Every business needs a brand messaging strategy in order to create a consistent brand image in the minds of its customers.
In essence, your brand image is what comes to the mind of the consumer when they hear about and/or interact with your business.
Here, it’s important to make a major, business-saving distinction before we go any further: What ultimately matters is not what you think of your business, but what consumers think about it.
Thus, the best way to ensure that your brand image aligns with your perception of your brand is to deploy a uniform brand messaging strategy across every talking point with consumers.
This, at its very heart, is a marketing message strategy that starts with two do-or-die tasks:
Failing to know how your brand communicates to solve problems is not an option.
“Your brand is the single most important investment you can make in your business,” said Steve Forbes, Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Magazine. If you take Forbes advice, then developing a comprehensive brand message strategy is a prerequisite task for every successful company, whether B2B or B2C.
The absence of a branding message strategy in the world of advertising leaves your company out naked in the cold.
"If you don’t give the market the story to talk about, they’ll define your brand’s story for you,” said David Brier, CEO of Fubu, a famed retail clothing brand.
On the reverse side, companies that do take active steps to develop a brand message can increase revenue by 33%, a study by LucidPress found out.
In this article, we’ll explore the 8 elements of a successful brand messaging strategy, including:
At the end of this article, you’ll be able to define and deploy your brand messaging in such a way that your brand perception and the consumers’ perception will align.
The first and primary element of a successful brand messaging strategy is a clear and precise understanding of your target audience and ideal customer personas (ICP).
“The most important thing to remember is you must know your audience,” said Lewis Howes, author of The School of Greatness.
Before you can create a brand image that matches your brand perception, you must first understand the people that will be interacting with your business.
Your brand messaging does not need to resonate with everyone in the universe. In fact, it shouldn’t!
“If no one hates it, no one really loves it,” according to Jessica Walsh, co-founder of Sagmeisiter and Walsh, a NYC-based design firm.
Therefore, your first task is to gain clarity about your target audience.
For an existing business, the best way to proceed is to use the insights you already have. These include:
In addition, you can (and should) also conduct customer interviews to supplement the analytical information you have from the three sources above. During an interview with your current customers, try to understand
Such information will help you understand the rational and emotional components of your audience’s buying decision.
If your business is new, however, you will have to depend on brainstorming about your target audience and doing competitor research. Look at your competitors’ social media accounts and website to get all the information you can about your target audience.
Once you understand your target audience, consider if you can divide them into segments based on demography (age, gender, education, location, income), psychography (personality, values, attitudes, interests, lifestyles) and behaviour (purchasing and spending habits).
For example, a financial advisor that serves professionals in Malaysia can have a different segment for young professionals who have low income and another for older professionals with high income and a house. He can also have different segments for professionals in healthcare and another for those in tech, depending on the factors he believes will make them interact differently from each other.
After this, you will create an ideal customer persona (ICP) for every segment to define what a member of each segment is like.
A customer persona is a fictional representation of an ideal member of a customer segment (or a target audience if you don’t have customer segments).
A typical customer persona will include information like the name, age, location, language, spending habits, interests, challenges and pain points, goals, interests, and the buyer journey of an ideal customer.
Take a look at the below examples to get a better idea of what a customer persona should include.
A detailed understanding of your ICP is essential to your brand messaging.
First, you need to know the challenges and pain points of your ICP before you can communicate the message that appeals to them emotionally and make them “fall in love” with your brand. Consumers love brands that ‘get’ them and know their challenges and pain points.
Secondly, you need to know where your ICP lives online and the way they speak and describe their challenges.
Practice social listening once you discover where your ICP spends most of their time. Listen to how your ICP talks (the tone) and what they are saying -- how they are describing themselves and their problems and their beliefs, habits, values, passions, and goals.
This element of your marketing message strategy is rightly the longest because businesses today rise and fall on how well they understand their audience. Those who launch successful, viral, and contagious brands and product/service offerings are those who have spent enough time trying to understand who their customers really are.
The second element in a successful brand marketing strategy is defining your brand promise.
Now that you know the challenges and pain points of your ICP as well as their goals, how does your brand help them overcome their challenges and pain points so they can achieve their goals?
In essence, what’s your brand promise?
Gary Fox defines brand promise as the “value or experience a company’s customers can expect to receive every single time they interact with that company.”
How do you define your brand promise?
First, make a list of the goals of your ICP and rank them from the most important to the least important.
Second, identify the top pain points that prevent your ICP from achieving their most important goals. Now, rank those pain points from the most painful to the least painful.
Third, consider what your brand does best to solve the most painful and urgent pain point of your ICP and lead them to achieve their most important goal.
That is your brand promise.
Moreover, your brand promise should be stated in a way that is simple, credible (believable), unique, memorable, and inspiring.
Below are the brand promises of some brands from the Gary Fox blog:
There is, however, a big hurdle to overcome once your promise is crafted.
Many consumers today don’t trust companies. Research by Gallup shows that only 50% of consumers expect a brand to fulfil their brand promise.
Therefore, when your ICP sees your brand promise, they are likely not confident at first that you will deliver.
This is why reasons to believe (RTBs) are important.
Basically, RTBs are the answers you give to the doubt that your ICP has about your ability to deliver on your promise.
“Your RTB could be anything from your experience in the field, to proven results and testimonials, to products backed by extensive research or science,” said Amanda Paull, Head of Marketing, Certified Languages International, an interpreter and translator company for healthcare providers.
“Your customer is skeptical because they’ve heard the promises before. Their clarion call is: Prove it to me.”
For a new business, your RTBs can be the experience and achievements of your founder pending the time you establish yourself in the industry.
Amanda has a very helpful 7-part system you can use to define your RTBs:
RTBs is one of the elements of message strategy that many brands tend to ignore.
But in a world where customers are naturally skeptical about businesses fulfilling their promises, it has become an invaluable step to crafting a successful brand messaging strategy (to say the least).
Many businesses in your niche will make the same brand promise as you. If you promise low prices, they will do the same.
What then should you do?
The solution is not to jettison your brand promise but to say it in a way that differentiates you from other brands. And this is where brand positioning comes in.
While a brand promise can be more generic, a brand positioning must be very specific to you -- almost impossible for your competitors to copy.
Simply put, your brand positioning is the unique way you help your ICP achieve their most important goal by overcoming the most painful challenge.
Before your brand positioning can be successful, you must do thorough competitor research.
Sujan Patel, co-founder of Mailshake, an email marketing software company, identifies five ways to position your brand (among others):
Before you even think of communicating with your ICP, ensure you have nailed your brand promise, RTBs, and brand positioning.
Now it is time to begin thinking about a company narrative. That is, your brand story -- one of the most difficult and important parts of a brand messaging strategy today.
“Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make but about the stories you tell,” said Seth Godin, Founder and CEO of Do You Zoom, a research company in New York.
Therefore, instead of communicating your brand messaging merely in a string of prosaic sentences, your company will need to craft a story around it, bringing your brand promise, RTBs, and brand positioning to the fore.
For example, in the About Us section of the BeardBrand website, there is a story that details the pain points that led to the founding of the company. There are anecdotes that highlight how the founders grew frustrated with existing products and how they decided to make something that will solve those frustrations.
Stories are trans-ICP (useful for every ICP). Humans love stories because they resonate with us. We put ourselves in the plot and empathise with the experience of the characters. Stories call forth our deepest emotions. When your ICP can connect with your brand emotionally, you have won. Stories can help you do that.
What led you to start your business? Which specific reasons align with your ICP pain points and challenges? What is the story behind your current brand promise and positioning? What did you overcome along the way to creating this business?
Weaving all of these into a cohesive brand story can be a game-changer.
Another way you can do this is by replacing yourself with the customer. Instead of you being the hero of the story, make your ICP the hero. Create an historical or fictional story where your ICP is the hero and your brand the supporting character that helped your ICP overcome the hurdles to achieving their goal.
Apple, Land Rover, and Disney have done this type of customer-centric brand storytelling in recent times.
Any of these two approaches will work well.
In addition to knowing your story, consumers want to know the values that drive your business. Therefore, another element of a marketing message strategy is brand pillars -- also known as core values.
Having core values that align with your customers’ values is good for business.
Research by Customer Thermometer shows that 13% of customers would pay up to 50% more for your offerings if they believe that your business makes a positive world impact. 89% of shoppers stay loyal to brands that share their values and 43% of customers spend more money on brands they are loyal to, according to Fundera.
“Your culture is your brand,” said Tony Hsieh, former CEO of Zappos.
Your brand pillars are the core values that guide your operations as you seek to deliver on your brand promise and positioning. Like brand positioning, your brand pillars must be specific to your company.
Don’t just copy the core values of another company. Ensure that your core values match the expectations of your ICP.
One of Google’s core values is, “Democracy on the web works.” This speaks to their brand promise and positioning. Another core value is that, “You can be serious without a suit,” which speaks to their young audience.
A core value of American Express is, “We support our communities by backing and promoting small businesses.” In a world where there are concerns about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), they show that their values align with their ICP.
Coca-Cola believes in “Diversity: As inclusive as our brands.”
Notice that companies’ core values are now beyond “integrity, team work, loyalty, accountability” and the other vague big concepts we are used to hearing ad nauseum.
Now, companies are taking a stand on social issues that affect their ICP. In fact, 64% of consumers around the world said they would buy from a brand or boycott it based on its position on social or political issues, according to research by PwC.
Brand pillars and core values must go beyond the regular cliches and speak to the heart of your ICP.
SEMRush defines tone of voice as “how your brand chooses to communicate with your audience, including the choice of words, communication style and emotional tone.”
The elements of message strategy we have considered focus on what you say to your ICP. Tone of voice focuses on how you speak to your ICP.
Remember that when defining your ICP, one of the critical elements is knowing where they congregate online and how they speak. This is where that data is useful.
You want to ensure that your tone of voice when communicating your brand message matches with the expectations of your ICP.
According to SEMRush, there are four key choices to make:
Once you have decided on the tone of voice that fits your brand and aligns with your ICP’s expectations, you will have to create a brand voice chart that includes the Do’s and Don'ts of your communication.
You will also include specific vocabulary and grammar rules that delineate how your tone of voice should work when communicating with your ICP.
At this stage of your brand messaging strategy, you already know what your brand message is and how to communicate it (tone of voice).
The next step is to identify some message strategy examples by looking at where your brand messaging will appear.
It’s essential to repeat that your brand message must be consistent throughout all these channels. Of course, you won’t repeat the same words throughout.
However, the message behind the words must be consistent throughout.
The purpose of the tagline or slogan is to communicate your brand message in a few, catchy, memorable, and impactful words.
AirBnb’s tagline is “belong anywhere,” a simple and memorable description of a company whose brand promise is to help people find accomodations whenever and wherever they travel. The tagline of Apple, a company whose brand positioning is innovation and creativity, is “think different.” There is an alignment between the brand message and the tagline.
Your elevator pitch is a short 15-second to 30-second description of what your company is all about. This is the place to tell a short version of your brand story through the company-led or the customer-led approach.
Hubspot has 12 great examples of elevator pitches using both approaches. Below is an example of the company-led approach:
And then the customer-led approach:
Your mission and vision statement are one-sentence or two-sentence descriptions of your brand promise and positioning and what you hope to achieve with that promise.
The mission statement of Tesla, whose brand positioning is its innovation and creativity, is “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” Amazon also infused its brand positioning in its mission statement: “To be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and endeavors to offer its customers the lowest possible prices.”
The vision statement must also be consistent with the mission statement. Tesla’s vision is “to create the most compelling car company of the 21st century by driving the world's transition to electric vehicles.” The brand positioning is evident again.
It’s the same with Amazon: “Our vision is to be earth's most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”
When writing your blog posts, your tone of voice and style guidelines are very important. Every blog must communicate your brand message with careful adherence to your brand’s voice.
Tone of voice guidelines are also extremely important with social media posts. Every social media platform differs in terms of the expectations of the users. LinkedIn is a more professional platform compared to Facebook and Twitter which are more personal and fun.
It’s essential you understand which of the social media platforms your ICP prefers and the tone of voice that is popular on that platform. The way you speak to an ICP on Twitter will be different from the one of LinkedIn or Pinterest.
One way to use your message strategy in advertising is to create brochures that communicate your marketing message strategy simply and quickly.
Whatever product or service you are promoting with a brochure, you must not forget your brand message. With a brochure, your verbal and visual brand strategy must align, communicating the same message.
A corporate narrative is a story about your brand promise (what you do), brand pillars (core values), and vision (future plans). The three aspects must communicate the same message. Most especially, your future plans must line up with your vision statement.
The corporate pitch presentation (or pitch deck) is a visual representation of your brand story in slides. They are important in meetings with partners, co-founders, and potential investors.
This is a good opportunity to tell your brand story in a way that combines visual and verbal brand messaging. The key is to tell your brand story and get your audience (partners or co-founders or potential investors) rationally and emotionally connected to your brand.
Another way to use your message strategy in advertising is through direct mails.
Direct mails are similar to brochures. Whatever product or service you are promoting, ensure you communicate your brand message with a consistent tone of voice. Also, the visual and verbal message strategy must blend.
For EDMs, ensure that every email you send aligns with your tone of voice and that whatever product or service you sell represents your brand.
You can also communicate your brand messaging through advertising, whether on Search or Social. Search ads on Google, Bing and other search engines are designed to match user intent. You display your ads to reach people who are already searching for something relating to your brand and products. Therefore, you need to know the keywords the searchers will use and create ads that match the queries.
On the other hand, social media ads focus more on targeting people with certain demographic and psychographic features that are relevant to your business. These people will see your ads even though they had no intention to see them. You must quickly identify their pain points in the language they understand and form an emotional connection that will get them to click.
Aside from search and social ads, you can also use display ads on websites and mobile apps. Like social ads, display ads must quickly connect emotionally with viewers by communicating their pain points in a language and tone of voice they understand.
Adapt your brand message to the platform and the type of ads you are using.
While all the above examples have focused on the use of your brand messaging in marketing and advertising, your brand message is also essential to other non-advertising communications.
In addition to reporting your performance for the past year, the annual and sustainability report can be an opportunity to re-emphasise your brand identity to all stakeholders, communicate future plans to better achieve your brand promise, and reiterate your brand pillars.
Your tone of voice should also reflect your brand identity. Consistency is key!
Internal communication is where your brand pillars must shine forth most. Remember again that your culture is your brand, according to Tony Hsieh.
Therefore, your memos, among other internal communications, must seek to build and reiterate a culture that reflects your brand pillars.
Similarly, your internal communications must show consistency in your tone of voice.
Your public relations communications must also put your brand message at the center-stage with the same tone of voice and commitment to your brand pillars.
Consistently communicating your brand message through these various means will ensure that the consumers’ perception of your brand aligns with your perception of your own brand.
Such consistent presentation of a brand has been shown to increase revenue by 33%, according to Lucidpress. This is not surprising since 90% of consumers now expect a consistent brand experience across all channels/platforms, according to Crowd Spring.
In other words, consistently communicating your brand message is now both beneficial and compulsory. And if Steven Forbes is right that money spent on your brand is the most important investment, you should be willing to go all the way to achieve this consistency.
Brevo is a creative marketing agency that can helps brands create and deploy successful brand messaging strategies. Contact us if you need help creating a successful brand marketing strategy.
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