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Everything you need to know about brand messaging


Learn how to create brand messaging for your business, product or service.

Why is brand messaging important?


Whether you are launching a company, a nonprofit, a product or a service, creating brand messaging (also known as marketing message) that communicates the value of what you are offering relative to competitors is one of the most important tasks your leadership team will take on.


Why? If people don’t understand what you do, why it is unique and, why it is important to them, they will not engage with you. They won’t buy, donate, partner, fund or anything else you want them to do. Your brand message is an opportunity to tell your customers the story about the value you deliver. It is your vehicle for explaining how what you are delivering is different from your competitors.



What is a messaging framework?


A messaging framework is a structured representation of the value promises your organization, product or service is making to its audience. It is less about who you are and what you do and more about why you are doing it. It should always be audience-specific and should start from the perspective of the problems you are solving for that audience.


At its core, your brand messaging framework allows you to answer the question why? Why should your audience care about your offering? What transformation are you enabling for them? It also allows you to explain briefly how you are delivering value and what tangible results your audience can expect.  It allows you to shift the focus from the features you are delivering to the positive impact you deliver for your audience. Finally, it also allows you to differentiate from your competitors.


There is no single definitive version of a brand messaging template that every marketer uses. Instead, different practitioners have created their own messaging framework template that supports their own philosophy and process for creating their marketing message.


 

DID YOU KNOW:


86 percent of consumers say that authenticity is a key factor when deciding what brands they like and support (Stackla, 2019).


81 percent of consumers said that they need to be able to trust the brand in order to buy from them (Edelman, 2019).


It takes about 50 milliseconds (0.05 seconds) for people to form an opinion about your website (8ways, 2019).


Consistent presentation of a brand has seen to increase revenue by 33 percent (Lucidpress,2019).


86% of consumers prefer an authentic and honest brand personality on social networks. (HubSpot)

 

Why create a brand messaging framework?


There many reasons to develop a messaging framework to craft your marketing message. A well thought out marketing message that has been socialized within your organization ensures that everyone is in effect “singing off the same hymn sheet” when asked the question: What does your company do?


One client provided a great example: “If you ask each of the 16 people who work in this group what we do, each one will give a different response.” The impact, internally and externally, can be quite significant as customers receive different messages and employees are not really sure what they are working on and why.


And when your organization is purpose-driven, it is even more critical to ensure that everyone understands and is inspired by your marketing message. A study by Bain and Company partners Eric Garton and Michael Mankins, reveals that productivity among satisfied employees is 100%, while engaged employees hit 144%, and inspired employees deliver 225% productivity.


Another reason for creating a formalized messaging framework is that it acts as a foundation for creating downstream content – everything from customer presentations, web copy, email templates, press release boiler plates and more. Not only does a marketing messaging framework allow you to spin up content quickly, but it ensures that all content consistently communicates the value that your offering delivers.




Understanding the audience for your marketing message


Creating a marketing message should always start with an understanding of your audience. Most organizations – for profit and nonprofit – have multiple audiences. Start by creating a list of all the different audiences you want to reach. It’s not practical to create 20 different messaging frameworks so make sure that all of these audiences are mutually exclusive relative to the value that your organization delivers.  Do they have different problems? Do they use your product or service in different ways? Do you need to use different language when talking to them? Often, the distinctions are clear:  the value you deliver to your customers is different to the value you deliver to potential business partners. For nonprofits, the value you deliver to the people who benefit from your organization’s work is different to the value you deliver to donors.


Once you have developed a prioritized list of audiences, it is extremely helpful to develop a persona for each one. A persona is nothing more than the personification of a general audience. You are creating a character who best represents the audience.  Give the character a name, find a photograph of them. Decide their demographics: age, gender, job, location etc. Then outline the problems the persona is having that your organization solves. Describe what is important to them in the decision-making process. If relevant, provide a list of ways this persona can be reached: magazines, blogs, special interest sites online etc. There are many great examples of highly targeted persona’s online if you get stuck.

Format your persona using PowerPoint or InDesign and print out the result in a large format and display it where everyone working on your messaging and positioning framework can see it. Throughout the process, keep referring back to the persona to make sure that the emerging messaging is aligned with your target audience.


Give your marketing message a consistent and authentic voice


Now that you know who your customer is, it is important to define how your brand will sound to customers in a way that is true to your brand values and persona. Your brand voice conveys emotion and personality. It helps make sure that your brand messaging cuts through the noise and makes a lasting impression on potential customers.


The most successful companies have a strong and clearly identifiable brand voice that that they use to deliver their brand messaging consistently everywhere they have a presence. For these companies, their brand voice is a powerful differentiator.


Take Duluth Trading's brand voice as an example. The company describes it's products as Tough. Functional. Comfortable. While this sounds pretty utilitarian, the company delivers this message with their tongue firmly in their cheek.


Example of brand voice - Duluth Trading

Product names are deliciously irreverent: Women's No Yank Tank, Tough Guy Balaclava, Men's Job Jitsu Full Zip Jacket and more. The company's television ads perhaps best illustrate how this voice is carried over consistently across all channels:




Defining your brand voice can be a fun and creative exercise. There is no one "right" way to do this. At Sugarbird Marketing, we have developed a Brand Voice Worksheet that we use to guide clients through this process.


GET OUR BRAND VOICE WORKSHEET HERE >


Creating content that communicates your marketing message consistently using your brand voice is challenging especially in situations where you have a team and, possibly, outside vendors who are content creators for your brand. It is critical, therefore, to do the work upfront to clearly define your brand voice in as much detail as possible.


Understand how your audience makes decisions


Understanding the steps required to move your audience (let’s assume a customer or a donor) from awareness through consideration and final action is a critical foundation for creating your marketing message. Once you understand how your audience makes decisions, you will be able to craft marketing messages and offer the information they need to move to the next step in the process.

Ground your marketing message in a big idea


In one of his TED talks, Simon Sinek outlines a compelling argument: People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. For him, this translates into his Golden Circle. Where most marketers start with what they do followed by how they do it (leading with features), he urges people to start with why you are doing it, followed by how and then what.


Why? Understanding facts, figures and features don’t drive behavior. Instead, when we start from why, we are communicating directly to the limbic brain that controls behavior and we allow people to rationalize their behavior (buying, donating, partnering etc) with what and how. Do you know why you are creating a company or a non-profit or launching a product or a service? What is the purpose of driving what you are doing? What is the big idea you are enabling? What was the spark that ignited you to create something new?


If your organization, product or service exists to deliver a positive social impact, then your purpose is clear and the main challenge becomes how best to describe it in your marketing message.  If what you are doing solves a real-world problem that is more pragmatic, it is still important for you to be able to tie it to a greater good. This could take a number of forms. The shoe brand, TOMS, for example, solves a simple problem: people need comfortable, casual shoes.  The big idea is “ONE FOR ONE” – when someone buys a pair of TOMS, the organization will donate a pair of shoes to someone in need. The company has been built around this idea which has become part of their ethos. This has allowed TOMS to expand into other businesses. When you buy a coffee product from TOMS Roasting Co, the company provides safe drinking water to a person in need.


Your big idea could also focus on how your organization operates, the values that drive your culture. This may have nothing to do with what your organization actually “does.”  A recent study by Glassdoor, for example, found that employees love working at companies with mission-driven company cultures, where they have clear career opportunities, and where senior leadership teams make them feel valued and are transparent with how they communicate with employees. If creating an outstanding culture is an intentional strategy at your organization, it should be part of your brand message, especially when you are looking to recruit. Once you have identified your company’s big idea, hire a great writer to create a powerful narrative that describes it.


 

HOW TO CREATE A MESSAGING FRAMEWORK


STEP 1

Define your audience and develop personas.

STEP 2

Describe the big idea you are working to enable. How are you leading with your values?

STEP 3

Audit your existing messaging.

STEP 4

Analyze your competitor’s messaging.

STEP 5

Discovery your unique value proposition.

STEP 6

Create your elevator pitch and define your value promises.


 

How to create a messaging framework


Once you have decoded your audience by creating a persona and have identified and described the big idea your organization is energized by, it’s time to start the messaging process.


In reality, the exercise of creating a messaging framework is simultaneously a science and an art. At Sugarbird, we have developed a methodology, the science, that is a three-step process that starts with uncovering your unique value proposition for this audience.

Audit your existing marketing message


First, we gather all existing audience-facing materials, if any exist, so we can see how you have been talking about your offering to date. If you’ve gone through a formal messaging exercise in the past, it can be helpful to do an audit of how consistently your team has adhered to the resulting framework. If you’ve never had a messaging framework, it is interesting to document all the ways you talk about your organization or your product (whichever your messaging is directed to) across your website, collateral, presentations, social media etc. Without a framework, each time someone in your organization creates a piece of communication for a particular audience, they are essentially starting from scratch using their own ideas. The result can be a bit schizophrenic.

Check your competitors


The next step is to review competitor websites. If you don’t have competitors or are a non-profit, look at organizations who are adjacent to what you do. Our goal is to uncover their implicit brand messaging so you can develop messaging for your offer that is unique. Use a structured approach to do this. Create a template that allows you to capture consistent data for all competitors. Things to look for:  What do they say above the fold on their website about what they do? Is there one sentence somewhere that describes their offering (sometimes this is the boilerplate in their press release)? Who do they say their customer is? What are the features of their product/service? Do they identify any ways their offer is different? What benefits do they say they deliver?

Claim your space in the market


We also want to understand what category your competitor’s offerings falls into. This is particularly important if you are creating a new category or are trying to stand out in a crowded field. It’s not enough, for example, to say that your offering is a predictive analytics platform. Clearly, this is too broad and barely gets you into the ballpark. You need to add a few descriptors:  Financial performance analytics platform, for example. Your goal is to claim your unique space in a familiar market space. Your goal is to be included in a consideration set when your audience starts looking for a solution to their problem.

Defining your unique value proposition


Value proposition, unique selling proposition, brand benefits, there are various terms to describe your “why.”  Why is what you are doing special and different?  Why should your audience care, what’s in it for them? This is the crux of the work that is required to create brand messaging that is compelling, differentiating and effective.


Uncovering your unique value proposition or your brand benefits is at the heart of the work that needs to be done to create a brand messaging framework. It’s worth taking the time to do it right.  At Sugarbird Marketing, we have developed a structured approach that is embodied in our Value Proposition Workbook. This workbook contains a set of questions that forces you and your team to think through your offering in a holistic way. A client who recently completed the workbook said: “This forced me to think about some incredibly important stuff.” The truth is that none of the questions are earth-shatteringly insightful, but when you work through them all, you are forced to fill in all the blanks and be very honest with yourself about what it is you are delivering.


We do include a number of questions that allow you to think about the impact that you want your message to have on your audience. How you want them to think, feel and act. This is critical because your messaging should engage your audience intellectually and emotionally if you want them to act.


There are two ways our clients work through this value proposition discovery process. Ideally, we host a 2-hour workshop with 6 to 10 members of their leadership team. We encourage them to select people who are heavily invested in reaching the audience the marketing message is intended for.  We go through the process of asking the value proposition discovery questions and we write down everything that everyone says, as verbatim as possible. We make it clear that we are not driving to consensus, we are merely gathering everyone’s thoughts. There is no resolution at the end of the workshop. Rather, we have a rich set of notes to work from. For solo founders or organizations on a budget, we offer the option for them to complete the workbook on their own, with our guidance.

While we gather a range of information from this process, the most important is three value promises you are making to this audience that embody your brand benefits.


These brand promises have nothing to do with you and your capabilities and everything to do with the transformation the audience can expect for themselves. How will you make their lives better? What will they be doing differently? What direct benefits can they expect?  Will you have them save money or free up time or change the way they work? These three promises are the core of your organization’s unique value proposition.


Once we have a hypothesis for what these promises are and the direct impact or brand benefits they deliver, we interview people who are representative of your targeted audience – customers, investors, partners etc. We ask them similar questions so that we can validate whether they value the same things that your team identified.




Crafting brand messaging is a bit of an art form


Now comes the art. We take these value proposition inputs and use them to create your brand messaging framework, starting with the three value promises and their supporting points – the ways that you are delivering on each promise. We also define the measurable impacts or outcomes the audience can expect as well as two or three audience challenges that each promise resolves.

Delivering an elevator pitch or a brand narrative