Elements of a Successful Brand: Messaging
A brand is a complex organism. This is part eight in a series of articles in which we examine a successful brand’s component parts.
Every brand needs a voice. Messaging provides the words that help customers and prospects understand a firm’s value (why it’s useful) and values (what it believes in). It articulates the brand’s promise and stimulates desire for a firm’s services. Brand messages tell a story that gets people excited about your services and rallies them behind your flag. In the war for customers’ hearts, messaging leads the charge.
Messaging can take various forms—a tagline, ad slogans, headlines, your sales pitch—but they all share a few common traits. Persuasive brand messages are always brief and convey critical aspects of a firm’s brand. And they often intentionally oversimplify concepts that, in reality, may be complex and nuanced. This oversimplification is a good thing, however, because the goal of a brand is to be noticed, remembered and desired. In an over-communicated world, the only way to get inside the minds of prospects is to whittle away at your message until it comes to a sharp point. You may leave some details on the floor, but the thrust will really drive home and stick.
The Core Brand Message
Behind every great brand is a fundamental core brand message: a compact statement that declares why the brand matters, what it stands for and how it is stands apart from competitors. It’s a well you can return to again and again when you need inspiration or need to remind yourself what you stand for. A core brand message communicates the values and key differentiators that define the brand. And above all else, it makes people in a firm’s target audience sit up and… care.
The core brand message will shape all of a firm’s subsequent brand marketing messages. A firm’s tagline or ad slogan may closely match the words in its core brand message, or they can take a different form. What’s important is that all of a firm’s brand messages describe aspects of the brand that are relevant to its clients.
We create messages to address different needs. A firm that struggles to differentiate itself in the marketplace, for instance, may formulate a tagline or marketing campaign theme that contrasts itself with the rest of the industry (Avis’s “We try harder” comes to mind). Many messages convey specific services or benefits, and they don’t have to take the form of a marketing slogan. They may simply be key characteristics of your services, or they can be headlines on your website.
Whatever form they take, brand messages have to be relevant to your audiences. If you have multiple audiences — different industries or job functions, for instance — you will want to develop key messages that address the interests of each. There may be considerable overlap of messages between audiences, but there will almost certainly be points that are more relevant to one group than to another. For example, consider what the CEO of a prospective client might need to hear. Then compare that to things you might tell a prospective employee. Their interests diverge pretty quickly.
Crafting messages that are concise, easy to understand and tell a coherent story can be a lot trickier than you think. After you’ve gone through the process of developing messages targeted at different audiences (an outside facilitator or consultant can be a huge help), you’ll be a lot better prepared to explain your brand. And once you’ve found your voice, you’ll discover that people suddenly do a lot more listening.
Your Messaging Checklist
Not sure if you’ve got your messaging right? Check your brand messages (those that speak for the entire the firm, not just a single practice or product) against the following criteria:
- Does your core brand message offer anything different from your competitors?
- Are your messages simple, easy to understand and compelling?
- Do your messages reflect reality? Brand messages must be based in reality to be believed. A little aspiration is okay, so long as you are moving in that direction and the claim is plausible.
- Do your messages resonate with your target audience? Do they say anything interesting?
Taking Your Message to the Marketplace
Your messaging isn’t just reserved for high-level marketing and advertising. It can play an important role in selling and closing business, too. The final piece of your messaging strategy is to write up a playbook that addresses common objections you encounter in the marketplace. You will need to create sections in the playbook that speak to each of your key audiences.
Under each audience, write down all of the common objections you’ve encountered when selling your services. For instance, “Why would I choose your firm over Firm X, the market leader?” Or “I’ve been burned buying similar services in the past. How do I know you will be different?” Then answer each objection in turn, referring to your key messages and core brand message for inspiration. When possible, support your points with specific evidence—proof makes your argument much stronger. Some of your audiences may have similar questions. But you will probably adjust the answers to fit their differing expectations.
A messaging playbook can be a fantastic resource for training your sales team—and ensuring that you use your key messages at the moments when they are most persuasive.
The messages you use to describe your firm are critical. They shape the way people think about your firm, and they arm prospects with concrete reasons to prefer you to other options. If you haven’t thought through your brand messaging strategy yet, it’s never too late to start.