19.Nov.2018

Rachel Skybetter
Senior Copywriter

What to Do with Your Brand-New Brand (2 of 3)

Part 2: Key Messages

This is where things start getting good.

Your brand platform has given you the blueprint for talking about your organization in a more compelling way. Now let’s use that platform to build the key stories about your organization.

WHAT ARE KEY MESSAGES?

We—meaning all us humans—crave stories. That’s why a list of features or attributes, however impressive, won’t  move your audiences very far.  We—meaning us at Lipman Hearne–use messages to knit together your differentiators and proof points into a compelling narrative—you should be able to literally feel the arc of a story, with a beginning, middle and end,  as your read it—that also connects these aspects of your organization to a bigger meaning and purpose.

The core message serves as your overarching positioning—your stake in the ground. Often, our clients will also use this as an elevator speech.

Support messages dive deeper into specific elements you’d like to emphasize, with each message giving you a richer picture of the how your organization connects to your audiences’ needs.  We don’t privilege one supporting message over another, because we know that different people have different or even simultaneous entry points into your brand.

Here’s an analogy we’re particularly fond of at Lipman Hearne—maybe because our office is across the street from the Art Institute of Chicago. Think of  your organization as a sculpture. The key messages take your audiences for a walk around the sculpture, so that each new angle reveals something new. The sculpture itself doesn’t change, but your perspective on it does. And when you’ve come full circle, you have a deeper sense of appreciation and connection.

Key messages must be short, conversational, and intentional. It’s tempting to want to throw in everything interesting about your organization, but the more focused your messages are, the more likely your audiences will walk away with a clear understanding of who you are and why you’re different. Take it from William Faulkner:  “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”

WHY DO I NEED KEY MESSAGES?

Your key messages bring your brand platform to life for external audiences, and protect your organization from story creep, which only dilutes your hard-earned brand. If you communicate about your organization anywhere—in print, in person, or online—you need key messages.

To help their busy internal teams use message more effectively,  many clients also ask us for message translations, which show how language may shift depending on who you’re talking to and what they care about. —donors, students, parents, community members, or patients—all while staying true to your brand platform and spirit of the primary message set.

SO HOW DO I USE THEM?

To answer that question, here’s another analogy. Think of key messages as a recipes for storytelling. Messages work best when brand ambassadors take key phrases or passages and put their own unique spin on them. As long as it aligns with the overall narrative and adheres to the tight arc of the message—you don’t want to wander–feel free to make these messages yours.

To extend that analogy further:  On The Great British Baking Show, the contestants are told they have to make a certain kind of baked item—let’s say it’s an Opera Cake. The final creation can reflect their own  variation on what an Opera Cake is, but Mary Berry must still be able to recognize as an Opera Cake.  (Suddenly we’re both very hungry and yearning for Mary Berry’s approval.)

 HOW NOT TO USE YOUR KEY MESSAGES

Consistency—and time—are key. Integrating key message language across your marketing materials over an extended period of time is vital. If you’re patient, you’ll see the vernacular shift across your entire organization. In that vein, if you’re living and breathing your new brand, you may get sick of the messages or worry that your audiences are starting to get brand fatigue. This is almost never the case; do not give up on them. Remember: you’re accessing your audiences at different entry points and with different materials over an extended period of time. Reinforcement is critical to keeping your brand strong and alive.

Key messages are a living, breathing entity that can adapt with your institution or the audience you’re speaking to. Don’t be afraid to update them regularly with new proof points as often as you need. And most important, your key messages can and should inform all creative work moving forward: headlines, copy blocks, social media, websites, and even visual direction and photo choice. And when you’ve successfully done that, you’ll want to put it all together in a brand guide (part 3 of this series!).

Didn’t catch part 1 of this series from Rachel Skybetter? Stay in the loop here: “What to do with Your Brand-New Brand – Part 1: Brand Platform