At some point in your business, someone’s probably said to you that you need to work on your brand messaging. “It’s really important,” they’ll say. But what is it, why do you need it, and how do you make sure brand messaging is helping your business? What is Brand Messaging? At its core, brand messaging is helpful to think about as an interaction of three things: What your company is about on a deep level Who your customers are What message actually resonates with them Why Brand Messaging is Important Great brand messaging tells your customers exactly who you are in a way that speaks to them and brings you closer together. If you can understand who you are and what will connect with your customers, you can weave that brand message through all your marketing work. We’re talking slogans, your landing page, voice and tone guidelines, and your advertising. All of it can be traced back to what you stand for and communicating it to customers so they see the value and want some of that. How to Create a Brand Messaging Framework Ever seen a perfect slogan? Like Dollar Shave Club’s “Shave Time. Shave Money.” Or Lay’s “Betcha Can't Eat Just One.” Or L'Oréal’s “Because You're Worth It.” There’s a “well, duh” element to each line because it so perfectly encapsulates what the companies stand for. But when you read them, you’re seeing just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot of work wrestling with a brand messaging framework that leads to those few words as a logical conclusion. So for brand messaging that feels authentic and unique, that can guide your choices as you show up in marketing materials, and will bring you closer to your customers, you need one thing first: a brand messaging framework. Step 1: Uncovering Your Brand Pillars Brand pillars are the three to five values that your small business brand stands for. This is your DNA, the building blocks of your brand messaging. Let’s try an exercise for a local bakery, called Flour Power. First, we ask ourselves a few questions: What is different about Flour Power? Differences make a difference. We want to know what our competitive advantage is. What do people love about Flour Power? Not like, LOVE. What do we give to them that no one else does? What’s the problem we’re trying to solve for people? This could be our mission, our reason to exist. Good brand messaging goes back to places of passion—the things that matter. After answering these questions (in many different ways, with all key stakeholders from owners to employees to customers) you can start clumping themes together. You might realize that Flour Power is much more welcoming than a big bakery. So perhaps we get the value “Warm.” You might see that the thing people love from Flour Power is actually the weird baked goods they try out. We get the value of “Adventurous.” And Flour Power could have giant portions that make people feel taken care of. So we have “Generous.” Warm. Adventurous. Generous. That’s going to be our brand pillars. Our company DNA. Next step up? We need a story. Step 2: Finding Your Brand Story The brand story is the seed of your messaging. We’ll replicate that seed across all channels, adapting it in many different ways. It should be simple, memorable, and obvious. For Flour Power, we might try a few versions that touch on each of the brand pillars in some respect: Flour Power is a bakery that warms bellies and hearts by sharing our love of life. We warm your soul with endless baked goods you’ve never dreamed of. We bring you endless adventure, fresh out of the oven. I like where number three is going, but I’m curious if I can break it down further: Endless adventure, fresh out of the oven. When I have some messaging framework examples that might work for me, I’m going to check it against my goals. Does it feel like this company and is it unique to us? I don’t want anyone to be able to claim the same thing. Does it speak to our customers? Ideally, we’d confirm this by trying a few versions of the brand messaging out and A/B testing it with customers. This can be done by using two different versions of copy in paid ads, or that’s not an option, asking customers about it directly and seeing which one they prefer (not perfect, but directionally helpful). Once you have a good indication that you have a unique brand message that resonates, you get to codify the voice. Step 3: Voice and Tone Guidelines We know Flour Power is supposed to be warm, adventurous, and generous. How should that look on our website? On social media? In our advertising? I like to have a one-sheet of do’s and don’ts for each key part of the brand messaging. That might look like this: Warm - Flour Power is always inviting, casual, and friendly. We should feel like coming back to your childhood kitchen. But it’s not so over the top as to be off-putting. Do: Welcome to Flour Power—we’re so glad you’re here. Don’t: Welcome to Flour Power!! This is so EXCITING that you’re here! Can’t wait for you to try EVERYTHING!! Now that you have your core messaging and guardrails, it’s time to start applying it to everything. And I mean everything. Step 4: The Brand Audit You’ll want to read over all your marketing materials currently public and ask yourself: does this support the brand messaging? For Flour Power, we’re asking: Does this feel warm, generous, and adventurous? Does this fit our voice and tone? Are we offering something that solves a real problem for our customers? Change everything that doesn’t fit your current messaging. When you’re done, you should be able to show your materials to a new customer, and they should be able to accurately describe what you stand for. And just as important, that should resonate with them. (If there’s ever a time to have some customer conversations, this is the time.) And that’s the brand messaging process in a nutshell. You: Dig deep into what makes your brand different Distill it into unique values and messaging Expand your values and messaging into guidelines that help unify your brand Test your new messaging with your customers and make sure it still resonates. Remember that brands evolve, as does their messaging. To make sure your messaging still represents your brand well and connects with your customers, you’ll want to revisit your brand messaging every one to three years.