The Musts of Messaging: Building the Content for Content

Messaging is the bridge between strategy and communications.

Content. Content. And more content. A brand’s role has changed a great deal when it comes to consumable content—from the demands of feeding ever-hungry social media platforms all the way through to brands creating their own publishing and entertainment properties.

But effective content is not about how much volume we get out there. It’s about whether the content you put out has value to customers—and that what they do consume actually makes a difference in how they consider, choose, and stay loyal to a brand. In other words, content needs to provide a clear return on investment.

There are many KPI and ROI metrics that can measure content once it gets into the marketplace. But what if, long before it becomes a tweet or a webisode, it can be measured by whether it fits with your business strategy?

That’s where messaging comes in.

What is messaging?

Stated simply, messages are what we say about ourselves, and the products and services we offer. However, it’s more than just the descriptors and claims about what we do—it’s the promises that position the brand above everybody else’s, it’s the content that keeps us relevant, it’s the ideas that help push our positioning into the future.

Anytime and anywhere a brand needs to tell its story, messaging should be there to guide it. And to make messaging as effective and as actionable as possible, there are some musts to follow:

Messaging must be based on your business objectives, as well your vision

Messaging is the bridge between strategy and communications. It’s also the connectivity between your business strategy and your brand strategy, because these should never exist as separate things. It’s the means by which we bring communications to life in a way that serves the business, adds long-term value, and translates your internal marching orders into commentary your customers care about.

Messaging must be about differentiation, but also invention

Messaging can serve as the mouthpiece, and even the motor, of invention and reinvention. So brands must use their expertise and vision to divine their customers’ spoken and unspoken motivators. That way, messages are built using a combination of core strengths and unmet desires to create differentiation. Never hesitate to give voice to what your customers haven’t yet.

Messaging must be lofty, but demands constant proof

If messaging is intended to propel a brand into the future, it should be based on big ideas that have the power to invest a mere piece of information with a compelling benefit. That’s the key to longevity—highlighting a moving, motivating story. But these lofty concepts need to be believable and real, and that’s where proofpoints come in. Together, they show the world that, even as we make big promises, we mean what we say.

Messaging must unify, even as it flexes

Messaging links disparate products and services into a unified, compelling offering by connecting them to something bigger than features and functionality. It translates a big idea into content that resonates with different types of customers, across different regions, and through disparate business units. It allows you to manage your communications nimbly, even as random trends appear, by having a singular point of view that can be adapted to any part of your organization or conversation.

Messaging must be inspirational, not prescriptive

Messaging should take the form of a guide, not a set of guidelines. It should offer direction, not regulation—shaping everything you write, but never dictating exact words that are repeated verbatim, over and over again. And it should never lift dry sentences out from a strategy or regurgitate drivers that research found to be important. Instead, it should inspire creativity in writers and designers—and give them the discipline to ensure key ideas are always present, in one form or another.

Messaging must be consistent in concept, but dynamic in expression

Messages—and the words chosen to express them—are ideas that demand dedication as much as they do originality and style. Turning messages into compelling applications is a continuous, never-ending process. Keep seeking the angles and insights needed to create variety in campaigns and content. Develop a rich, ownable lexicon to give you the words you need to discuss topics in fresh but recognizable ways.

Messaging must listen, but always lead

While brands should invite interaction, they must first understand the role they play with their customers—whether visionary, inventor, leader, hero, or best friend—and never delegate that role to the crowd. Rely on messaging to help determine which discussions you should be a part of, which concepts you should introduce, and how you should respond to input. Use them to have an opinion, and even to provoke. Then listen. Encourage audience participation. And adjust from there.

Messaging must guide every touchpoint, across the experience

Never miss an opportunity to get your messages out: lift them up to influence the themes of your CEO’s speech; drill them down to insights on Twitter. It should guide thought leadership, influence and be influenced by R&D, and inspire the verbal and visual content of every communication. Every time customers come into contact with a brand—from physical to digital—they should experience the same messages, in fresh and varying ways. Establishing what your brand stands for in the minds of your customers is a process that spans not months, but years. Keep them interested.

Messaging must speak to all people, in a personal way

In order for a single brand to resonate with multiple and varying audiences, it’s not necessary to create disparate messages. Instead, it’s about taking the simplest approach to segmentation you can without oversimplifying—identifying the needs and desires audiences share by determining the degree of interaction and influence between them. Create brand messages that connect with all audiences and, from there, send surgically targeted messages only when and where it matters. Targeting requires significant investment, so make it count. 

Messaging must speak to your employees—as well or better than it speaks to your customers

Your people are your most crucial audience. If they don’t understand what you stand for, how can they deliver on it? Messaging plays an important role in guiding employee behavior that leads to the on-brand customer experience your brand is committed to providing. It’s how your people will come to understand how every report, every phone call, every initiative, every customer interaction, fits in. Use messaging to keep your people connected to your promise, to give them clarity around their role, and attract the kind of talent you need and want for your brand.

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Chief Strategy Officer, Interbrand Austraila