Messaging strategy is hard. Defining a shortlist of things that make your business unique, then packaging them in a compelling way—it’s the sort of exercise that leaves most people with a handful of generic bullet points and an ulcer.
Messaging strategy fits right in that sweet spot between brand strategy and creative writing (our happy place). So if it’s your job to articulate what a company needs to say, here are six tips to help you get there:
1. Don’t go it alone.
The most effective messaging strategy kicks off when you get a good mix of people in a collaborative worksession (one or two 90-minute sessions, in-person or virtual). We recommend 5-10 people of various roles at your company, providing a variety of expertise and POVs; this may even include outsiders like your best customer/partner, an Implementer or a brand strategist.
2. Map your messages.
You’ll want to consider relevant features, benefits and values your company offers, and evaluate each one against both a) how strong/unique you are, and b) how much your audience cares. To help with that, we’ve developed a messaging tool you can use, complete with instructions and examples; there’s also a walkthrough video from our Unlock Your Uniques webinar.
3. Be honest with yourself.
Don’t assume your audience cares about something they don’t, and don’t pretend you’re great/unique at something you’re not; you’ll end up building a messaging house in quicksand. This is where I often see great debates between a Sales Director and a VP of Product Development: “we’re the best at it!” “Everyone says that!” “Our customers really want this.” “Do they, though?” That’s healthy.
4. Find your sweet spot.
Focus on areas where you’re really great, and where your audience really cares. If there’s a big one that stands out, this has the potential to drive your main message (aka your promise, value proposition or niche). If there are two or three, see if there’s a common thread, or if they fit together to tell a cohesive story. This will shape your web content, elevator pitch, corporate narrative, marketing and sales tools, creative campaigns, etc—so vet them extra well (see “don’t guess” below).
5. Beware the danger zones.
Two types of messages to watch out for. First, when you’re great or unique at something but your audience doesn’t care; focusing here can be an uphill battle (may be worth educating your audience over time, but ineffective as a key message).
Then there are situations when you’re weak in an area where your audience cares a lot; consider how to address these (reposition as positive, prepare to overcome objections, invest in R&D or training to improve), but don’t waste valuable seconds (or inches, or pixels) with half-baked messages.
6. Don’t guess.
The experts in the room may draw from personal experience and anecdotal evidence as a starting point, but you’ll want to validate with research: run a survey, do customer interviews, confirm how they really feel. (I’ve worked with many companies who tout their long history or quality materials, only to have research uncover it doesn't matter to their audience.) Also, look into your competitors to make sure just how good/special you really are. It’s all relative.
Defining a powerful messaging strategy is exciting and exhausting, frustrating and fascinating—and absolutely necessary at a time when the average American sees 4-10,000 brand messages a day. So whether you’re a new business or just newly defining your brand, use these tips and our messaging tool as a starting point, and let us know if we can help!