But, these small intricacies can lead to larger issues, such as writing in first person versus second person, articulating the value you’re providing, and understanding your competitive advantages. This can cause your messaging to feel disjointed and can confuse your consumers on what actions to take, if any.
Without a messaging strategy toolkit, you may also experience differing opinions and confusion from your teams about how to message to your audience, stakeholders, and prospective customers. Maybe your sales team thinks your company’s affordability is its main selling point, but your product team thinks your company’s focus on low costs is beginning to cheapen the brand.
Creating a messaging strategy is similar to an instruction manual that allows your entire company to align on the following components: your target audience, competitive advantages and areas of opportunity, reasons to believe, brand voice and tone and brand positioning (brand promise, tagline, boilerplate, etc.). Though this may seem like a lot of work initially (spoiler alert: it is!), a messaging strategy toolkit will save you a lot of time down the line by streamlining your workstreams, such as crafting client emails, as well as enriching the value of your brand by enabling your teams to better articulate the brand’s value in presentations and beyond. So, how do you craft the five components of your messaging strategy toolkit?
A target audience is often deceptively complicated. As a strategic creative, I’ve encountered many brands who think they know precisely who they’re marketing to and, through my research, I’ve uncovered that their initial audience is only a minor segment of their target market.
For example, I worked on a collision repair brand who thought their target audience was men aged 16+. Through my research, I discovered that it was actually women, in particular those mens’ wives, who were doing the research in finding collision repair shops, price comparing quotes and making the ultimate decision about which shop would complete the collision repair work. They were not only missing an entire audience segment, but they were missing the people with the purchasing power. A solid messaging strategy toolkit will not only tell you who your target audience is, but will also uncover hidden audience segments you didn’t realize you’re missing.
When shaping your target audience, try to find 2-3 audience groups you know exist. Then, try to find 2-3 audience groups you didn’t know existed by mining internal customer demographics data or using social media sites to find the faces of your actual customers.
Competitive advantages are an opportunity to examine your competitors and articulate where you’re superior. It’s also a place for you to showcase where your brand dominates the market and discuss why your audience is seeking you out.
I like to run this exercise with new copywriters where I introduce them to a brand that’s a bakery and makes brownies and blondies. I ask them to write a tagline for the bakery. Then, I tell them this bakery that makes blondies and brownies also makes them from scratch, without preservatives, artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners or hydrogenated fats in a peanut-free facility. They’ve been in business since 1982. Now, I say, write a tagline for them. This exercise keeps going until I unveil more and more details about the business, including that this bakery employs formerly incarcerated folks, are B Corp Certified and that some of their customers include Whole Foods and Ben & Jerry’s. (The bakery is Greyston Bakery.) The point of the exercise, similar to finding your competitive advantages, is to not just say what you do, but say why and how you’re doing it differently from everyone else. This is a place to demonstrate your worth. You’ll want to write 1-3 sentences about 3-5 competitive advantages that make you stand out from the competition.
Areas of opportunity are where your company showcases its value. It’s also an opportunity for you to notice where your competitors are falling short and can capitalize on filling that gap. In this section, you’ll want to outline what your audience needs and how your brand is able to address or exceed their expectations. If you're a daycare, maybe your competitive advantage is, “An affordable place for childcare within the community.” Then you’d expand on why that’s important to your audience and how your brand is meeting that need better than your competitors.
Your reasons to believe are additional proof points about how and why your competitive advantages matter. Let’s say you’re the aforementioned childcare center and your area of opportunity is: “An affordable place for childcare within the community.” If that’s your area of opportunity, then one of your reasons to believe may be: “At our childcare center, our parents only pay for the days their children need care.”
Your reasons to believe communicate exactly what value your brand or business is providing and how that differentiates you from competitors. The above example of an area of opportunity (“At our childcare center, our parents only pay for the days their children need care.”) would also perfectly show how your childcare center is different from your competitor down the street who may force parents to pay for five days even if they only need three days of childcare. When crafting your reasons to believe, also ensure you’re including reasons to believe in your business over any other competitors, too.
For your brand voice and tone, it’s important to spell out precisely what that encompasses. What does it mean to be neighborly? How can your employees come across as considerate? What does it mean to be approachable? You may also want to provide 2-3 written examples of how that would sound. It’s best to provide relevant examples for how your brand communications work. For example, if the childcare center predominantly answers phone calls and emails, you’ll want to provide how you want your employees to answer the phone with a neighborly tone. Or, you may want to provide an example of how to write a considerate email response.
Your brand positioning is the most crucial part of your messaging strategy toolkit. This will be language that any employee can use companywide to describe your brand or business. Employees may use these communications on your website, in emails to clients and even on printed materials, so it’s important that these messages precisely convey your value. Your brand positioning will include a brand promise, tagline and boilerplate at its most basic level. Depending on what your brand and business needs, you may also choose to include calls to action and other types of messaging to standardize your brand positioning.
A brand promise is a succinct summary of what your business and brand promises to deliver. For fans of the Adventures of Mary Kate & Ashley series, you’ll know that their brand promise was: “We’ll solve any crime by dinnertime.” That brand promise told their clients exactly what they do and what to expect from their business: they are detectives, and if you hire them, you can expect to have your mystery solved by the time you sit down to dinner. (Plus, bonus points since it rhymes and rhymes will stay stuck in the minds of your consumers forever like it has with me.)
A tagline, also sometimes referred to as a slogan, is a few words that summarize your brand, business or primary product offering. Some iconic taglines include Verizon’s “Can you hear me now?” and Dunkins’ “America Runs on Dunkin.” One of my personal favorite taglines is Dollar Shave Club’s “Shave time, shave money.” Without knowing what Dollar Shave Club even does, I know that their aim is to save people time and money with their shaving products. How would you sum up the value of your business in 3-5 words? That’s the job of your tagline.
A boilerplate is a 1-2 paragraph statement conveying your brand summary, including your values and mission. This is content you’ll want any employee to copy and paste across marketing materials, on presentations and when describing your company on the phone. This boilerplate ensures that the way employees are describing your company and the way consumers are receiving information about your company is standardized.