When an actor plays a part, they become someone else. Their message is no longer their own, but their character’s.
Branding is a lot like that.
You can include a little bit of yourself in your creative marketing efforts, but your foremost goal as a marketer is to represent your brand.
So how do you ensure that your language, your tone of voice and your visuals remain true to your brand messaging in every piece of content you create?
With a brand messaging framework.
What is a brand messaging framework?
A brand messaging framework is the foundation for all of your brand messaging. Unlike a literal foundation, it isn’t a tangible thing. It’s a collection of efforts, documents, guides and statements that help you “stay in character” whenever you represent your brand in any media.
This framework isn’t just important for you, though. It also ensures that any third-party marketer, freelancer or partner who works with you can speak on behalf of your brand.
(I can’t begin to tell you how often marketers adopt the “I know it when I see it” mentality to brand messaging. If you can’t articulate your brand personality to someone else, then you don’t know it well enough yourself.)
How to create a brand messaging framework
Building an effective messaging framework doesn’t necessarily entail creating a proper messaging matrix. A chart or template may be useful for summarizing your framework once you’ve created it.
But you don’t start with a template (contrary to what you may have read elsewhere). That’s far too confining. Instead, start by identifying and articulating the elements that will impact your core messaging. Once you have those down pat, you can figure out the best way to represent them.
To get you started, we’ve identified the 5 core steps involved in creating a brand messaging framework:
1. Identify your target audiences
Phase one of your brand messaging strategy is to identify your audience. Keep in mind that your key messaging may reach people who aren’t buyers, but who can influence buyers. This is particularly true for B2B businesses where decision-makers aren’t necessarily the end-users.
To identify your audience, you’ll want to look at the following:
- Demographic data in Google Analytics (age, gender).
- Customer data in your CRM (job titles, location, likes and dislikes).
- Your existing email subscribers.
- Anecdotal information from your salespeople and marketers.
- The different ways customers use your products (and which features they use).
- Any other information you might have on hand about your users, buyers and/or readers.
Once you’ve done this, you can put the information together into an audience profile. Here’s an example:
Key points to remember:
- A great message is only great if the receivers think it’s great.
- Frame your brand story and key message around what your target audience will think is great.
- Expect to create multiple audience profiles (after all, there’s probably more than one type of person using your product or service).
2. Articulate your value proposition(s)
Value proposition is more about positioning than about pointing to a single feature or functionality.
Saying that your company has the most intuitive products or services in the industry isn’t enough – you need to articulate how that differentiator adds value.
This is why it’s so important to know your audiences. Before you can offer them value, you need to know what they find valuable.
To articulate your value propositions, identify all the ways that your products or services add value. Some examples might be:
- A unique pricing model.
- Improved productivity.
- Cost savings.
- Greater employee satisfaction.
- Social benefits (e.g, sustainability).
- Boosted confidence.
It’s fine to have more than one value proposition. The more selling points, the merrier. Each of your value propositions is a messaging pillar that will help define your brand positioning statement (that comes a little later).
Key points to remember:
- Strong brand messaging demonstrates value, not features and functionality; after all, people only care about features if they have value.
- Don’t just focus on eliminating pain points; figure out how you’re adding value.
3. Audit your existing messaging
Look back at your existing content marketing efforts to assess how you’ve previously framed your brand messaging.
As you scan your social media profiles, blog, website, YouTube page and other channels, pay careful attention to:
- Who your implicit audiences have been.
- How you’ve framed your value proposition(s).
- If you’re demonstrated that value (with thought leadership and value-added content).
- Brand voice.
- Your brand’s visual identity.
If you’ve never gone through the trouble of creating a brand messaging framework, you’ll likely find inconsistencies. You may also discover examples of content that don’t add much dimension or texture to your brand. Or cases where your brand voice and personality are all over the place – oscillating between fear-mongering, sarcastic wit and academic meanderings. Or bad stock photos that have no uniformity in style and tone.
Some of what you discover may outright horrify you. Just look at the headline, lead and stock photo of a blog post we wrote back in 2010:
Now compare it this 9,000-word post we created about how to do keyword research in 2020:
Which one do you think does a better job representing our brand and showcasing our value?
Key points to remember:
- Document your findings – good and bad – as you audit your existing marketing content.
- Audit your marketing message at least once a year to make sure your brand positioning is still relevant; great branding is a moving target.
4. Create your messaging guide
Your audience profile helps you figure out who you’re talking to.
Your value propositions help you know what to say.
Your messaging guide helps you say it the right way every time.
Start by patenting a brand voice. Think of your brand as though it was a person:
- What kind of language would this person use?
- What details would they fixate on in their writing?
- What types of analogies would they favor?
- Would they use a lot of idioms, or say things in plain language?
- What tone of voice would they use (humorous, satirical, academic, direct, clever but relatable)?
Conduct a similar exercise to help you mold your visual identity. Think about how this person – your brand – might decorate their house:
- What color palette would they use?
- Would they go for a sleek, modern and elegant look or something baroque?
- Would they furnish minimally, or pile on the pine?
- Would they spring for a Persian rug or something mid-century modern?
- Would they hang classy black and white photographs, or fun, cartoonish posters?
Once you’ve mulled over the details of your brand voice and aesthetics, create an actionable messaging guide that includes, at a minimum:
- An explanation of your brand voice in writing with examples.
- Textual style preferences (e.g., serial comma or none?).
- Your brand typography preferences (including spacing).
- Your brand color palette.
- Examples of iconography.
This part of brand messaging is so important. Your style guides provide direction for creatives as they execute your content strategy.
Key points to remember:
- How you say something can be just as important as what you say.
5. Finalize your brand positioning statement and logo
Your brand positioning statement is, for lack of a better phrase, an elevator pitch. But it doesn’t pitch a product or service. It pitches your entire concept as a brand.
At its core, a positioning statement explains four things:
- What your brand does.
- Who it does it for.
- Your differentiating values.
- The outcomes of those differentiating values.
It does not exhaustively list your value propositions, products or services. Here’s an example of really great brand positioning statement from Beautycounter:
What makes it great?
- It’s succinct.
- It’s written in Beautycounter’s voice.
- It’s memorable.
- It clearly conveys what the company believes.
A brand positioning statement – sometimes called a “brand promise” – is the closest thing you have to a summary of what your brand is all about. You don’t necessarily have to share it with the world, but it’s important to have one to help guide your messaging.
Likewise, you’ll need a logo. Unlike your brand positioning statement, your logo will be shared with the world. It is a visual representation of your brand and needs to be carefully designed to express your values. It’s no easy feat, but we’ve provided some guidance on how to create a killer logo elsewhere on this blog.
Key points to remember:
- A great brand positioning statement articulates how you want your brand to be perceived; it is the identity you go to market with.
- Your logo is the visual encapsulation of that identity.
- If you feel inclined, feel free to also come up with a pithy brand tagline (e.g., ours is “Fuel Your Brand”) – but think of it as an accentuating detail, not a guiding principle.
Putting your brand messaging framework to action
Now that you have your brand messaging framework all scoped out, the real work begins: Content creation.
Remember: Use your brand messaging framework as the ground floor upon which every piece of content is built.
Do that, and you should have no trouble at all creating a consistent, memorable and consistently memorable brand experience.