Part of brand positioning strategy is brand messaging strategy—or in other words, what to say about yourself in a way that stakes a clear and compelling claim in the minds of your target audience. And this is the part that gets tricky because what sounds great to insiders in a conference room seldom works for Joe-busy-guy-on-the-street. Here are three reasons for the breakdown:
1. You know too much. Chip and Dan Heath referred to it as “the curse of knowledge” in their book Made to Stick. What this means is that the good folk sitting around the conference table have been deeply infused with the organization, its offerings, its values, its culture, its history etc.—so deeply infused, in fact, that they cannot remember what it’s like to not know what they know. As a result, the types of brand messages that sound really interesting and valuable to them are usually the same message that sounded great to competitors sitting around their own conference tables. These are some of the suggested brand messages I hear at some point at nearly every project:
Every time I hear a comment like the above, it’s rendered with complete confidence that they alone have come to this insight and yet by the end of the week, I’m likely to hear it again at a different location. The tricky part is that in some cases, the community really is what sets the organization apart; some programs or product really are of high or higher quality—however, unless they find out what it is about that community, or that program, simply using the words “community” or “quality” will get lost in the noise of everyone else’s claims.
2. You haven’t translated your features. A lot of messaging focuses on features—this is what we have; this is what we offer. That’s a good place to start, but Joe-busy-guy doesn’t have time for his own interpretation. He needs you to do the work of translating the feature into benefits and outcomes that make sense to him. So you have that feature; so what? What good does that feature do Joe? What outcomes can he expect as a result? Translating features isn’t as easy to remember to do as it sounds because—see point above—insiders intuitively translate features into benefits on their own. A feature makes plenty of sense to them because they know enough to know the benefits. Joe-busy-guy needs you to save him the time. Take for example the commonly cited feature “Made in America:” What’s the benefit?
Should we all be expected to know why a product “Made in America” is a good thing? The actual benefits and outcomes of the feature are a complicated narrative requiring a good grasp of geopolitics, supply chain, and local and global employment dynamics. Still, we see that feature slapped with great pride on all kinds of products. Do you think more people would buy American if they knew why it should matter to them?
3. Your messages don’t set you apart. I’ve railed on this point in the past. For those who want to read my rant against vanilla messaging, see this previous post. For those who don’t. Here’s the problems that contributes to run-of-the-mill brand messages:
Time to share. What are your favorite brand messages? Why do they work for you?
Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation, LLC
Culture geek. Proud Colorado native.