What is brand messaging, how it can create a long-term impact on your business, and real-life examples of how it’s helped folks
I’ve been in the brand messaging world for quite a few years now…which means I know exactly the glazed-over-what-even-is-that-wait-I-don’t-care look people get when I utter the two words “brand messaging.”
I don’t even have to get into what it is.
The words alone do it.
What a snooze fest.
It’s such a vague-sounding concept and way less sexy than a logo or a tagline.
Heck, even “brand strategy” or “branding” by itself is more exciting.
So why does, when we add “messaging” to “brand,” it becomes an optional activity?
This whole article is here to tell you why you should care, and care a lot, about the very un-sexy sounding deliverable of ‘brand messaging.’
What the heck is brand messaging?
Most people assume brand messaging is a company’s mission statement or tagline.
You know, the message!?!?
The first thing people think of that everyone remembers, easily!
That’s the message!
Or they mix up brand messaging with a slew of other slightly similar but definitely-not-the-same-thing terms like
- brand positioning
- brand story
- brand purpose
- brand promise
Here’s how some incredibly smart people (and reputable internet blogs) define brand messaging:
- Brand messaging is how a company expresses their values and priorities. It’s the foundational core of their voice and personality. Brand messaging’s job is to create a feeling. – Jess Kiernan
- Brand messaging is your voice and how it represents the rest of your brand. The messaging is the actual expression of your brand decisions. – Amy Posner
- I define brand messaging as the points a brand wants or needs to communicate, while how it sounds is where copywriting comes in. Good messaging is built on things like the brand strategy (positioning, vision, values, big idea etc) and customer identity (now + aspirational, reiss’ basic desires). – Ami Williamson
- Brand messaging is the way your brand communicates its unique value proposition and personality through its verbal and nonverbal messaging. Your messaging can inspire and motivate them, making them want to buy your product. – Hubspot
Brand messaging is why your brand exists in this world, who it serves, and how it communicates that.
Think of it like a font.
Brand messaging is your base font, like Times New Roman or Roboto.
Copywriting is that font style used for different purposes: bold, italics, subtext, footnotes…you get the picture.
Font = brand messaging.
Style = copywriting.
When I deliver a brand messaging guide, it typically includes
- Voice and tone – how you show up in the world
- Stakeholders’ underlying emotional states and how you support them
- Positioning manifesto – your rallying cry of why you matter
- Theory of change – your unique approach to the work you do (if this, then that)
- Marketing pitches – example of how to put the messaging into action
- Content pillars – what should you talk about in your marketing
- Brand guidelines – how to put it all into action
Everything a company needs to go out and build a legacy.
Brand messaging is an asset, not a tool
Some quick definitions here.
Asset: property owned by a person or company, regarded as having value and available to meet debts, commitments, or legacies.
Tool: a device or implement used to carry out a particular function
Your website is a tool.
It’s designed to carry out the function of attraction, engagement, and conversions.
Your brand messaging is an asset.
It’s what helps creates the legacy of your company.
One of my clients has shared the brand messaging document I created for his company with every single new teammate.
He’s done this for over 4 years now.
That document has helped teammates onboard faster and with a lot less management on his part.
Now, I don’t want you to picture a 50-page document here.
My brand messaging documents are, on average, 10 pages long, delivered via Google Docs.
Brand messaging documentation that is highly designed in a sweet-looking PDF is nearly instantly unusable.
You can’t easily copy/paste or adapt your document as the years go by.
Brand messaging is only helpful if it’s actually used.
Google Docs means that clients can easily track what changes have been made, copy/paste, and make multiple copies without worrying about f-ing up the design, and frankly…it’s easier to read.
Another client of mine hands over the brand messaging guide to new hires who are put in charge of the day-to-day promotion of their services.
A well-written and easy-to-use messaging guide mean he doesn’t have to look over the new employee’s shoulder as they’re creating their first campaigns.
The guide gives enough information to inspire the teammate to ideate and implement a campaign that still falls within brand parameters.
Brand messaging guide = creative freedom.
Brand messaging negates the verbal selfie
In mid-2022, I went to a morning event where one of the speakers used the term “verbal selfie.”
He was using it in a very different context, but my brand messaging brain started firing.
If your marketing is just based on what you think sounds good—it’s just a verbal selfie.
You’re reflecting what you think and feel. But your customers see the world very differently than you.
I mean, look at what I’m doing right now in this blog.
I understand why brand messaging is important because it’s my expertise.
Not everyone does though, hence the need for this blog.
Without research and feedback loops, anything you create is a verbal selfie.
Great brand messaging is rooted in Voice of Customer (VoC) data, marketing research, and deep analysis.
It makes sure you’re reflecting how your customers think about what you do, not how you think about what you do.
Why is this important?
You want people to connect to your brand, become loyal followers, and buy stuff?
You need to reflect your customers, not yourself.
One of my clients, while reviewing the Research Report I created that included the findings from customer interviews, was surprised to find what their clients were actually struggling with. We used this information to craft an updated brand message. Once they started implementing it into their website and marketing material they saw a 25% increase in business in the first month alone.
Negate the verbal selfie.
Connect with your ideal clients.
Brand messaging is your bandwagon
Why is your marketing not working?
Why is it so hard to close a sale in a reasonable amount of time?
Why are engagement and retention soooo hit or miss?
Connection and consistency.
Connection is fixing the ‘verbal selfie.’ (see above)
Consistency is all about standards.
Brand messaging gives you both.
Most marketing campaigns struggle because of one of two things:
- The overall messaging and idea missed the mark (verbal selfie)
- The campaigns weren’t given enough time to actually work
Brand messaging creates consistency in your marketing, no matter what campaign you’re launching right now.
Too often, companies try to reinvent the wheel every single month, wonder why things don’t work…then reinvent the wheel again.
If you’re constantly reinventing your messaging, how in the world can your customers get on your bandwagon?
If you’ve done the research and the brand messaging development work, then you not only have a really awesome wheel, you have an entire damn bandwagon.
Through storytelling, voice, and tone, your clients will be able to recognize your cool bandwagon over other bandwagons and gladly hop on.
No more bumpy confusing rides.
Brand messaging is your path toward consistency and a fricking awesome bandwagon stuffed full of really excited customers.
Brand messaging defines what and why you do what you do
Every business is a business because it sells stuff.
Without selling stuff, it’s a name and nothing more.
But how do you decide what ‘stuff’ to sell?
- Should a business coach also have downloadable social media content templates?
- Should a marketing agency also have an e-commerce shop full of cute mugs with pithy phrases?
- Should an SEO agency also offer custom photography?
At first glance, you might say ‘nope’ to all of these ideas.
- But maybe the coaching business is focused on helping people put themselves ‘out there.’
- Or the agency works with a lot of local coffee shops and stocks some of their cute mugs?
- Maybe photography is part of the whole SEO package, including photos + alt tags?
What matters with all of these examples is that these fictional companies understand at a deep level why they exist, who they serve, and why it matters.
Great brand messaging dials in on the reason your company exists and by doing so dials in on what you could potentially offer to your audience.
Brand messaging is to innovation as websites are to sales.
The key here is that brand messaging is the place where you can ideate within constraints.
Which leads nicely into my last point…
One of my clients is a recruiting firm. Their message was “a recruitment firm who doesn’t believe in recruiting.” Their approach to job placement is focused on human-to-human connection, not resume-to-posting. When they launched their crowd-sourced referral platform, it freed up their team to focus on the human, not the hunt. And it also helped countless people find a job that was the perfect fit for them.
Brand messaging is a decision matrix
I saved the most important for last.
Brand messaging does a heck of a lot of things, but I think the most impactful thing is to help business owners make decisions.
As I’ve shown and said throughout this article, brand messaging is what creates your legacy of awesome.
It’s your bandwagon.
Your new-hire onboarding asset.
Your easy path to connecting with your ideal market.
And your ticket out of decision-fatigue hell.
Every business owner experiences decision fatigue.
You have to make a million decisions every day, and every day you’re worried that maybe that decision will be your company’s downfall.
Should you offer that course?
Sell that product?
Launch a new service?
I don’t know, does it align with your brand guidelines?
For every single messaging guide I create, I always add brand guidelines at the end.
They are what puts your voice into your everyday context.
Brand guidelines aren’t a checklist.
They are a list of three questions.
The voice I designed for a recent project was these three traits:
I turned them into three reflective questions.
If they can answer “yes” to at least 2 out of 3 questions, the decision they are about to make would be in line with their brand.
These questions are what create consistency.
It’s what makes your audience nod along to new offers and not think “wtf is this?????”
In fact, the client of the example above took their three brand guideline questions and turned them into her screensaver.
So, why should you give a cluck about brand messaging?
It’s an asset that gives you a pathway toward building a sustainable, thriving business with a bandwagon full of loyal customers.
Yeah, definitely NOT a snooze fest.
Want to get started on designing your brand messaging?