How to Develop Brand Narratives and Messaging

A brand’s story is at the core of every campaign, media pitch and opportunity to communicate. Defining that story so that it is conveyed in a creative, compelling and concise manner is at the heart of a brand’s messaging platform.

Who are we? What do we stand for? What makes us unique? Where is our expertise? What problems are we solving? What is our vision? What are our proof-points? How do we stand apart from the crowd?

The answers to fundamental questions like these should define and drive a brand’s strategic approach and they should echo throughout every interaction. And, at the end of every campaign, the pull-through of these messages should weigh heavily as a measure of success.

With every article, interview or post, brands should be asking themselves: Did we get across who we are, what we stand for, our unique differentiators, our expertise, our vision, etc.?

SHIFT’s senior teams are trained and experienced in messaging platform development for brands in every sector and at every stage – and, we’ve learned a few things about the process along the way. Here are our fast tips for developing (or strengthening) your own messaging platform.

Check yourself

Try this test, ask five people across your organization this fundamental question about your brand: what do we do best?

Did you get five different responses? Did you hear one that rang a bit truer than the others? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. When my team and I develop a messaging platform for our clients we start by sending them an input questionnaire – the goal of this exercise is to hear the wide variety of responses to this question and a few dozen others that we think comprise the fundamental knowledge about a brand. You’d be surprised at the range of answers we usually see from key stakeholders on topics that you’d assume are essential to the day-to-day operations of any brand. But we do this internal survey precisely so we can hear that spectrum of responses and begin to form an approach for defining each area of the brand narrative.

Want to see how your organization would do? Run an anonymous survey with your own team and watch the feedback roll in. Some questions to get you started: Define our brand in 30 words or less. Why are we unique? What are our primary differentiators? What are our core values? Who are our primary audiences? Who is the voice of our brand? What other brands compete for our customers? Where are we weak relative to competitors?

This process of “checking yourself” will give you a baseline from which you can begin to define your own brand fundaments based on the wise counsel of your own collective institutional thinking.

Stack up

The second step in developing a tighter messaging platform is to go outside of your own four walls and measure yourself against your competition.

Start by defining the competition: identify your closest direct competitor (same audience, same product set, same brand stage), identify a stretch competitor (same audience, similar product set, one stage ahead of your brand), and identify one share of mind competitor (same audience, different product set, any stage).

Now answer a reduced set of questions from your internal questionnaire for each of your three competitors. Pick the questions you’re most interested in to see how you stack up – How does competitor A define themselves? What does competitor A say makes them so unique? And so on. You’ll start to see each competitor’s narrative evolve and can begin to evaluate your own position within the larger matrix of your competitor set.

This audit on competitive messaging will help you identify the areas that are already over-exposed or not ownable by your brand, the areas where fresh thinking and storytelling is most needed, the missing links where your brand can gain an advantage, and should inspire the final step in the process.

Bring it in

You’ve checked in and looked around too, now it is time to pull it all together. All the valuable inputs you’ve learned from your internal and external audits are fuel for drafting your messaging framework.

What should you keep in mind? Start by brainstorming through these core elements: key message, context message, how it works message, de-positioning statement(s), future context message, how is the brand positioned for the future.

Write and re-write until you find your most-authentic and most differentiated messaging in these essential areas: audience, summary of customer needs, competitive positioning, detailed positioning statement, umbrella statement, elevator pitch, positioning pillars and pillar benefit statements.

When the SHIFT teams conduct messaging development this critical writing process requires several rainstorms, lots of fresh eyes, and a dedicated expert author. Don’t be daunted by this phase though, it is essential to codify your brand messaging framework in a format that you can share across your organization and use in your external communications.

Good luck as you embark on your brand messaging journey! The development process and the resulting framework is invaluable – it is the living heart of your brand and communications programs. And, don’t worry, if you get stuck or find you need expert counsel to guide you through it the SHIFT teams are trained and ready to roll up our sleeves!

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