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.
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.
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
Define your audience and develop personas.
Describe the big idea you are working to enable. How are you leading with your values?
Audit your existing messaging.
Analyze your competitor’s messaging.
Discovery your unique value proposition.
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
Then, the magic happens. We write the elevator pitch which ends up being a bit of a “paint-by-numbers’” exercise that draws on the value promises, the supporting points and the challenges to create your core message.
The brand messaging elevator pitch should be around 3 paragraphs. The first, ideally, is a single sentence of around 25 words. This sentence should provide the following information:
The name of your offering
The category for your offering (i.e. marketing analytics platform)
The audience you are addressing
The value you deliver (one or more of your value promises)
How you deliver the value (what your offering does)
What impact or outcome your audience can expect.
This first paragraph should communicate everything you need to convey if you only have limited time and space. It should stand alone.
The second and third paragraphs should each convey a bit more information. By the time you’ve finished, you should have used all three value promises and as many supporting points as are useful. Together, all three paragraphs should total about 100 words.
The elevator pitch is supported by its “ingredient messages:”
It is important to point out what your marketing message is not. It is not your brand tagline. Although it should inspire your brand tagline. Why? Because your brand tagline should communicate the core value that your product/service is delivering in an engaging and memorable way. Your marketing message is also not advertising copy. However, your creative team should be using your messaging framework as the foundation for crafting advertising copy. We also strongly recommend that you complete a messaging framework before starting the process of defining your brand identity and brand strategy.
What is a brand messaging architecture?
Every organization – for profit or not – delivers different value to different audiences. This means that developing intentional brand messaging can become quite complex. Creating a brand messaging hierarchy or message architecture provides you with the opportunity to think through your key audiences, both at an organizational and a product/service/division level.
For example, as illustrated on the right, assuming that your company offers more than one product/service, there will be a set or audiences at the organizational level – like investors, potential employees, partners etc. who interact with the organization in unique ways.
There will be another set of audiences at the product/service/division level including different target market segments. Your company may, for example, offer the same product to small businesses as well as large enterprises. The problems your product/service delivers to each of these groups is probably different and they get different value from consuming your product/service. This means that you should develop messaging for each of these audiences separately.
Developing a brand messaging architecture then involves creating a structure that shows how your messages relate to each other and support one another. We recommend a bottoms-up approach to creating a marketing message hierarchy. For example, once you have identified key audiences at both an organization and product/service level and developed messaging for them, the final step is to create all-up messaging for the company that addresses the information needs of a general audience.
Once your brand messaging is final, we always turn them into a formatted document, saved as a PDF that can be shared and printed. It is critical to develop an attention-grabbing communications strategy for socializing your new brand messaging to all employees who interface with this audience. It should become the starting point for any and all communications with this audience: web copy, collateral, prospecting emails, email campaigns, social media posts, blog articles, data graphics, customer service emails and more.
Developing message discipline is essential because it allows you to make sure that your staff is talking to this audience in a consistent way. It also ensures that your value proposition is always placed front and center in all communications.
It is important to remember that your brand messaging is not a slogan or a tagline. Neither is it advertising copy. Instead, it should inform the creation of slogans, taglines, advertising copy, logos and more.
Take it step-by-step
While this brand messaging process may seem daunting, it can be completed step-by-step. Bringing in impartial outsiders to lead the process who have no skin in the game can be extremely valuable. The key step is to define your value proposition as honestly as possible. This is not the time to be drinking any Kool Aid.
Brand messaging examples
The best way to full appreciate how powerful this process is, is to see brand messaging examples. In this first brand messaging example, we share the value promises we developed for a client who offers relationship therapy via couples counseling sessions, couples intensives and workshop, as well as couples retreats. Our goal was to help the client differentiate her offering by creating a unique position for herself in the market. We also wanted to help potential clients understand what they can expect should they decide to work with the client. It was important that they understand how their lives would be transformed. In essence, we wanted to answer the question: Why?
This brand messaging example was rooted in a big idea that guides the client’s work. The client is working to create a better world by helping couples build stronger relationships. Why? People in strong relationships are healthier and happier and are contributing to positive change in the world. They carry healthier relationship skills into their workplaces, families and communities. As parents they raise healthy and happy children, and teach positive relationships for the younger generations. They model cooperation, collaboration and compassion in all their interactions in the world.
From there, we identified three defensible, authentic and unique value promises:
Promise 1: Commit
When you work with us, you will let go of ambivalence and commit fully to your relationship. This means you will be clear about the best direction to take your relationship.
Promise 2: Learn
Gain the tools you need to maintain a healthy and vital relationship by understanding your relationship dynamics and learn a new way of being together
Promise 3: Practice
Create lasting happiness and feel more connected in your relationship by quickly by developing new behaviors and habits
Click here to see the proof points for each of the value promises
Why study Tai Chi?
In the second of our brand messaging examples, we applied our value proposition discovery to the work of a Tai Chi School. In today’s busy world, people have many options when it comes to fitness and wellness. Tai Chi may not always be top of mind when people are looking for a personal wellness practice. Our primary goal, therefore, was to create strong messaging that communicates the value of Tai Chi, and then secondarily, to present the School as the best option for studying Tai Chi.
We identified three value promises for practicing Tai Chi:
Promise 1: Stay healthy
A key goal of Tai Chi is to prevent illness. Many studies show that regular Tai Chi Chuan practice promotes general health including cardio-respiratory and musculoskeletal function, a strong immune system, and emotional and mental ease.
Promise 2: Start moving
Whatever your age or physical condition, Tai Chi addresses the key components of fitness — strength, flexibility, balance, strong bones and cardio-vascular health.
Promise 3: Get clear
More than a simple exercise, Tai Chi is an art and practice that cultivates a relaxed, conscious way of being throughout the day.