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Brand Strategy

Challenges Communicating? Try a Messaging Toolkit

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Friction in your messaging may initially appear small. Do you use “stand-alone” or “stand alone”? Should you capitalize the name of that program you just launched?

But these small inconsistencies often hint at bigger messaging challenges. Without a documented strategy, your team can struggle to align on both what to say to your audience and how to say it.

For example, maybe your development team is divided on how to talk about your impact to donors. Or your communications team ping-pongs between emoji-happy and extra-formal on social media. These areas of cloudiness can cause your messaging to feel disjointed and leave your audience confused about what actions to take, if any.

Enter the messaging toolkit. This trusty guide is like an instruction manual for your brand communications, clearly outlining your messaging goals and guidelines to make sure every letter, ad and tweet is on-message. A messaging toolkit is generally broken into two sections:

-Your messaging strategy outlines the key elements that shape your messaging, including your communication objectives, target audience, competitive advantages, positioning and pillars, and voice and tone.

-Your messaging tools are ready-to-use communications that your team can use repeatedly to ensure word-for-word consistency across written and spoken formats. They can include a tagline, brand story, benefit statements, calls to action, and even templates for emails or social.

Though creating all these materials may seem like a lot of work, a messaging toolkit will save you tons of time in the long run. With approved messages at their fingertips, your team can eliminate hours spent creating messages from scratch every time you need an organizational boilerplate or an impact stat. More importantly, a toolkit ensures you're telling your story consistently to your audience, strengthening the effectiveness of your communications.

Sound like something your brand could use? Here's a closer look at what goes into a messaging toolkit.

Communication Objectives

Defining your communication objectives lays the groundwork for your messaging and helps you measure effectiveness over time. While not every communication will lead to a direct action, like a donation or purchase, each message you put out into the world should be purposeful. Some common objectives include:

-Driving awareness for your organization and services

-Keeping current customers or audience members engaged and connected

-Encouraging your audience to register for an event, buy a product, make a gift, or take some other action  

Consider which goals are most important to your organization and which channels are best suited for each one. Aligning your team around key objectives will help you determine which messages and formats your toolkit needs. For example, if your organization is laser-focused on securing major gifts, you'll likely need a set of talking points for your CEO to share in 1-1 conversations.

Target Audience

A target audience is often deceptively complicated. A solid messaging strategy will not only tell you who your target audience is, but can also uncover hidden audiences you didn’t realize you’re missing.

Case in point: A network of charter schools engaged us for a messaging toolkit, and we found through the discovery process that high school students themselves were increasingly the main decision-makers when choosing a school - not their parents. That realization framed our tagline selections and visual direction as we sought to connect with a much younger demographic.

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 about by mining internal customer demographics data or using social media to find the faces of your actual audience members. As your audience groups come into focus, think about which is most important. While defining secondary audiences is helpful for segmented communications, attempting to talk to all audiences equally can muddy your messaging. Let your main audience naturally take center stage.

Universal Audience Needs

What keeps your audience members up at night? Your universal audience needs dig beneath the surface to find the shared pain points that your brand is uniquely equipped to solve. The trick here is prioritization: If you can separate the minor headaches from the true migraines for your audience members, you can create deeper connections by helping your audience address their biggest challenges head-on.

For example, we developed messaging toolkit for a local nonprofit that delivered music education in underserved K-12 schools. Through discovery, we found that these schools and the families who attended them weren't just eager for access to musical training – they wanted a way to teach children resilience and support their overall development. By demonstrating how music education improved memory, reading, critical thinking skills and social-emotional development, the nonprofit tapped into a powerful audience need in its communications.

When defining audience needs, narrow down to the top 2-3 that resonate most across groups.

Competitive Advantages

Competitive advantages are an opportunity to articulate where you shine in the marketplace. To understand how they can work for you, consider this exercise:  

-A local bakery makes brownies and blondies. What tagline would you write for that bakery?

-Next, you learn this bakery makes its blondies and brownies from scratch and without preservatives, artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners or hydrogenated fats in a peanut-free facility. They’ve been in business since 1982. What would your tagline focus on now?

-Finally, you learn that this bakery employs formerly incarcerated folks, is B Corp certified and that its customers include Whole Foods and Ben & Jerry’s. How would you update your tagline?

The point of the exercise 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. When documenting your competitive advantages for your messaging toolkit, write 1-3 sentences about 3-5 competitive advantages that make you stand out from the rest.

Brand Positioning

Your brand positioning is the most crucial part of your messaging toolkit. It's where your audience needs meet your competitive advantages, merging to articulate the unique space you've carved out for yourself in the market. Think of your positioning as your only-ness factor: What's the one thing your audience cares about that you do better than anyone else?

The exact format of your positioning statement can vary depending on factors like your industry, organizational size and complexity of your offerings. For some brands, a simple sentence is plenty; for others, a formal positioning stack is a useful tool (check out these HubSpot templates to get you started).

Brand Voice and Tone

Just like people, brands have personalities. Your brand voice and tone defines how you express your personality through the written and spoken word. While adjectives like "friendly" or "innovative" are a good starting point, don't stop there – give your team specifics that they can apply in real situations. What does it mean for a social post to sound friendly? How can your next digital report come across as innovative? This is a place to include terms to use and avoid, parameters on emoji usage, and examples of recent work across channels.

Messaging Tools

While all the elements above make up your messaging strategy, your tools are where that strategy comes to life. These are ready-to-use communications that your team can pull off the shelf whenever they need, taking the guesswork out of creating a brochure, landing page, donor report or other marketing pieces. The tools you need will vary based on your communications plan, but these are some of the most common pieces we include for clients:

-A tagline, also sometimes referred to as a slogan, is a short phrase that summarizes your brand's primary offering. Some iconic taglines include Verizon’s “Can you hear me now?” and Nike's "Just do it." Your tagline should be front and center in your communications – use it as the headline on your home page, boldly emblazoned on a trade show banner and as the main takeaway in your next social campaign.

-A brand story. This highly emotive piece of content sums up the heart and soul of your brand in a few short sentences. Sometimes called a mantra or manifesto, it exposes who you really are to your audience and invites them into your story. This is the messaging to use when you want to connect deeply – lead with it in a brochure or print it on the wall of your lobby.

-A boilerplate. The brand story's buttoned-up cousin, the boilerplate is heavier on facts than feelings. It's a 1- or 2-paragraph statement that concisely sums up your mission, values and services. This is content you’ll want any employee to use verbatim across marketing materials, on presentations and when describing your company on the phone.

-Reasons to believe. Sometimes referred to as benefit statements, your reasons to believe explain how you're going to help your audience reach their goals and provide credible evidence to back up those claims. For example, if you claim to help customers worry less because you're a trusted partner, your reasons to believe might include how many years you've been in business or a few names of other well-known brands that work with you.

Need a Hand Crafting Your Own Messaging Toolkit?

We can help! Reach out to Statement to discuss how a messaging toolkit can strengthen your communications.

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