Procter & Gamble is one of the most successful multinationals in the consumer goods industry. The company is also responsible for a brilliantly simple marketing mindset. It all starts with the P&G one-page memo. The concept of this memo dates back decades, to the time when Richard Deupree was president.
He instilled a philosophy that less is often more in communication. As Deupree once put it, “Part of my job is to train people to break down an involved question into a series of simple matters. Then we can all act intelligently.”
One of the main reasons Deupree developed this format was the lack of persuasive proposals. Their proposals tended to contain too much information, and important questions and issues got lost between the lines.
The one-page memo format forces writers to boil the information down to relevant facts and critical issues. At the same time, it excludes trivial matters that can complicate things. The goal is to offer clear thoughts and a clear plan of action. Take this example from Berkshire Hathaway head Warren Buffet:
The one-page memo defines the situation, introduces an idea, and explains why it works. It also explains why the idea is so important and what could happen if the memo isn’t followed. These are all stages that we’ll discuss in a moment.
The idea is to get everyone on the same page… To get all departments speaking the same language and creating memos based on the same format. The point of the memo obviously differs, but it’s the structure that matters most.
This concept is even more relevant today than it was in Deupree’s time. Attention spans are short in the digital age, so condensing information is critical. The format of the P&G memo is adaptable to today’s internal company issues. You can use it for its memo creation tips and principles, even if you don’t use precisely the same structure.
Memo Creation Tip #1 – Define the Situation
Always start a one-page memo with a short summary. Offer some background or set the context so the reader understands the purpose of the memo immediately. Is it about a problem you found? Is it about a success story you want to use as a model? Did you find an opportunity you think the company should jump on?
It’s best to get your audience up to speed as fast as possible to avoid losing their attention.
If you do an excellent job in the summary, you can often get the reader to agree with your conclusion without making them read further. Once you engage their interest and instill curiosity, a good part of your job is already done.
Memo Creation Tip #2 – Introduce Your Idea
Your idea can be a proposal, a recommendation, or even a solution. After summarizing the issue, define your plan in the simplest of terms. Make it as clear as possible for everyone, no matter what department the readers may come from.
Keep in mind that introducing your idea is not the same as explaining it. There is a separate section of the memo where you highlight what you propose. In many situations, one sentence is more than enough to make the point.
Memo Creation Tip #3 – Explain How the Idea Works
Now you can start detailing your idea… Your audience already knows what the issue is, and your proposal for addressing that issue. Now it’s time to explain why it’s a good proposal and how it works.
This section offers the opportunity to answer any critical questions and address concerns. Keep the content detailed, yet condensed. Only talk about the most pressing issues you foresee.
Treat it as you would a sales pitch. Formulate your explanation while keeping your audience’s perspective in mind. Always evaluate your writing through your audience’s eyes and thoughts.
Keep in mind that this approach is applicable to a one-page memo or any other sort of proposal. The goal is to learn how to think clearly and put your thoughts into words that everyone understands.
Only give the details that matter, and offer a timeline if necessary. Highlight how your solution solves the issue presented in the summary.
Memo Creation Tip #4 – Discuss the Idea’s Key Benefits
To write a compelling memo, you need to know what your strongest points are. In this section, you get to emphasize them. Narrow your points down to three at the most. This will make things easier to explain, and it’s easier for the reader to follow along and absorb the information.
Your idea could have more than three benefits, of course, but a memo is not the medium to list and explain all of these in detail. Find the most persuasive key benefits and present them in clear sentences.
It’s also important to remember this: if you put down too many reasons as to why you’re right, it may seem like you’re trying too hard to sell something. Your audience may perceive you as insecure in your offering and thought process.
Memo Creation Tip #5 – Define the Next Steps
So, what is the best way to end your memo? Briefly define the next steps the company should take after everyone gets a chance to read the memo.
A “where do we go from here” type ending will wrap things up nicely. That’s the first question your audience will ask after reading the memo, so avoid a cliffhanger by offering the next steps and how to proceed.
Again, you don’t have to be too explicit, but you do have to be straightforward. Mention if someone needs to do something specific. Present a timeline and milestones if you have them. These should be clearly stated and answer any remaining questions.
Obviously, you can’t solve a complex issue with a one-page memo, but you can inform everyone and get them on the same page.
Remember that the one-page memo is all about saying as much as possible with a few words. Condensed information matters a lot, especially in the digital world. Procter & Gamble still uses the one page-memo to this day, which shows how useful the format can be.
It promotes an efficient type of thinking that you can apply to many aspects of your business. The structure proves useful in a variety of contexts, and can be altered to fit different situations… But the core principles always remain the same. These memo creation tips will help you grab the reader’s attention and get their agreement with the first few sentences.