How to Create a Strong Brand Messaging Architecture
It's critical for brands, and their content marketing teams, to keep track of their progress on a regular basis. It's vital to ensure that your brand objectives are aligned and on-track for success, whether that's achieved through evaluating performance KPIs or checking in with the longer term brand strategy.
However, there's something that often goes overlooked in these check-in sessions and it's the brand message architecture.
Hailed as the equivalent of the North Star for content teams, it guides all the content a brand produces and ensures that it's being created in line with company goals, which is why it deserves a top seat at the table in brand evaluation sessions.
So whether you're just hearing about a brand message architecture, or you're looking for more information to develop yours: look no further as we tell all about this hidden powerful brand messaging component.
What is a brand messaging architecture?
A brand message architecture is a prioritised set of communication objectives that aims to guide either marketing or sales team efforts throughout a business or brand.
It generally starts at the corporate marketing level with input from key cross-functional stakeholders. Ultimately, its main purpose is to ensure that all of the content a brand develops aligns with the businesses major objectives.
A brand message architecture can guide team decisions around everything from site structure to taxonomies to product design and partnerships. Providing your staff with a hierarchy of communication objectives in the form of the brand messaging framework allows for an agile marketing strategy while also ensuring that everything you “say,” regardless of channel, conveys a uniform brand message.
Businesses commonly use communication platforms for internal and external communications.to help them achieve this.
Generally, a message architecture should:
- Identify and address a core need for key personas (such as user or buyer)
- Ensure each brand message contains physical or emotional benefits alongside a value proposition for multiple audiences
- Ensure each brand message communicates core brand values and the brand story succinctly and effectively
- Ensure all brand messaging is within the brand voice and reflective of the brand identity
- Conveys the most important messages in line with the brand's positioning framework
Alternatively, you can catch up here on the overall brand messaging definition.
Why is a brand messaging architecture so important?
Usually, a brand's marketing team will include a variation of voice and tone guidelines within their brand messaging hierarchy, and this will then embed into the content strategy.
Though this is standard practice, and absolutely fine - it's a brand messaging architecture that takes this to the next level. Though the brand tone of voice instructs how the brand says things, a messaging architecture guides what is said. More specifically: what is said about who the brand is, what it stands for, and what it does.
And on a whole, what the brand is saying is much more important than how it is saying it. A brand might be using the right tone, but if it's not the right message - it will fail to evoke an emotional response in its target audience, which in turn will fail to build strong customer relationships.
That's why knowing what your brand is saying and why it is saying it is the key first step in creating consistent messages that ensure the brand's overall messaging is successful.
What should a brand messaging architecture include?
A brand message architecture captures a brand's most important communication objectives in a concise list of well-structured features, words, terms, phrases, or statements. These should be included in your documented content strategy, which should be shared among teams - especially when new employees join or projects begin.
A good brand message architecture should include:
- Your brand promise (this is the promise your brand or your products makes to your target audience)
- Your brand positioning statement (who you are)
- Your value proposition (what you have to offer and/or what makes you different from competitors)
- Key messages (the main pieces of information you want your audiences to hear, understand and remember)
- Supporting points for each one of your identified key messages
How to build your brand messaging architecture
There are generally two different ways to establish your brand message architecture.
Option One: Minicards
Minicards are the brainchild of Margot Bloomstein, author and well known content strategist and first appeared in her book “Content Strategy at Work".
The minicard method goes like this:
First: Find your adjectives
Second: Create a meeting
Stakeholders, sales teams, marketing teams and all relevant bodies should then be invited to a team meeting. These could be virtual meetings with virtual meeting apps and in person meetings. Make sure to specify exactly what the meeting is hoping to achieve, and give attendees enough time to have a chance to compile their own ideas to add to the list.
Third: Begin organising your cards
Sort the cards into three distinct areas:
- Who the company is not
- Who the company is today
- Who the company wants to be (in a year, two, three, etc)
Take a few minutes to look at the outliers or phrases that caused contention at the end of this round, and have the team discuss and express any assumptions or biases about words.
After you've discarded the "NOT" pile, spend some time looking for any items in “TODAY” that the brand might want to get rid of or outgrow. Anything that isn't a component of "Who We Want To Be" should be noted and then removed.
Fourth: Group, then prioritise
It's important to note that although many terms may appear to be identical, this is the time to delve into nuances and preferences. For example, a company may be both "friendly" and "approachable," but might actually want to lean into being proactively "friendly."
It's usually best to arrange affinities in a stacked way, with one on top of the other to illustrate preference and importance within the different groups.
Once these groups are defined, it’s then time to prioritise them. For example, characteristics could be grouped by the following themes:
- Words that describe our brand identity and our product or service
- How our community sees us
- How our different audiences see us
- Who we are at our core
- Our most important value proposition
Dependent on the industry or company will depend on which groups are prioritised higher or lower.
Fifth: Document agreed affinities
Finally, it's time to go through the agreed adjectives and affinities so that they can start to be used when creating content. Be aware that the message architecture is not a glossary, so make sure there are clear and precise ways to convey your groups.
The second option is a 10 to 15 minute exercise which both visualises and verbalises messaging priorities. It's taken from the brand personality prism, which we've covered in depth previously.
For brands who already have a good idea of who they are, what they represent, and where they'd like to be, this is a preferred method as there is less opportunity to find nuance.
First: Outline the prism
Whether that's with printed copies or an interactive image, make sure that everyone has a copy of the brand personality prism to hand.
Second: Highlight priorities
Give each meeting attendee two different coloured sticky notes. For example one post-it note might symbolise "friendly", while another may symbolise "corporate".
Ask each attendee to place one colour on the row where they believe the brand's priority is currently. Then, ask them to place the second colour where they believe the brand's priority should be in the future. It's best if each attendee contributes at least two different colours for each row.
Take some time to discuss any apparent differences or large gaps while looking for any assumptions or preconceptions.
Third: Agree on priorities
Finally, have each stakeholder rate the importance of each row on a scale of one to six. You can do this by providing each participant with Post-Its labeled 1-6, or by using a colour-coded system.
Again, this is an excellent time to delve into each person's "Why," discover the details, and find agreement.
Just like in the first approach, your final document should look concise, descriptive, and unique.
Bringing it all together
Once teams and stakeholders have agreed on the specific messaging points for the various levels of each persona, it's time for the marketing team to begin crafting content (website, blog articles, etc.) and the sales team to develop their sales/elevator pitches, value stories, and proposals that reflect these messages and support the messaging architecture.
To ensure that your brand message architecture has been fully incorporated into your content marketing plan, you might also take the following steps:
- Documenting the message architecture in brand guidelines and business documents.
- Updating the businesses content marketing strategy with the message architecture and checking that all team members are aligned.
- Encouraging all teams to use the message architecture as a point of at the beginning of any content planning cycles.
- Taking a second look at your content hub. Is your UX in line with your message hierarchy? Consider how navigation and overall design may be improved to better express your objectives using the message architecture.
- Share your message architecture with new team members and at the beginning of new projects to maintain consistency.
Finally, if you need a hand whittling down your priorities and bringing out your key messages - talk to a branding agency! We can help identify key messages for a brand, and can help to shape your overall brand messaging architecture. Check out our previous work, or drop us a line.