Calibrating brand messaging for a complex business
by Shachar Meron 02.24.21
Your business may be complicated, but your brand messaging can’t afford to be.
Maybe you’re a B2B with highly technical or abstract offerings. Or you have myriad audiences and a convoluted sales cycle. Or your industry is encumbered with heavy regulation, layers of middlemen, nuanced jargon.
We’ve worked with dozens of companies like this. One thing they have in common: the need to communicate more clearly and concisely, so they can better connect with customers and differentiate from competitors.
That’s hard for any business—in a complicated industry like tech or financial, it may feel downright impossible. But complex brand messaging can be tamed, and you may be able to manage much of it yourself.
Here are three areas to focus on, with some tips and resources for each.
One of the most complex projects we’ve ever worked on involved a complex training solution for the US Air Force (think custom-built aircraft meets VR modules). But the most challenging part involved untangling 8-10 target audiences with competing needs, knowledge, and interest levels. Only once we clustered and tiered the audiences could we get unstuck and move forward.
You can have many target audiences, as long as they’re clearly organized and ranked. Begin by listing all your relevant audiences: how many are there? Can you cluster them by common characteristics or need states? Then rank them by order of priority: identifying your primary audience is the most important decision you’ll make, but understanding secondary audiences (gatekeepers, influencers, your customers’ customers) can build influence and credibility.
When we think about audiences, we tend to think in demographics: age, sex, occupation, education, etc. But far more important are psychographics—their needs and pain points, hopes and fears. 56% of the final B2B buying decision is based on emotional factors, according to Gyro’s 2019 State of B2B Survey. That stat surprises people who expect B2B is driven by rational decisions.
So how do you learn all that? Just ask them! A little VOC research does wonders toward managing a complex brand.
B2B offerings are often multifaceted, combining products and services with bundled solutions and consulting/expertise. They can be highly technical, or abstract and intangible. And they typically come with a longer, multistep sales cycle, often extending beyond a simple transaction and into relationship territory.
So how do you organize a complex offering in a way that works?
Start with your customer: who’s buying from you, how does their sales cycle work, and what are they looking for at each step? Then inventory your offerings through that lens. Try it a few different ways and see how they align.
For example, if you organize your portfolio by internal factors and again by external factors, do the two line up or present a gap? Reconciling this can improve sales by reducing confusion and lead to opportunities like solution-based selling, bundling, and value-adds.
Note: sometimes people search your offerings in different ways, and that’s ok. Consider presenting in multiple ways on your website so people can search how they want.
B2B messaging can get complicated quickly. A multifaceted audience or jumbled portfolio is just the start; then there’s companywide points like mission and values, corporate narrative, social responsibility, and proprietary processes. And beyond that are macro-factors like competitive disruption, industry regulation, and societal trends.
Too many brands respond by saying everything all at once, or differently every time. Others lead their product story with technical facts, like a script written from a spec sheet. These approaches assume an engaged audience and heavily trained spokespeople, which is rare on both counts.
The good news: you can say everything, just not at the same time. By building your brand messaging in columns and layers, you can find a home for every message:
Solid messaging is anchored on one key promise (aka main message, aka value proposition) that delivers a meaningful benefit to your target audience and differentiates from competitors.
Build upon that promise with 3-5 key benefits that serve as messaging “pillars.” These points should complement one another without being redundant, and may be calibrated for different audiences.
Support each pillar with a handful of tangible proof points—things like product features, performance data, and third-party validation. These details help provide the evidence and the "so whats."
There’s a time and place for complexity—every industry has its own lingo and landmines, and some products are intended for select expects. But if your offering is hard to get, it can kill growth or invite a lesser competitor to invade your territory.
With brand messaging focused on a well-understood audience and clean brand architecture, you can create a platform that can expand or contract based on the medium and timeframe, and dial key benefits up or down depending on the audience.