When you work in branding, you hear similar things everyday about brand messaging, brand values, missions, values, core strategy…and the list goes on. Clients and people I interact with are often surprised how fast I can cut through the fluff and discern what’s going on, amazed. While its flattering, its really like a being doctor, education and experience create that. In response to a conversation, I thought I’d offer a simple Brand Messaging 101, so you too can discern the major tenets of brand messaging and communication.

What is Brand Messaging?

First, before I can share with you what brand messaging, I want to share what its not.

Brand Messaging is not a formula. Ever.Brand Messaging is not a formula

Brand messaging is not some formula you can put together to execute seamless communication tactics…blah blah blah…those fancy words don’t mean anything. And while this is a “1-2-3” kind of post, we’re talking about principles and big ideas–what I would call variables, but not prescription items that go into a formula. A better term altogether is “equation,” since everyone’s equation is different–and one size does not fit all.

Brand messaging is the voice you use

Its the combination of tone, message, verbals, non-verbals. Its the complete verbal + visual equation of how you express yourself. Most people use their voice in person, but when you’re an organization, you use other things too. Brand messaging is the full range of “stuff” that you use. Its business cards to print to your building–everything that shares yourself with the world.

Brand Messaging is not this easyBrand Messaging is not easy as pie.

Don’t read this article or some trendy book on branding and think, “I’ve got it! Those other people in my office have no clue, and now I do, and I’ll show them. Why don’t they see it?”  This would not be good.

Getting some new information is great, but the non-prescriptive-application process of “how does this apply to me?” is a long journey. If Malcolm Gladwell says its takes 10,000 hours to become an expert, then you’ve better get started. And don’t get pissed when you don’t get a gold star, cookie, or piece of pie right away. You don’t always get a cookie.

Brand messaging takes hard work.

Like communication has value in any worthwhile, healthy relationship (such as a partnership, close friendship or even marriage) everyday you have to communicate.

You have to re-initiate yourself and pursue who you’re committed to. If you’re an organization, brand messaging first starts with yourself, your team, and then the audience / family / clients–pick your favorite word–of who matters to you most. Then do it. And then repeat. We call that “life.” Hmmph.

Major Concepts of Brand Messaging

When it comes down to it, yes, there are principles of Communication 101: Sender, Message, Receiver. Its simply communication theory, right?

None of us would have passed our comm arts degree without this. But brand messaging has a couple more layers. Essentially, within the sender, message, and receiver there are a few givens and questions that are always addressed, such as:

  • Who are you? (How am I to relate to your brand?)
  • What do you do? (Does this brand have any intrinsic value to me?)
  • Why does it matter? (is there mutual benefits to engaging this brand?)
  • Why should I care? (Is it enough to make me act accordingly?)

These seem like some pretty simple questions. And they are. Quite reductionistic in nature, but overall very huge ideas communicated into short interactions. That’s what brand messaging is–big ideas in short interactions.

Here’s the kicker. Essentially before you can have great brand messaging, you have to have a great brand. This is where most people fail.

I call it messaging hierarchy, despite my despise for lofty jargon, because it means what it is, its not a ruse word. Hierarchy means that some things are higher, that there’s a consecutive order–that first things come first. In this case, brand messaging hierarchy is implying that you have to know your mission and vision first, and know what experience you’re focusing on creating as a result. In turn, you can’t start with selling people on your product or service–even though that’s usually the first point of their experience.

Brand Messaging Needs to Fail–at First.

You may find this hard to believe, but after reading this post, some will have the inclination to go take a stab at rearranging their business branding and corporate messaging, and quite possible charge the marketing department with a gauntlet of passion. This seems noble, and is in heart, but not reality.

The desire to revamp your brand messaging is great, but its going to fail. Not just once, twice or a few times, but it’ll fail until you get to reality of what actually works and is true. Your message has to be communicated several times, and received feedback–to ensure that its getting the experience right.

Saying that “I’m a father,” is a lot different than saying “My two girls are so sweet, they’re my world to me.” Most times, the experience itself you’re causing is sterile, and needs some feedback. Social media and conversations with your audience will help you.

You need to fail first because there’s learning involved. Western culture is so used to sculpted abs and genetically modified food. You need to burn the fat and grow your own veggies on this one, and its worth. Putting in the work on working on your brand messaging is as easy as telling a story. Then asking how it made people feel, and what their takeaway. We call this feedback. Then, you apply what you’ve learned. Either you go back to the drawing board, or you know that you’re on par. Then you keep going. Learn first, apply second. Stop trying to get

Brand Messaging that Hits the Mark

When it comes down to it, advertising, marketing, and even the new-fangled super cool cousin branding all have the appearance of pomp, circumstance, and being the expert–with formulaic ways, tried and true processes, and executives telling you they “know” simply because they’ve worked on certain big name accounts. Its never formulaic. Its never easy as pie. Its never one size fits all

Don’t fall for this. Ever.

Instead, what’s great is that its your brand. No one does it like you. No one talks like your brand talks. And if they do, they’re patterning it after you, in the least. When “one size fits one,” (instead of one size fits all).

Brand messaging that hits the mark is stuff that you come up over time, and its just “feels right.” But it doesn’t start that way.

Today I posted “Someone please plant us a tangelo tree, @GardenMag is following us on twitter.” Usually its about something orange, cracking open a coke Zero, getting some Tapioca Pudding, or something kitchy–but that’s our voice. Serious about what we do, but no so much ourselves–using humor as a way to inspire.

You’re not going to that over night, but by trying each day, you’ll say “How do I want people to experience our brand? They’ll experience this because we are THAT kind of brand. They’ll know this because we’re unique in these ways.”

All of a sudden, brand messaging turns into personality. Brand messaging sounds a lot less corporate, and a lot more informal.

No need to storm the marketing department anymore, put that battering ram down. Please.