We've outlined in preceding parts of this series how brand-focused research, understanding your constituents, and building your brand foundation will help your organization understand itself and its context clearly, and so establish the basis for communicating effectively––verbally and visually.

The next step is to articulate your ideas, qualities, and capabilities in ways that connect to, and engage, your communities.

Messaging—communicating with a rigorous focus on a system of key ideas—is a fundamental activity of strategic brand development and management. Disciplined messaging helps organizations engage in productive dialogues, especially across social media communities.

Sharpen your pencil and your focus

Four principles guide good message strategies: relevance, simplicity, clarity, and consistency.

1. Relevance

If no one cares about what you have to say, there's little hope for your brand. Spending on design and promotion might get you exposure, but little traction. But by the same token, highly relevant messages can help overcome other vulnerabilities (like poor exposure, inconsistent customer experiences, bigger competition).

If you've done your homework and understand current and possible connections between your offerings and your communities' interests, you can craft highly relevant messages that can build emotional and rational reasons to care.

2. Simplicity

In this age of social media, a simple message will give you the flexibility to adapt to changes out in the community and within your organization. It will also help you react to surprises from competitors. A simple message can be interpreted ad hoc (by you or by others) to suit a situation while maintaining a basic essence; it is less likely to deteriorate when passed around. And it should not take an act of deconstruction to repurpose your story for a new challenge.

3. Clarity

To cut through the noise in our feeds, inboxes, browsers, and timelines, it takes a finely tuned message to strike the right note. To be grasped quickly and firmly, your ideas should be expressed in the clearest terms that will appeal to and motivate your communities.

The greater the intellectual or emotional appeal the message has, the greater impact it will have and more memorable it will be.

4. Consistency

Few messages make it across the transom on the first shot. Consider it this way: If your message is relevant, simple, and clear, how many chances do you want to connect with your communities? Certainly more than one! And though you may become bored sending out the same signals day after day, until you begin to hear back that everybody gets it and is losing interest too, you ought to focus on consistent iteration––not on changes.

Craft a platform for strategic messages

A platform for strategic messages—a hierarchical system of fine-tuned core concepts—should inform each of your communications and conversations, from taglines, PR boilerplate, and traditional marketing communications, to emerging social media opportunities.

Article Series:
Branding in the Age of Social

Your customers—your communities—have new expectations. They want to (actually!) interact with your organization. They want to know what they want to know—when they want to know it. And, as always, they want to know, and feel, how your organization and its brand align with their personal brands and values.

Achieving that alignment has always been critical to effective brand-building. But it's not enough to design a new logo, snappy tagline, brochures, and website (it never was).

Brand-building in this social age—social branding—goes beyond social, or even digital, media. It's about deliberately aligning your and your constituents' expectations and values, not just in communications but at the core of how your organization sees and organizes itself, how it behaves, and how it delivers on its core purpose.

In this article series, we'll outline the seven pieces of the social branding process and how each step can work hard to maximize the connections between not only you and your customers but also the connections between your customers and their trusted friends and peers (in other words, to maximize "social capital").

The series culminates with an online seminar in April, "7 Steps to Take Your Brand Social... and Still Be in Control," where you'll learn how to evaluate and develop your strategy for building your social brand.

Tamsen McMahon
Director of Strategic Initiatives
Sametz Blackstone Associates

A sturdy but flexible message platform includes a few key sections:

  • A top-level main message that states to everyone what you always stand for; it's a core idea or value from which all other messages flow. It's the base you customize for every dialogue. This message has to be simple, especially to survive intact in social media. To use an example many are familiar with, Hewlett-Packard consistently communicates its core innovation principle. At the end of the day, everything HP communicates (verbally through communications, materially in their products, and through their service experiences) reflects this principle.
  • Messages around your key areas of endeavor build upon your main message, explain or describe particular strengths, and help people to grasp what you're focused on. Your organization probably isn't monolithic, so these messages connect your big-picture value to your service or product lines. To continue with the HP example, its business has three major divisions (computing devices, imaging and printing, and enterprise solutions). Its communications adapt and extend the innovation message in ways that will help connect HP to customers, partners, and other stakeholders.
  • Special "tilts" for different constituents that synthesize your main and focus area messages for maximum impact for particular community segments. Just as your organization isn't monolithic, most of your customers and community members fit into a finite range of profiles that require customized cases or value propositions. HP communicates differently to private laptop or camera buyers, small business technology mangers, and graphic arts technicians—though many of the same products and services are in play across all those. Remember: relevance.
  • Proof points or stories back up your messages with concrete illustrations of your messages. Stories are the currency of the social media realm, and messages that can be expressed through stories will have a richness, immediacy, and memorability that dry bullet points alone rarely achieve.

Prepare for dialogue, not rote repetition

The point of crafting and then using a strategic message system isn't to be simplistic or just repetitious—we can tell when we're being "messaged at"—but to help you communicate naturally, but purposefully, across all sorts of opportunities and conversations. Such a system saves you the trouble of starting at square-one each time (which often undermines the four principles of good messages mentioned above).

Long gone are the days of a centralized organizational voice (if they ever truly existed), so maintaining and practicing strategic messages helps to keep your staff/employees coordinated, your prospects tuned in, and your environment cultivated.

If your messages are true to your organization, they will help evoke and reinforce experiences people have with your brand. And if your messages are meaningful to your constituents and communities, you will see them echoed in others' words. When that happens, you'll know you've achieved a valuable resonance that will help establish a place for your brand in their hearts and minds.

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Eric Norman is a strategist at Sametz Blackstone Associates (www.sametz.com), a Boston-based, brand-focused communications practice that integrates strategy, design, and digital media to help mission-driven organizations navigate change. Reach him via eric@sametz.com or 617-266-8577.