The right messaging is the foundation for every type of marketing and sales you do. Key messages articulate a brand’s promise. They describe how you talk about who you are and why you exist as an organization.
Your buyers are bombarded with messages every day. It is vital that you choose messages that stand out in a sea of sameness. When messaging is muddled, buyers aren’t sure how your organization can help them. When messaging is inconsistent, buyers lose trust.
It can be difficult for an internal team to develop messages. Internal teams often spend time with similar colleagues and customers who appreciate them. They can have trouble taking a wider view of how their messages compare to competitors’ or are perceived by potential buyers.
Take this famous fable as an example. In Blind Men and the Elephant, six travelers came across an elephant. “My, it’s very like a wall,” said one man who only felt the side. “My, it’s very like a snake,” described another who was holding the trunk. In the same way each man created his own version of reality, each person within an organization often has a limited view of what is important and what makes the company special, based on their own experiences.
It is only by bringing multiple viewpoints together and combining them with an external perspective that we identify messaging that resonates with customers and creates urgency.
To uncover the right key messages and negotiate their priority, we use two different frameworks.
Branding geometry: the circle and the pyramid
Don’t worry, you won’t be asked to do math in this next section.
First, let’s talk about the circle method
This is based on Simon Sinek’s approach, Start with Why. Sinek uses a “golden circle” with three concentric rings to describe how inspired companies and leaders communicate to form strong bonds with customers and succeed when others fail.
- The outer ring represents “What you do.” This is the nuts and bolts of your products and services in very tangible, concrete terms.
- The middle ring is “How you do it.” In this section you describe how your approach is unique; the special sauce you use, the customer service you provide, etc.
- Finally, at the heart of the circle sits the “Why.” This inner ring describes not the products and services you provide, but the higher purpose they serve.
Mediocre messaging starts at the outside of the circle and never makes its way to the core. Inspired branding starts from the heart of the circle — the “Why” — and uses the “How” and the “What” as proof points to back it up.
For example, instead of saying, “We make computers,” or “Our computers are easy to use,” Apple’s brand communicates, “We believe in challenging the status quo. We do this by focusing on ease of use. We just happen to make computers.” (And, phones, and TVs and watches…)
“The goal is not to do business with anybody who wants what you have,” Sinek explains. “The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.”
By focusing on the “Why” your messaging achieves the best match between your business and your buyers. Customers are more likely to feel an emotional connection to your brand, and therefore will be more likely to choose you, stick around and recommend you to others.
Next, the pyramid
This time we start with a triangle divided into three sections from bottom to top: Core, Defining, and Differentiating.
Think of these levels as similar to Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs, which categorizes human needs into five levels that progress from the most basic to the most “actualized.”
- “Core” refers to any characteristic of your organization that is fundamental to what you do. Restaurant? You serve food. Watchmaker? Your product tells time.
- The next level up is “Defining.” Now we get into the benefits you offer and the nuances of the features and functions you provide.
- Finally, we reach the pinnacle, “Differentiating.” Here we fill in the characteristics that make you special among all other similar organizations. To graduate from Defining to Differentiating, a characteristic has to be so unique, a benefit so exceptional, that none of your competitors could say the same.
How branding geometry works in real life
To create key messaging we implement these methodologies in a decidedly low-tech way. Let me give you an example of how it works.
We recently gathered a cross-section of leadership from a non-profit in a room for a few hours. We drew a pyramid on the wall and set out a selection of colorful post-it notes with pre-written words. This set of words came from interviews with staff, customers, marketing materials and SEO/keyword research. They were our best guess as to the traits, services and benefits that the organization would use when describing itself.
We discussed each word in turn, the degree to which it represented the organization and to which level it belonged. Some words were easy. Others were more controversial. People were standing up and moving post-its around, writing down new words as they discussed the pros and cons.
After the exercise, our pyramid looked like this:
We had the foundation for a strong value proposition and supporting messaging statements.
Why it works
These aren’t just arts and crafts games. Branding geometry is a tactile experience that gets people out of their chairs and engaged in creating something together. Whether you choose the circle or the pyramid, the most important aspect of these methods is that they facilitate debate in a constructive way. Message creation is more transparent and incorporates ideas from multiple people, both internal and external. As a result, messages are more likely to reflect the authentic qualities of an organization and more likely to stick.