Messaging: Starting the conversation

Messaging is the story your brand tells to the world.

What is messaging?

Messaging consists of the big ideas behind what your brand says. It is a powerful tool that guides what you want to talk about and how that conversation will evolve over time.

By building off your brand’s positioning, messaging helps you tell a consistent and compelling story across all your communications. It articulates what you stand for. It highlights the things only your brand can claim. And while your copy may flex and change depending on the context, those big ideas stay the same. In other words, if your brand’s voice is its style, messaging is its substance.

To be differentiating, your messaging needs to articulate the intersection between what’s authentic to your brand with what’s relevant to your audiences. Only then can you define the conversations you want to engage in and own.

Think about sports brands. All of them need to sell the same type of athletic gear. So how do they do that while differentiating themselves from each other? The savvy ones zero in on a big idea that’s true to their brand and taps into the aspirations of their customers. Whether that big idea is about performance or potential, it allows those brands to encourage an association that comes through in all of their communications, positioning them apart from their rivals and pushing their brands forward.

Messaging facilitates understanding and—through that understanding—a desirable brand experience. If your audiences understand why your brand exists in the world, they will be more likely to listen to what you have to say and share with you what they want from the relationship.

A solid foundation

How do you start building the right story with your messages? As messaging springs from your brand’s positioning, that’s a natural place to start.

To create a solid foundation for your messaging, your positioning should articulate your vision and values within the context of your market. It needs to stake out the most distinct and inspiring claim your brand can make vis-à-vis your competitors.

In taking a closer look at your positioning, you may or may not want to conduct research to confirm that it is still a distinct point of view. At the very least, you’ll need to know whether your employees see it as their “north star.” Does it point to the brand experience you want to create? Is there a gap between what senior leadership wants to say to the world and what frontline employees say to customers on a daily basis?

Once you’ve established that your positioning is on target, think about your audiences. Who are they? Does your brand align with what they expect from you? What conversations are they having with (and about) your brand? With your competitors? And what’s the best way to reach them?

Your audiences will expect to co-create their experience with your brand, so the conversation should go both ways. And, while you need to speak up to stand out, you must also listen closely to what your audiences are saying (and not saying).

Because it’s not about simply parroting back what you’ve heard—it’s about understanding where they’re coming from so you can tell the story of how your brand fits into their world. Only then can you start to create your messages.

Keep it simple

Messaging is a tool. Your messages need to be expansive enough to represent the big ideas you want to associate with your brand, but they also need to be instructive.

Too lofty and your team may not know what to do with it. Too pedestrian and you limit the scope of what you want to say.

By articulating your big ideas simply and concisely, you give yourself the room to express them, not just in one way, but in a million and one ways. It’s all about reinvention. Finding new perspectives that keep you fresh, but recognizable. Building messages that will last means that they must inspire dynamically consistent content that tells your story today and tomorrow.

You’ll also need to gather proof points or reasons to support why your messages are true. While your proof points will change and grow with your business, they ground your messages in fact, building your credibility with your audiences.

So if you’re that sports brand, and you’ve positioned yourself with a specific point of view on performance, how are you building that perception in the market? Perhaps your messages focus on two themes: superior technical expertise of your product designers and helping athletes get and keep a ‘performance mentality’. And in identifying these themes, you can assess how each of your products and services support the story. With these themes in place to guide your creative briefs, you can move the brand toward its desired position long-term and still have the flexibility you need to achieve immediate marketing objectives.

And, while your messaging platform should flex across all of your audiences, it can be helpful to refer to profiles of those audiences to better tailor your content. In rare situations, you may need to customize your messages for specific segments. If your brand is launching in a new geography, for example, you might not have the credibility to claim certain messages. That said, creating discrete communications requires investment, so only do it where it will have the most impact.

Deploy and measure with gusto

Because your messaging drives home why your brand is better than the competition, it should guide your creative expression at every touchpoint. From your CEO’s town hall to your social media content to sell sheets, messaging helps you tell a consistent story regardless of the context.

It also serves as a litmus test for where your brand shows up. And that’s where content strategy comes in. While your messaging calls out what’s distinctive about your brand, your content strategy outlines how to align it with your marketing strategy, map it to the conversations you want to own in the marketplace, and deploy it across channels and hallmark moments for your brand.

This is where the proverbial rubber hits the road. Whether it’s created or curated, audiences today have an insatiable desire for branded content. Deployed correctly, messaging brings your story and your audiences together to shift perception and own your positioning.

Once messaging is deployed, don’t forget to measure the associations your audiences have with your brand and how those associations evolve over time. Do people understand what your brand is about? Are you leading the conversations you set out to own? Are your audiences truly engaging with the content you’re putting out into the world? Measure, tweak and redeploy as needed.

Own your story

Without messaging, there is no story. It ensures that your brand has a chance to tell the world why you exist—and invites them to respond.

Contributors

Director, Verbal Identity