Here’s a typical scenario. After lengthy discussions, the team finally agrees. The current brand messaging is outdated and inefficient. Something needs to be done. They hire a creative expert that comes up with a great new headline and some copy for the landing page. The homepage gets redone, everyone’s happy, the end.
On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with this scenario. But what about older campaign landing pages? What about feature pages or individual product descriptions? Is the sales team left with the old collateral? What I’m saying is that brand messaging should enable the whole organization to have clear and consistent communication.
This is why I prefer to use a modular brand messaging framework rather than work on copywriting for a single page. I’ll share with you my template, along with some recommendations on how to set things up.
What is brand messaging?
While researching this article, I saw there seems to be some confusion on what brand messaging is. So let’s clear things up.
Brand messaging is the amalgamation of words and phrases that communicate the essence of your business and the value your products and services bring to your target clients. The length and format of brand messaging vary quite a lot (I’ll share with you my preferred format in a bit). But it should enable you to communicate your value succinctly and clearly across various customer touchpoints.
What brand messaging isn’t
I’d often see brand messaging conflated with the following branding elements:
- Slogan – while the slogan is a distilled version of your core brand promise, it’s just one phrase. It can’t provide the versatility needed to communicate the many aspects of your brand value in different channels. It’s also a constant phrase and doesn’t allow for variations your company’s teams might need. My beef with slogans is that they focus too much on creativity and dismiss the strategic value of clear and consistent communication.
- Mission and vision – let’s set aside the question of whether mission and vision are actually useful pieces of communication. If you have them outlined, good for you. But the mission and vision usually represent the brand’s point of view. They don’t really tell customers what’s in it for them. They also focus on the strategic high level rather than the attributes and value creators. They talk about the long term, while brand messaging focuses on the here and now, the immediate ways you help customers achieve more.
- Value proposition – the value proposition is the essence of the value you provide. CXL has a great piece explaining value props in detail. However, it only covers the general brand message and is relatively short. The brand messaging framework talks about specific product attributes in more detail. While a value prop is rigid, a framework allows for more versatility and adaptation.
Now that we have a clearer idea about the essence of a brand message let’s look at the framework.
What is a brand messaging framework?
A brand messaging framework outlines the key messages the brand wants to communicate and provides “plug and play” variations of each key brand attribute. It’s a master document that shows how you’re making a meaningful change in your customers’ lives. As the single source of truth, the brand messaging framework will enable you to communicate clearly and consistently across marketing channels, company departments, and all customer touchpoints.
What is a messaging framework good for?
Creating a messaging framework takes time and effort. But it’s an investment in your long-term success.
- Saves you time – I prefer to set up a messaging framework before working on landing page copy. It’s a massive time saver. Once you define the framework, your page copy practically assembles itself, and there are much fewer revisions because you’ve already aligned everyone’s expectations.
- Saves you mental energy – no matter how many campaigns I’ve created for the same brand, I’d often fall in a creative slump when I need to prepare a new ad campaign or rewrite email copy for the umpteenth time. A brand messaging framework is your source of inspiration. It helps you return to the most important things you need to say and say them every time.
- Keeps your brand consistent – many brands would focus on one thing in their marketing and use completely different messages in their sales collateral or client support. A well-documented framework allows you to break down company silos and ensure you’re saying the same things, no matter the department.
- Makes your brand succeed – research shows consistent messaging increases revenue by 23%. It’s a single statistic, but it stands to reason. There’s clear evidence that familiarity breeds trust and liking. The more consistent your messaging is, the quicker you’ll get to that point of recognition and trust.
Hopefully, this gives you enough motivation to work on your messaging framework. And here are the steps to do it.
Steps to build your brand messaging
“Good copy isn’t written; it’s assembled.” It’s no coincidence that this is one of the favorite David Ogilvy quotes copywriters use. It combats the far too common belief that writing is just writing. In reality, 80% of writing is research, and that’s even more true with strategic stuff like brand messaging.
So let’s look at the different sources of information you’d want to use in crafting your messaging framework.
What do your target customers want?
Your messaging needs to resonate with your target audience, and the only way to ensure that is to know your target well. Like all copywriting projects, this one should involve some qualitative research. It can be analyzing your existing audience with surveys, conducting interviews, or analyzing external sources of information.
Using message mining to analyze existing reviews and online chatter about your product category is a quick and easy way to get a lot of valuable external data.
When analyzing your target customers, you’re essentially looking for two types of insights:
- What do customers want to achieve, how are they using different products to reach their goals, what are their pain points and anxieties.
- What specific words and phrases do they use to describe all that – you’ll want to mirror their language as closely as possible.
You want to understand the specific value attributes customers are interested in so that you can find the ones you deliver exceptionally well and convert them into your brand pillars. Higher-level customer goals and desired outcomes will make the foundation of your general brand messaging and the value proposition.
What do your competitors promise?
You can’t craft your messaging framework in a vacuum. You need to be aware of what parts of the competitive landscape are already occupied. After all, you don’t want to sound like a carbon copy of your fiercest rivals.
You can use the same message mining technique to analyze your competitors’:
- Landing/Sales pages
- Ad copy (through tools like Facebook Ads Library, MOAT, or SpyFu)
- Email content
Then compare the list of value attributes customers want and the list of competitor messages. Where are other brands strong? Where can you provide a more compelling case, be it with more appealing copy or more specific proof points? This will give you the final list of crucial message pillars you’ll want to address in your framework.
Research is always helpful but don’t stay in research limbo forever. Dedicate some time to this (it usually takes me a few days’ work to get research done – a bit more if we’re running a customized survey). Then move on to writing.
Elements of a brand messaging framework that will truly serve you
My brand messaging framework contains a few key sections that come in handy in all sorts of situations.
Market category and competitor differentiation
The information in this section is used mainly for internal reference rather than copy purposes. But it’s a crucial reminder that keeps you alert and honest about your positioning.
- Your market frame of reference – the product category people compare you with. It’s just a few words, but they serve as a powerful reminder of where you’re standing in the customer’s mind.
- Competitive alternatives – what other solutions would people use to solve the same problems you’re helping them solve? Think beyond direct competitors, and you’ll quickly realize that “doing nothing” or “hiring an intern to do it” can be a viable competitive alternative for many clients. Add a few sentences explaining how your solution is better than these competitive alternatives.
The next section in the framework covers your overall brand messaging. Although it’s right at the top in the framework document, it’s the one I usually end up writing last. That’s because it’s a collection of the key pillars. I first want to be happy with them and reuse some copy in the general messaging to keep things consistent.
I usually create three variations of the standard brand message:
- 100-word description: a paragraph-length text that’s ready to be used in articles, listicles, and general pieces that talk about your brand in more detail.
- 50-word description: this one is ideal for social media descriptions or an introduction to your brand on a landing page.
- One-liner: a single sentence that’s ready whenever someone asks you to define your brand. It can be used as a headline on your landing page or the short phrase accompanying your brand name in articles.
Each of these variations needs to include the desired outcome customers are seeking and, if the space allows for it, (some of) the key pillars that set you apart.
These boilerplate messages are ready whenever you are in a hurry to send a reporter more details about the brand. They also make sure all team members know how to communicate your brand.
Key messaging pillars
The following section covers the key messaging pillars you identified during your research phase. I try to distill everything I want to say in 3-5 messaging pillars. These include:
- Your key differentiators – the things you do exceptionally well and differently from your competitors.
- The most important features and value drivers for your customers – the benefits you’ve seen most customers care about.
- Table stakes characteristics – these elements might not be unique to you, but they need to be communicated to eliminate customers’ anxieities when making a purchase. Think free/fast shipping, guarantees, no setup fees, etc.
When talking about “messaging pillars,” don’t imagine that each pillar covers only one feature of your offering. They usually communicate a mix of features that bring a specific type of value to your customers. The focus is not on technical characteristics, but the value users experience.
Here’s a straightforward example. If you’re a camera brand, you can have product features like auto-focus, a big censor with lots of megapixels, and high sensor sensitivity. When combined, these features allow users to get really sharp photos in every situation. This is the key pillar you’d want to communicate.
Since you’ll be talking a lot about these key pillars, your messaging framework needs to help you bring the point home without sounding like a robot. That’s why I create a few different messaging variations for each messaging pillar:
- Gain – describe what your target audience will positively achieve with your brand.
- Loss – focus on the key frustration and how your brand helps prospects avoid their key pain points.
- Logical – this message communicates the key proof points that support your claim. Use numbers, facts, and references to prove the benefits you bring.
- Benefit – what desired outcome is achieved in the end?
- Short description – this is a longer text that combines all the information from the previous versions in a paragraph ready to be put on your website or featured in sales decks and one-pagers. Usually, this description should be around 100 words but not more.
- One-liner – an abridged, almost slogan-like version of the key pillar. It can be used as a landing page heading.
You can mix and match these variations when creating new landing pages. You can also use the variation that best fits a specific type of customer. For example, more emotional customers should be served the Gain or Loss version, while more analytical customers would want to see a Logical message.
What else you can add
A few other things you can add to the template include:
- Value proposition – if you often design new landing pages, you might want to keep a standardized version of your value proposition here. I’d usually just mix and match content from the messaging samples to create a new version of the value prop.
- Terms and key phrases – if there are unique phrases you’ve seen customers use over and over again when talking about their dream solution, you can create a list and discreetly weave these in your regular messaging.
- Brand voice directions – the whole purpose of a brand messaging framework is to create consistency. A well-defined brand voice helps with that, too. I usually keep brand voice notes in other brand documents, but you could include some directions in your messaging document.
Frankly, as long as something helps you communicate your value clearly and consistently, add it to your brand messaging framework.
A checklist to assess the power of your brand messaging
Your messaging will have to work hard all the time, so it’s essential to make sure it’s strong and will efficiently communicate your brand’s value. Here’s a quick list of questions you can use to assess your writing:
- Are your messages simple and easy to understand?
- Are messages specific and tangible? Every point should be backed by proof points that can be objectively validated.
- Are your messages in line with what customers want? Do you cover the key customer requirements and align with the desired customer outcomes?
- Does your core brand message offer anything different from your competitors?
- Does your messaging framework reflect reality? Don’t overpromise and underdeliver (still, a bit of aspiration is OK).
- Do you successfully avoid hype? Don’t go all infomercial-style with phrases like “Never seen before!” or “Amazing miracle product!”.
- Are your messages clear of business jargon (“quickly conceptualize backend architectures”)?
Ideally, you want your brand message to cover three key things:
- It shouldn’t take people a lot of time or mental effort to understand what you’re trying to say.
- They should be intrigued by what you’re offering because it aligns well with their needs.
- They should be able to trust what you’re claiming.
How to use your brand messaging document when it’s done
Strategy documents often share a tragic fate. You invest a ton of time in research and writing, only to create something that gets shoved in a desk drawer and never helps your team’s day-to-day work.
To avoid that, make sure you involve different stakeholders during the research phase. Getting contributors early-on helps create a sense of buy-in. This will then keep people curious about the project and more inclined to use the end result.
Once you’ve validated your messaging framework, share it. Make sure it jumps through the department silos and gets used in sales, customer service, or other teams that will find it relevant.
And finally, keep your messaging framework close so that you can use it whenever you’re writing copy for a new ad campaign or crafting your latest landing page. Believe me, no matter how involved you’ve been in the messaging framework creation, the details will start to fade eventually. This is also why my template can easily be printed and kept on your desk for reference.
Cure your brand’s multiple personality disorder
Every day, across every customer touchpoint, you’re making an impression. A robust brand messaging framework will make sure that impression is positive and consistent. And there’s no better time than the present to start working on it. I hope this post will give you a little push to do just that and will guide you along the way.