A Brand Messaging Formula/Non-Formula

You probably shouldn’t try to boil down everything in life to a checklist. But checklists are comforting. They answer the question, “what are the essential things I must do?”.  Last week at an event in New York City, I gave a talk that ended up, ultimately, being a checklist – a checklist for how to answer the question, “what do you do?”, in your marketing materials. You might call it a brand messaging formula and it encompasses positioning and unique value proposition.

I have talked about brand messaging elsewhere, where it was interesting to probe the branding of colonial-era Mexican cattle-ranching. I think it’s a useful concept because compresses a mid-sized idea into two words; the compression of your positioning and unique story into the smallest, most accurate, and most galvanizing words possible. 

If you do this with accuracy, you will always learn something new about what you actually do – and be able to express it better.

Words are events. They do things, change things. They transform both speaker and hearer.
– Ursula Le Guin

Speaking of positioning, our brand messaging checklist reads like a positioning statement – by design. So imagine someone comes to your company website and asks, “What do you do?”. Try telling them this:

  1. I solve a particular kind of expensive problem
  2. For a particular target market
  3. By leveraging a particular kind of expertise
  4. All with a particular, unique difference
  5. Because of our relevant, human backstory
  6. And because we have strong points of view
  7. (Mirroring language/ideas of your audience)

The funny thing about the first two items on this checklist is that they are things you do, not things you say you do. I mean, you should say you do them, but first, you have to do them.

And this is one of my core beliefs in marketing – what you actually do, as in results gained for your clients, is always step one. Put less politely, if your product sucks, brand messaging and marketing is pointless. 

But let’s assume you do these things – that you solve a particular problem or kind of problem, that you solve that problem not for anyone, but for a target market.

If you do so in a way that creates value, then you really should trouble yourself to put that into words with accuracy. Because now you have the foundation of the answer to the What Do You Do question. I don’t mean at cocktail parties, or to relatives who basically reduce the entire modern digital economy to, “Oh, so you do computers”. I mean your customers or people who know them.

So on your website, business card, marketing emails, and other materials – even within your product – it’s vitally important to express what you do as a problem solution for a certain type of person likely to suffer from that problem remaining unsolved.

Of course, we are used to describing what we do with #3 – our expertise, hopefully. If you’re not good at it yet, it may be less an expertise and more of a skill or just an ability. 

Again, step one here is actually doing – cultivating expertise, that is. Then once you cultivate it, you can talk about why and how you cultivate it – and why it’s useful for solving a particular kind of problem.

At part four of the checklist, we come to a convenient delineation point, where we have described what Jonathan Stark calls the “Laser-Focused Positioning Statement” or LFPS. The last piece of the LFPS is about having and articulating a unique difference is a way of setting yourself apart from other who solve the same problem, for the same industry or audience, and with the same area of expertise.

Making Uniqueness a Part of Your Brand Messaging Formula

Unique differences are rare, especially in positioning. Most businesses claim a unique difference that is commonplace. For example, “We are different from other SaaS messaging apps because we use an Agile development process and are 100% mobile-first”. Neither Agile development nor mobile-first comprises a unique difference.

So you have to dig deeper and look at who your team is, who you are. And you also have to look outside of yourself. That work gives you true distinction: a relevant, human backstory that explains why you do what you do. And strong points of view. I think these last two pieces are necessary additions to the LFPS, if you are truly interested in understanding for yourself how you are different.

“What is your overarching point of view? What conventions will you challenge or dragons will you slay?
– Blair Enns, Win Without Pitching

Finally, mirroring. Mirroring is the behavior in which one person subconsciously imitates the gesture, speech pattern, or attitude of another. I suggest you cultivate this behavior as you examine the people you are trying to help so that you can be better understood.

Checklists and formulas have limited value, but this one might help you find the right words. 

Let me know if you have other ideas.