A step-by-step guide to building your startup’s brand messaging strategy
One of my favourite places to get inspired with brand messaging is Apple’s website.
Their messaging is crisp, declarative, action-oriented and inspiring. They exhibit they are a leader in the technology space by making us buy into the hero’s story by focusing on just two things — emotions and experience. They are all about empowering people through technology.
A brand message is, therefore ‘how’ you communicate with your audience, not just to sell them, but to make them take an action in favour of your brand — one that might just spark a relationship between both of you.
Consumers of today need to buy into the brand ideologies and messaging before the product or service. We all need something to believe in, right?
This is why, your messaging strategy needs to be well-thought-out because it is the bridge between you and them. Your messaging is the voice of your brand, it amplifies your beliefs, values and vision.
A lot of startups take messaging for granted and attempt to ad-hoc their communication across channels. When they do this, they make three cardinal mistakes:
- They give up on consistency, since what is not defined will be twisted
- They lack authenticity, because when your brand is speaking in different languages and tones — what is believable?
- They don’t stand out because to be different, you have to strategize it, it does not just happen.
Step 1: Position your brand correctly
Positoning is the activity every startup should undertake as soon as possible as it helps define the mindspace they want to occupy in a consumer’s head. Positioning dives deep into the solution you’re offering— laying out the differentiators and value-add to your consumer in a well-thought-out format.
Positoning does put your startup’s offering in a favourable light compared to your competitors by strategically influencing perceptions.
In the case of Apple, this is what I would perceive their positioning to be:
For individuals who crave innovation in technology, Apple is a luxury electronics brand that offers advanced products that makes life simpler. Our in-store service standards will be of the highest level possible, making the buyer feel like they’re becoming part of the innovation revolution. Our products will create seamless experiences so no matter where you are, on whichever device — Apple will be there for you. Our vision is to build loyalty through service and solution.
Your positioning will drive the messaging, like a tractor on a smooth road. The clearer your positioning statement, the better you’ll be able to define what emotional trigger you’re aiming to push with your messaging.
Three things that help build a solid positoning
- Take time to build this statement out, it’s for the most part a one-and-done
- Don’t become a victim of TL;DR. Pick one or two aspects that you want to focus on.
- Make sure your positioning is aligned internally first so that your team works in line with the positoning
Remember, that even though it is an internal document, it does need to be cohesive, crisp and clear so that whoever takes this statement, can execute on it well.
Step 2: Build the brand narrative using storytelling
What does your brand stand for? Why should the audience pay attention to your brand? What’s the one factor that makes your brand different?
The brand narrative is a storyline that wraps around your brand just like a glove. The glove wraps around your brand, firmly holding the brand together — almost like this.
Every brand story starts with a purpose or raison d’etre, the reason you exist. Your purpose is your ‘why’, then comes what you do to fulfill the purpose, and then how which is the action-oriented steps you take.
This concept is best explained by Simon Sinek in his TED Talk about how great leaders inspire action. If you haven’t watched it already, please do.
Once you have your purpose figured out, the next steps is build what Donald Miller calls as the StoryBrand. Here’s the illustration of the framework mentioned in the book. Karen Williams has a detailed book summary here.
What did you notice here? — think about it for a minute.
As a brand storyteller, this is what I tell all my clients -> “Your startup is the solution to their problem, you aren’t the know-it-all but you are the fixer-upper when they need it”
Your product is not the hero ever. You are a friend to your consumer in need.
A brand story is a therefore a powerful way to align consumers around your messaging. Check out this detailed article from Column 5 Media about the stories brands such as Chobani, Old Spice and Häagen-Dazs are telling, and how.
The keys to building a strategic brand narrative smartly are:
- Keep it simple
- Keep it relatable
- Keep it tightly-wound
- Keep it interesting
Step 3: Start with the smallest message — the tagline
As a brand strategist, I enjoy thinking from smallest deliverable to largest. The reason this has worked for me, is because it forces my brain to think in small boxes. Messaging works the same way — start small, so you use the least amount of words to describe your large concept. This will help you with the crispness and punch your brand rightly deserves.
Because you’re worth it
Music for everyone
Can you guess the brands?
They are Apple, L’oreal and Spotify.
A tag line that sums up your brand is the first stepping stone towards the larger messaging. The reason your tag line is important is because your tag line is what people will resonate with because of repetition.
Three things you should keep in mind when building this minimalist line:
- Keep it clear
- Use words wisely
- Keep it short
Step 4: Build a customised brand voice and tone guideline
How you say something usually takes precedence over what you say.
The same goes with your brand, which is why your brand needs a defined voice and tone guideline. A brand voice and tone guideline helps your brand build a credible relationship with your audience with a voice and tone that appeals to them.
Let’s look at Apple in this instance.
Their brand voice is sophisticated and aspirational — their brand tone is confident, not pompous while not being afraid to shake up the status-quo.
Here are three things you need to keep in mind when building this out
- Think multi-channel, omnichannel usage
- Humanise the brand voice and tone
- This guideline needs to be practical as well as creative
Step 5: Maintaining consistency as a rule at your startup
Now you have your story and your guideline, the devil must come out, and that’s the details.
As a startup, you will have a website, social media, ad copies and so many more collaterals, all done by different people in your organisation.
The easiest way (I’ve found) to solidify and ensure consistency of your brand messaging, is through the three-pillar structure.
It’s really as simple as it sounds.
The brand messaging pillar framework categorizes the advantages of that chain of thought cerebrally and intellectually to help clarify what your essence is.
- Know your brand message inside-out, i.e: believe in it.
- Under your messaging draw out 3–5 pillars of aspects that support your story
- Now, for each pillar story, layout evidences that support that claim
For example, for Apple, one messaging pillar could be
Our products will have the highest quality always. The supporting point could be “We will only hire engineers who align with the Apple way of working, ie: detail-oriented and customer-first” and the evidence to that can be the recruitment statistics, and a strong referral program so only top talent applies, and starts work at Apple.
Remember: There’s no magic formula to doing this right. In brand, there is no right or wrong. Brand is where EQ meets IQ, always.
I hope this article helped you with a step-by-step process of creating your startup’s brand messaging. Brand is a very subjective thing, so this is definitely based on my experiences so far, and all that I’ve learned.