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Pick up any guide to brand messaging, digital or analog, small-business-focused or addressed to multinational conglomerates, and you can be sure to find reminders to be consistent. Consistency and clarity are the keys to effective brand messaging,
But is brand messaging an art, a craft or a science? And how can brand teams create messages that stand out from the competition and stand the test of time? Answering these questions and developing outstanding brand messages helps shape public perception, expand a brand’s target audience and drive business success.
Understanding brand messaging
Brand messaging refers to how your brand speaks to its audiences. Including verbal and nonverbal elements, effective brand messaging conveys a unique value proposition and your brand personality. It ties language, visual features and design elements together with the company’s products and services. Together, they form the basis of consistent communications that your audience can relate to.
To develop effective brand messaging, your brand team needs to be clear about the brand’s identity and target audiences.
1. Identifying Target Audience and Brand Persona. Except for very few brands — Coca-Cola comes to mind — rarely any business markets to everyone. Most leading brands, including those with a global audience, target specific population segments.
Before considering brand messages, define your target audiences. Start by listing demographics such as your audience’s gender, age, geographic location and disposable income. Demographics alone may give you enough information to split your audience into different audiences.
Next, think about your audiences’ needs, pain points and preferences, and ask yourself how your brand can address those. Dove’s long-running ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ is an excellent example of this. The campaign made it clear that it wanted to break down unrealistic beauty standards and reach women who felt they were not represented by brands touting unreachable ideals. The campaign has a wide audience, which is not unusual for this consumer brand.
Narrowing down your target audience to some degree is the first step toward brand messaging. Defining a brand persona will help sharpen potential brand messages further. A brand persona is not unlike your brand identity. It humanizes your company and makes your brand relatable by allowing potential customers to think of the brand as if it were a person. Integrating your brand story into your brand persona is another powerful tactic to make your business more relatable.
2. Defining Brand Positioning, Tone and Voice. Moving from audiences and personas back to your brand, think about what sets your brand apart from its competitors. Does your business occupy a certain niche within your market, for example? If yes, your messaging needs to align with that market position to differentiate yourself from other brands in the same space or with similar offerings. Spending time analyzing your brand position helps clarify the unique value propositions your brand team wants to communicate in your brand messages.
Brand tone and voice address how you want to communicate your brand messages. Older audiences will respond better to a more mature tone, whereas younger audiences will likely find it easier to engage with more casual messaging. If you want to speak to a specific niche audience, you may even consider using jargon with which the audience can identify. The most important thing is that your tone and voice align with your brand persona and values.
Developing key messages
By now, your brand team should have written documents detailing your audience(s), brand persona(s) and the tone and voice you want to use to reach potential customers. It is time to distill this information into key messages at this stage.
Writing key messages tends to take time and requires several iterations. Ask yourself how those messages tie into the brand’s unique value propositions. Do not be afraid to shorten and refine those messages.
Some of the best brand messages are very short. Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ is one of the best-known examples of this approach. Despite its simplicity, the message communicates an athlete’s commitment to training harder, getting better and eventually becoming great.
Applying key messages internally and externally
Applying key messages effectively starts internally. Think of your team as brand ambassadors. These are the first people to help spread your brand messaging widely and authentically. Avoid assuming that your entire team understands your brand messages intrinsically and instead plan training or familiarization sessions to ensure every department and every team member understands the importance of consistent communications.
Speaking of consistency, your brand messages must be aligned across all communication channels. Even if someone has never engaged with your brand on a particular channel, they should be able to recognize the business.
Dove is a good example of this. Across its website, social media and other channels, the brand uses real women rather than models to highlight its products, making them instantly recognizable.
Testing and measuring the impact of key messages
Before settling on final key messages, consider A/B testing variants of your messages with your audiences to gather data on which option will likely be more impactful.
Once your brand messages are being distributed across your digital marketing and communications channels, start measuring their impact. Different digital channels allow brands to evaluate a variety of key metrics. Starting with likes and comments, you may also want to analyze the underlying sentiment of the engagement you receive and whether your messaging has the desired impact on audience perception.
Effective brand messaging combines elements of being an art, a craft and a science. Measuring effectiveness involves science. Messages and identities are crafted, but there is an art to that. The most powerful brand messages create strong bonds with your audiences and help your brand grow for years to come.