Brand messages are positioning and marketing statements about your offering that tell customers why they should use your product or service, why they should care, and what it means to them. They must not only be different from competitors, they must be relevant, authentic, and accessible to your target market. In other words, it’s not just what you say that matters, it is where and how that message is communicated, and to whom.
The first step in making your brand messaging work is to say the right things that connect emotionally with the audience. While luck and intuition might play a role in developing your brand message, some simple objective research techniques will yield better results:
This is something that anyone can do, not just a market research firm. “Field” simply implies that you should get out and get to know your customers, your competitors, and you industry better. Interviews and surveys are a good start (see “Your Brand is Not What You Think It Is…”), but they sometimes don’t dive deep enough into the psyche of the customer. Instead, go to the places where they shop, where they relax, or the setting in which they use the product or service. Find out how they interact with the brand. Observing other retailers in the vicinity to see what messages they are communicating can also offer insight into appropriate brand messages. Have you ever noticed how there always seems to be a Taco Bell within a few blocks of a US Bank; or a Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse near a Walmart? There is a reason that certain stores cluster together: they are targeting the same type of customer.
If getting out of the office is too difficult or not an option, then another great way to discover how to develop the right brand message is to simply check out your local bookstore. There are literally thousands of magazines to choose from, many tailored to very specific niche markets. Odds are you will find a few magazines that appeal to your target market--simply flipping through them will give you a good idea of trends within the industry, language that is used, and imagery and colors that are appropriate. These literary sources already do a great amount of research into your target market, so why not use that to your advantage?
Once the brand messaging has been developed, the context in which it appears is equally important. If your message says all the right things, but no one from your target market sees or hears it, then it will be ineffective. Likewise, if messaging is placed within marketing vehicles that seem to contradict it, or if people can’t immediate comprehend what you are saying, the perception of the brand is affected. I call this the “Billboard” test: if you were in a car travelling at a high rate of speed, with only a fraction of second to read a marketing or brand message, would you get it?
Vanity license plates are a great and fun way to demonstrate the importance of context in communicating the right message. The following are real license plates, and great examples of why the type of automobile on which they appear make all the difference as to how the message may be interpreted. For example, if you quickly glanced a license plate that read “4MYHORS,” you would hope to see a trailer attached to a truck or SUV (in this case, there was none). In another example, a Corvette had a license plate that read “THERAPE.” While I am sure that the individual driving this car was probably a psychologist (“Therapy”), the message could just as easily be interpreted as something more sinister.
In conclusion, two of the most important factors to consider with regard to your brand message are what you should say (the content), and where and how you say it (the context). By performing simple research, it is possible to tailor a highly relevant message to your target audience. Once created, however, it is important to find the best way to communicate the message so that it is crystal clear. The perceptions of your brand message will ultimately affect your bottom line.
Ryan Hembree, principal of brand and creative strategy, Indicia