By Bob Dearsley, Chief Executive of itpr and The B2B Marketing Lab.

“So what is it that your company does?” On the surface this should be a simple and innocuous opening question that provides an opportunity to showcase your company and flag the great work you do. Yet, although it appears to be straight-forward, many Senior Executives and Board Directors have fallen victim to this deceptively difficult question.

In practice it is not easy to concisely explain what your company does. Many senior business figures require a lengthy presentation with the support of numerous PowerPoint slides, and still manage to leave the audience confused about what their company actually does. Your business proposition has to be easy to understand and digest — just like the Ronseal advert, you should ‘do exactly what it says on the tin’.

The ‘Ronseal’ approach — based upon the series of television advertisements by the woodstain and wood-dye manufacturer Ronseal, initiated in 1994 and still being broadcast today — is to create a ‘short and concise’ corporate descriptor. The best way of achieving this is to get together the key stakeholders in the business, the Board of Directors or the Senior Management Team and get everyone to attempt to write down what they believe the organisation actually does. Inevitably, if there are six people in the room there will be six different views. These are the starting point for debating and determining precisely what your organisation does. You need a strong moderator — better an independent than a ‘HIPPO’ — highest paid person in the room — as otherwise the Hippo will just take their view and ignore the others. These initial ideas should then be condensed into an agreed 25-35 word corporate descriptor.

That sounds reasonably easy but can take a lot of discussion and input. Then this is the basis for a clear set of descriptors for the business. From the 25-35 words it can be reduced down to a 10-word descriptor and finally, a three word descriptor can be created that can be used across all marketing communications to clearly outline what the company does, who the target audience is and why the company is different. Why are three words important? Because this is the typical maximum description that a publication will use to describe a company and that is vital that you determine that and don’t let others decide it for you! All of this is because if you’re unable to articulate what your company does, the media and other commentators will make up their own view for you — and that can lead to ambiguity and confusion!

Based on previous experience I would recommend that all organisations go through the ‘Ronseal’ treatment — ideally every year - but definitely every few years. This is critically important for start-ups or if the company has changed in some way through acquisition or merger. This simple exercise can invigorate the thinking in an established business that may have become a bit stagnant in it’s messaging.

Key things to bear in mind are:

• Think about your business and what you do as a whole.
• Do not use jargon — you need to be able to simply and clearly explain what your organisation does.
• Imagine you are describing what you do to an intelligent 12 year old — the one at the back of the class who always has their hand up and appears to know everything - don’t be patronising, but don’t expect your audience to know and understand technical, complicated terminology or industry acronyms. (Most publications think in these terms when they are writing their editorial for their target readers!)

Once a corporate descriptor has been agreed you will find that whether in a sales meeting or during a press interview, people will find your proposition easier to digest and understand. No matter what sector or industry you are in, being able to explain your business proposition in a clear and concise fashion is an important step to success.