If you’re a marketer (or someone who was given the marketing hat to wear on top of all of your others), you may recall a time when your boss has come to you and said something to the effect of: We’re coming up on our 30th anniversary as a company. We should probably have a tagline. Come up with one.
If you have your wits about you, you’ll immediately spiral into a round of internal 20-questions. What is the overall tone that I should be following with this? Who is my audience? What pain point is this tagline trying to address? How would this tagline fit with all of the other messaging this organization has? Wait…there is no other messaging standard…how can I even start with a tagline? We have to start with the basics.
And those “basics” are exactly how we like to start, too.
An Exercise to Start Brand Messaging
We’re marketers, so we understand the struggle of working to define another organization with their brand. Businesses that we talk to tend to have a very clear idea of what their brand is or should be, so we’re frequently stuck trying to bridge the gap between what’s in a client’s mind and what we know is right.
That’s why we like to start with a brand messaging exercise of sorts—a way to get businesses talking, not just about what they think is true about their organization, but every single possibility that should be considered when defining a brand.
First, we start with getting the decision maker in a room with a whiteboard. This can sometimes be one person, or it could be an entire collective of people. The important factor is getting the people in the room who will ultimately make decisions about their business, brand and marketing.
Then, standing in front of the white board, ask them a seemingly simple question: What do you do?
Encourage them to be as specific as possible, highlighting both individual services and day-to-day tasks. Nothing is too detailed for this exercise.
As they talk, write the answers down on the whiteboard. You’ll want to refer back to it later.
After they’ve exhausted their answers, move on to the next question: How do you do it?
This is their opportunity to refer back to the What and dive into the tactics they use to do those things. For example, if what the business does is serve pizza, how they do it could include: wood-fired pizza oven and locally sourced ingredients.
Again, encourage them to get as specific as possible and address every single one of the “What’s” that were listed on the board. As they talk, write those answers down on the whiteboard.
Then comes the final question: Why do you do it?
These answers may be completely varied, but it really gives them the opportunity to get to the heartbeat of their organization. Maybe they make pizza because they have a deeply rooted family tradition. Maybe they do it because they’re filling a gap in the local community. Maybe they just want to make money (which is completely okay). Explore every single answer to the “Why” question and write those down on the board.
The What, How and Why Come Together
At this point, your whiteboard should look like a mind map that probably only you can understand. Despite the clutter and what likely appears to be a hodgepodge of phrases, they will come together and form the basis of brand messaging.
What + How + Why = Boilerplate Messaging
Using our example of the pizza shop, imagine a paired down version of their messaging map looked like this:
What: Pizza Shop
How: Wood Fired Oven, Locally Sourced Ingredients, Late Night Hours, Family Friendly Atmosphere, Pizza by the Slice and by the Pie
Why: A family legacy of traditional Italian pizza
Combining those three (with some wordsmithing and massaging, of course), you could say that a boilerplate message for them could be: XYZ’s Pizza serves up pizza by the slice or pie to the local community. Using a beloved family recipe, our wood fired pizza includes only the freshest, most local ingredients.
The idea with this exercise is that you can begin addressing individual service lines or products, and unique pain points, and speak to them in a way that is humanizing to the organization. By covering the what, how and why of the business, a natural story arch begins to form, which will naturally make your job, as the marketer, a little easier.
A Word of Caution Before You Begin
At this point, we feel like we should insert some sort of legal disclaimer saying that the advice in this article does not represent actual marketing counsel. While this exercise is the way we begin brand messaging conversations every single time, it’s important to remember that a lot of thought, intentionality, professionalism and creativity goes into crafting what those boilerplate messages are and what the overall brand message should be.
The exercise above is intended to get the ball rolling and the proverbial creative juices flowing. The exercise shouldn’t stop there. It should continue on with thoughtful conversations and carefully articulated directions on personality, tone and so on.
If you get stuck along the way, or if you want someone to walk you through the process from the start, we’re here to help.