assign responsibility and make adjustments throughout the year.

Keep ideas and team members fresh

The Marketing or Communications team is responsible for executing the marketing plan, stewarding your brand and contributing new ideas. Avoid employee burnout, stale ideas and left-brain limitations with these tips:


  1. Understand your innovation ceiling.

Hold separate meetings or discussions for marketing and communications innovation and project execution. If you’re always bouncing back and forth, you’ll only innovate to the level at which you can comfortably execute a project (it’s just human nature). We have a blog post with more info on Innovation and Execution ceilings.


  1. Hold a disruptor brainstorm.

Try brainstorming new marketing ideas for a fictional company just like yours. Ignore current assumptions and limitations, and free yourself to consider wild ideas. After the brainstorm, choose a couple ideas to incorporate in your marketing plan.


  1. Separate concept & execution.

Break your department into a concept team and execution team. Get the concept team to independently brainstorm bold ideas that deliver on project objectives. Then challenge the execution team to do everything they can to bring the idea to life.


  1. Hold a seeding brainstorm.

Good ideas can come from anywhere. Hold a company-wide project kickoff and ask the entire company to contribute ideas. Get participants to “seed” any and all ideas (even half-formed ideas) on a designated wall in the lunch room or another common space.


  1. Keep team members fresh.

When organizations are busy, we tend to value efficiency over creativity, which can lead to burnout. Try finding a partner organization and swap straightforward projects, such as an annual report. Your designer creates theirs, their designer creates yours. It’s an easy way to break through monotony.