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Bringing Brand Strategy to Life: Creating Killer Brand Messaging

By Michael Randall

A critical point in brand development is always translating brand strategy into relevant, engaging messaging that accurately represents a B2B brand personality.

To ensure messaging is conveyed well, it is important to leverage good thinking done in the strategy development and logically apply it to each defined audience. Throughout this process the components of the strategy, such as the positioning statement and personality attributes, act as filters to ensure messages are tailored, yet remain representative of the brand.

Here is a basic process for translating strategy into messaging:

Establish “The Who?”

It is important to begin with a fundamental understanding of a company’s target audiences, internally and externally. A team should define what drives / motivates each audience category. Consideration can include communication channels, specific pain points, brand delivery, and the positioning of specific products or services.

A recent example I can cite is a client in the business analytics category. The brand is making a fundamental shift, primarily targeting decision makers like CIOs or VPs in information management – those more tied into the business strategy – and needs to deliver a message that illustrates how analytics can be used to leverage the customer’s data as a business asset. Previously resources were targeted toward technical audiences who were more concerned with how to integrate software and technology solutions. Now this company must DO WHAT?

An example to follow, perhaps: IBM recently launched its new “Made by IBM” campaign during the Masters golf tournament, much watched by C-suite executives. IBM chose to focus its efforts on 40 to 50 unique TV spots during the four-day event. Rather than running a few ads over and over again, IBM reached and engaged its audience with a series of relevant ads during an event important to its audience.

Define “The What?”

Having established an audience, a relevant message can be tailored to them. For each audience we review the foundational pillars of the brand. These pillars represent what is compelling, authentic, and differentiating about the brand; for example Service, Innovation, or Insights. Depending on the audience, and purpose of the communication one brand pillar may be emphasized more than others. This step basically serves the function of prioritizing the focus of the message to each audience; what do we need to tell them?

We’ve seen this step as a common challenge when working with service companies. With clients such as Hitachi Consulting, ZS Associates, and Ironside, it is often their people and inherent expertise that differentiates them. However, when everyone claims their people as the differentiator that then becomes an ante into the game for services companies. Therefore, we must dig deeper to define what it is these unique experts deliver for their clients that cannot be replicated elsewhere.

Harvard Business Review is a great example of a brand that delivers a relevant, customized message and content for each unique audience and topic. The publication, website, and all its associated content is an extension of the Harvard brand, delivering a message that continues to create equity.

Develop “The How”

Lastly, the brand’s personality attributes–such as “collaborative,” “modern,” “driven,” and “dependable”—should be applied to the message and  guide the tone of the marketing. We also are mindful of our word choice to ensure language is consistent with what is used in the brand strategy, in particular the positioning statement. Consistency is critical in all facets of brand communication; similar to using the same logo and color palette in design, we use the same language and style to create recognition with our target audiences.

Often this step can get out-of-hand, resulting in verbose, jargon-riddled copy that ends up sounding generic to the sea of competitors saying the same things. So how can this be prevented? By leveraging the foundational components that make up a brand strategy. The most critical step in writing on-brand messaging is to not forget the work that has been done. That may seem obvious, but often, writers can have their own sense of style and lose track of the foundational direction, tone of voice, and key talking points that represent and distinguish the brand.

We often run into this issue when developing copy for a new / redesigned website. The “About us” is where we must introduce the brand effectively, delivering a differentiating message. From there the site can continue to dive deeper into specific areas that differentiate the brand and provide supporting points that prove its credulity.

Assign responsibility

Taking a step back, it’s easy to ask who’s responsible for making this happen. The answer? It depends. It depends on the structure of the company, department, relationship with an agency, etc. It’s likely to be a shared responsibility. Those setting and defining the strategy need to be involved to ensure translation is accurate. Those target audiences need to be involved to ensure the strategy is appropriately applied to each group. Copywriters obviously need to be involved, but need to have an in-depth understanding of the strategy, the audiences, and the channel for which they are writing.

Good copywriting requires understanding and using the brand strategy as a foundation for creating accurate and effective brand messaging. As Michael Wolff, founding partner of Wolff Olins, once said: “Bad writing is not just bad writing, it is bad thinking expressed in words.”

Bad thinking shouldn’t derail sound brand strategy.