How to develop key messages

Start with the Basics: What, Who, Why?

What the organization needs to accomplish?

Revisit the company goals, objectives, and the marketing strategy to confirm the outcomes that the messaging is designed to help achieve. Consult any related positioning statements the organization has developed, because positioning lays out the foundation for what the organization wants to communicate. As you develop messaging, it’s also a good idea to review any brand-platform content, since that content can help reinforce the organization’s identity, voice, and values.

Who are the target segments and stakeholders you need to reach?

Some messaging documents outline different sets of key messages for different target audiences, depending on what points are the most important or convincing for the audience. For example, when a company want to communicate about product key features, they develop one set of key messages for prescribers, another set of key messages for consultants at pharmacies, and a third set for end users.

Identify key words and ideas you want to associate with your organization, product, service, or offering. These words and phrases may figure prominently in the messaging you develop, to help it stand out and differentiate your organization. Also, conduct a competitive messaging analysis to capture what key messages, words, and concepts other organizations are using. Your messaging should avoid sounding like everybody else.

Draft Message Statements

With your audience and objectives in mind, begin drafting key message statements. Key messages should be:

  • Concise: Key message statements should be clear and concise, ideally just one sentence long–but not a long, run-on sentence.

  • Simple: Key messages should use language that is easy for target audiences to understand. You should avoid acronyms, jargon, and flowery or bureaucratic-sounding language.

  • Strategic: Key messages should differentiate your organization and what you stand for, while articulating the value proposition or key benefits you offer.

  • Convincing: Messaging should include believable, meaningful information that creates a sense of urgency and stimulates action. Message wording should be decisive and active, rather than passive.

  • Relevant: Key messages should matter to the audience; they should communicate useful, relevant information that the audience finds appealing not only on a logical or rational level but also on an emotional level.

  • Memorable: Key messages should stick in the mind, so the impression they make is easy to recall.

  • Tailored: Messaging must communicate effectively with intended target audiences. This means the messaging should reflect the target audience’s unique needs, priorities, issues, terminology, relationship to the organization, and other distinguishing factors that might help the messaging better communicate with that audience.

Organize a Messaging Framework

Once you have drafted an initial set of key messages, it is helpful to prioritize and organize them into a framework that helps you tell a coherent story. Marketers use a variety of different frameworks for this purpose. A simple, standard messaging framework is illustrated in the figure below.

By bringing brand promise, positioning statement, target audience into the messaging document, it is easy to spot disconnects or confirm alignment between the day-to-day talking points (the primary message and message pillars), the audience, and what the organization stands for (as expressed in the brand promise and positioning statement).

The primary message is sometimes referred to as an elevator pitch. Think of it as the one to three sentences you would say to a member of your target audience if you had just thirty seconds with them in an elevator. In that short time, you need to get across the core ideas. As you review the initial key messages you drafted, identify the most important ideas. Refine them into a concise statement that expresses your primary message.

To support this primary message, identify one to three message pillars that further substantiate the primary message or elevator pitch. When the elevator pitch is expressing a value proposition, the message pillars are usually the key benefits delivered by the value proposition. When the elevator pitch is arguing a position, the message pillars are the key reasons the target audience should believe what is being argued. To identify your message pillars, review the initial messages you drafted. It is likely that your initial work captures some of those pillars or arguments that provide great support for your primary message.

Refine Your Work

After completing your message architecture, set it aside for a day or so. Then come back and go through the following checklist. Make revisions and refinements where needed.

  • Alignment: Recheck your messaging for alignment. Make sure all levels of the messaging framework are consistent with one another.

  • Hearts and Minds: Identify where your messaging is working at a rational level and where it’s working at an emotional level. To be compelling enough to spark a change in behavior, it must appeal to both.

  • Strategy: Confirm that the messaging complements your organizational, marketing, and brand strategies. If it isn’t getting you further along those paths, it isn’t doing its job.

  • Differentiation: Review your messaging with competitors in mind. Your messaging should set you apart and express messages only you can credibly own. It should be more than just “me, too” catch-up to the competition.

  • Tone: When you read your messages out loud, your language should sound natural and conversational. Your messaging should ring true; it should sound like it genuinely comes from your organization and the people who represent you.

  • Clarity: If parts of your messaging sound vague or unclear, look for ways to reword them to make them more concise and concrete. People hearing the message should easily understand exactly what you mean.

  • Inspiration: Your messaging should motivate and inspire your target audiences to take action. If it isn’t compelling enough to do that, you need to make it stronger.

Test, finalize, and routinely update key messages

  • After you refine the draft versions of the key messages, test those messages to ensure that they resonate with internal and external audiences. This test should also include people in your target audience. Work with public affairs or communications staff from your organization to conduct this outreach and message testing.

  • Incorporate feedback from internal and external audiences and finalize the key messages. Work with your communications staff to ensure that internal stakeholders approve the final key messages.

  • Over time, routinely revisit the key messages to ensure that they still meet your needs and those of the audience, and that they reflect current trends, research, and issues your organization and research program are addressing.

Source: 1. courses.lumenlearning 2. MSKTC

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