A brand messaging strategy is a framework that builds consistency for how sales and marketing teams communicate the value of a product to different customer segments.
It’s way more than a word doc with your organization’s mission statement and values. (In fact, those are the low-hanging fruit of a brand messaging strategy.)
A brand messaging strategy answers the toughest questions facing your business. It includes a clear point of view on your product positioning, meaning where you want your product to fit in the prospect’s mind, and the language used to talk about it.
Where does our product fit in the context of other available solutions? (positioning)
Who do we serve? (positioning)
What unique value do we offer this group of customers? (positioning)
What’s the best way to talk about this value? (messaging)
The most useful brand messaging strategy starts with pulling insights from the minds of customers. Sometimes, early-stage companies with fewer resources make the mistake of locking customers out of messaging. (For all the Hamilton fans, I'm hearing The Room Where it Happened in my head.) No one else was in the room when you came up with new messaging.
Here are six best practices for bringing the right people into the fold so you can create a brand messaging strategy that's ready for the market.
#1: Talk to your customers
We touched on this, but let’s go deeper. Every brand messaging strategy is a guess to a certain degree. But, talking to customers first turns a shot in the dark into a well-informed, intentional messaging hypothesis.
Even if you think you know how customers use your product, take the time to make sure. Listen to the exact words they use to describe what jobs your product enables them to do better/faster, and hear their reasons why this matters. I often tell my messaging clients their customers will almost always surprise them. Talking to customers also helps you understand how they talk about their problems so you can mirror their language in your copy. (Instead of using industry jargon words like seamless, all-in-one, or streamline).
Founders and product creators who know the most about a product often have the hardest time creating compelling messaging to sell it. For one, objectivity and impartiality fly out the window. Those close to a product tend to think in features—what the tool does. They get stuck in a loop of using comfortable internal language that makes it onto their website but likely won’t resonate with prospects.
To get started, focus on customers who signed on with you fairly recently and rave about your product. You want to attract more of these people. Recent customers will have a fresher memory of what made them choose your product.
Good questions to ask in customer interviews:
1. What was going on in your life that made you choose our product? (Hat tip to Louis Grenier and Joanna Wiebe for this question. Ask this instead of a question like ‘Why did you choose us?’ Avoid why questions because they discourage customers from describing the full picture.) 2. What alternatives did you consider? 3. Why did you choose us? 4. What hesitations did you have around switching to us? (It doesn’t need to be another competitor. Sometimes, things like spreadsheets, pen and paper, or the status quo are your strongest competition.) 5. What are you able to do now?
Shoot for a minimum of seven 1:1 interviews up to 15 (you can do more if you have the resources). If you already have a large customer database, surveys are another great addition to your qualitative research. Typeform is a popular tool for this.
#2: Be courageous in your messaging
The scariest part of creating a brand messaging strategy is putting your chips on one big idea. You’ve done the hard work with customer research, and likely see some new potential messaging threads to pull. Historically, it’s been way more comfortable to throw all the potential benefits of your product at prospects and hope one of them sticks. But when you say everything to everyone, you essentially say nothing to the people you want to attract. In the paraphrased words Wynter CEO Peep Laja, a strong messaging strategy forces a choice.
Companies that aren’t category leaders stand a better chance of standing out with messaging that stakes a claim with a specific group of people. Lack of focus and fear-driven, catch-all marketing inevitably snuffs out new revenue opportunities.
#3: Test your messaging first
Fortunately, there are ways to dip your toes in the water before going gangbusters on a new messaging strategy. Think back to how customers talked about their problems before using your product, and what they’re now able to do today after purchasing. Experiment with mirroring that language in sales calls. If sales cycles tighten up, that’s a good sign your messaging is more clear. You could also test new messaging with an ad campaign, social media post, or anywhere you currently engage with your customers in a low-stakes fashion.
#4: Beware of messaging by committee
Honor what your customers say by avoiding the temptation to reach an agreement across a 30-person messaging committee. Identify the smallest group of key stakeholders for your messaging project. Place extra value on the opinions of those closest to your customers. Also know that sometimes, a sign of great messaging is that it makes company leaders uncomfortable because of its razor-sharp specificity.
#5: Include these messaging must-haves in your strategy
Positioning statement: Summarizes what you are, answers who you serve in the market, how you’re different from all the other available options, and why that difference is meaningful to your target audience. I recommend April Dunford’s book, Obv!ously Awesome to nearly every one of my clients who don’t have the expertise on staff yet to handle positioning and messaging and need to DIY.
Value proposition: Summarizes the most important value of your product. If you have multiple audiences, you may need to create value propositions for each segment if the leading value differs for each one.
Brand messaging strategies include other things like a mission statement, values, taglines, elevator pitches, and a lot more. But none of that matters without a clear point of view on your positioning and value proposition. These form the basis of how to talk about your product everywhere, from your website to sales calls.
Wondering how a brand messaging strategy could help improve your future marketing investments? Send me an email.
Annie Obergefell is a B2B messaging & brand voice strategist, copywriter, and founder of Copy Salt. Her specialties include brand messaging and voice development for clients, advertising agencies, and consultancies.
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