Vision to vocabulary: What to include in your brand messaging playbook
We break down 12 essentials of messaging and positioning to help you build a strong and consistent brand.
A distinctive and compelling brand needs to be supported by a set of essential messaging, recorded in a playbook. This articulates the brand goals and direction, defines the positioning and USPs, and provides clear guidance to help keep all outputs consistently on brand.
12 essentials for your brand messaging playbook
In this article, we’ll run through twelve key components of messaging to include in your brand messaging playbook, starting from the broad, high-level purpose, and going right down to the specifics of style and vocabulary. We’ll explain why each one is important, and share some great examples from brands already out there.
What: Your brand’s reason for being, besides the drive to make money and turn a profit.
Brand purpose is about a higher goal: why does your brand exist and what change are you trying to achieve, in your industry or in the world?
Why: Brand purpose is increasingly important as both customers and employees place more value on working with companies that want to make a positive difference. It helps to build a stronger and more emotional connection for enhanced brand loyalty, and provides a real point of difference with competitors.
Example: “Evolve the way the world moves.” (Uber)
What: Your ideal destination, an expression of where you want the brand to be and what kind of future you see.
Why: Having a clear statement of intent provides a powerful north star for all stakeholders, activities, and initiatives to strive towards. It keeps the company heading in the right direction and makes it clear to external parties exactly what you aim to achieve.
Example: “A computer on every desk and in every home.” (Microsoft at founding)
What: This is how you plan to realize your brand ambitions. If the vision is where you want to get, think of the mission statement as the route you will take to get there. Vision and mission are sometimes combined into a single mission statement.
Why: A mission provides the context and explanation, helping all involved to better understand the trajectory, and the link between shorter-term goals and the big picture aspirations of the organization.
Example: “To put people at the center of enterprise software.” (Workday)
What: A set of core guiding principles that you commit to following as a brand. These are not goals or targets, but instead express what you believe in and strive to be as a brand. You should be able to clearly explain how your brand acts to fulfil each value.
Why: Values provide a framework and ‘moral compass’ for your brand, a litmus test you can apply to any material, activity, or plan, to ensure it is consistent with your ethos.
They also help to build trust and loyalty, both externally with customers and partners, and internally with the workforce.
Example: “Trust, Customer Success, Innovation, Equality” (Salesforce)
5. Problem statement
What: This is where you set out and frame the issue that your brand or solution is able to solve.
Why: Explaining the problem you will address underlines why your brand or solution is needed in the market, and helps prospective customers to quickly understand how working with you will improve their situation.
Example: “Despite internet businesses growing faster than the rest of the economy, only about 3 percent of global commerce happens online today.
“Regulatory complexity, a complicated global financial system, and a shortage of engineers are constraining the impact of the internet economy.
“Removing the barriers to online commerce helps more new businesses get started, expedites growth for existing companies, and increases economic output and trade globally.” (Stripe)
6. Value proposition
What: A simple, compelling statement that sums up exactly what you have to offer customers and why they should choose you to solve their problems.
Why: Creating a strong and effective value proposition forces an understanding of the customer and their needs. It brings the brand closer to its users by focusing on the benefits they will get from working with you.
Example: “Unbounce is the landing page builder for marketers. With Unbounce, you can create landing pages for your marketing campaigns quickly and easily, without IT.” (Unbounce)
7. Brand story
What: Your origin story, explaining how and why your brand came into existence, and how that continues to influence you today.
Why: A compelling brand story develops both empathy and authority, using the power of storytelling to build a connection with your audience and to establish your credibility in the market. It emphasises how you sol
Example: “When HubSpot first started, we noticed traditional, interruptive marketing didn’t appeal to consumers anymore… People wanted to be helped, so we started creating educational content that aided people in solving their marketing problems…Today, we’ve built a passionate community of inbound marketers.” (Hubspot)
8. Elevator pitch
What: A brief, 30-second summary introducing your brand, your value proposition, and how you can help a prospect.
Why: The goal of an elevator pitch is to spark enough interest for the prospect to want to find out more about your brand, whether by clicking further, asking more questions, or arranging a call. Having a polished elevator pitch with your key points defined ensures that you make the most effective use of limited space or time.
Example: “There are 40MM independent workers in the US: consultants, freelancers, and small business owners. Solving office space is tough and expensive, especially in cities like New York. We created the concept of space as a service. We have 20 locations in the city- where people can rent a desk or an office without any of the complications of a traditional lease, effectively saving at least 25% of the cost. They get access to a shared front desk, mailroom, and a community of like-minded people.” (Suggested for WeWork)
What: The boilerplate has a tough job to do. It has to summarise combine key elements of brand vision, mission, story, and value proposition, plus key facts, in a clear and concise text that can be added to corporate communications.
Why: Often associated with PR and news releases, the boilerplate will serve as a short yet complete picture of the brand or organization for external audiences. This includes the media, who may use and quote it in reports with a wide public reach.
Example: “The Amgen Foundation seeks to advance excellence in science education to inspire the next generation of innovators, and invest in strengthening communities where Amgen staff members live and work. To date, the Foundation has donated over $300 million to local, regional, and international non-profit organizations that impact society in inspiring and innovative ways. The Amgen Foundation brings the excitement of discovery to the scientists of tomorrow through several signature programs, including Amgen Scholars and the Amgen Biotech Experience. For more information, visit AmgenInspires.com and follow us on Twitter @AmgenFoundation.” (Amgen Foundation)
10. Key messages
What: A set of the essential points you want your audience to grasp and remember about your brand, what it does, and how it is different from the competition.
Why: Defining your key messages is fundamental, as this will heavily influence all of your marketing content, be it a homepage or a conference presentation. Key messages help to organize priorities, promote consistency, and track success.
Example: Slack uses 6 big key messages to section their homepage content:
- Bring your team together in channels
- Over 750,000 companies use Slack to get work done
- Work happens faster in channels
- Slack makes other software better
- Enterprise-grade for everyone
11. Personality and tone of voice
What: Brand personality should articulate the kind of character your brand portrays: for example, authoritative, friendly, visionary, rebellious. Tone of voice is about ensuring any language used in content and communications aligns with the brand personality. It should include examples of good and bad usage, for clarity.
Why: A strong brand must know ‘who’ it is. Having a clear brand personality and tone of voice sets the standard to be reflected in both visual communication and written content. Consistency builds trust and loyalty with audiences and stakeholders.
Example: Mailchimp’s personality includes “Offbeat humor and conversational voice”.
12. Style and vocabulary
What: This is where you get down to the specific rules for writing, including grammar and vocabulary. Specify, for example, which form of language you will use (e.g. US English), how you will handle abbreviations and figures, and list any words or phrases to avoid.
Why: This may seem like the least inspiring part of the exercise, but providing clear rules promotes quality and accuracy, keeping your brand looking professional and competent, and avoiding errors that may distract from the message.
Example: Mailchimp’s house style sets out their rules for written communication.
Conclusion and key takeaways
Building a brand messaging playbook is not the work of a day, or even a week. Done properly, it’s a thorough exercise involving conversations with both internal teams and customers and other stakeholders. But once you have these guiding principles, the brand will benefit from greater consistency, quality, and clear direction as you grow and develop.
- Purpose, vision, and mission articulate why your brand exists, where you are headed, and how you plan to get there.
- Values set out your ‘moral compass’ as a brand: the core principles that guide your actions and activities.
- Your problem statement frames why you are needed in the market, while your value proposition is a concise statement of what you offer to customers.
- A compelling brand story explains your origins and creates a narrative to connect with audiences.
- The elevator pitch is a brief summary intended to spark further interest with prospects, while a boilerplate must provide more complete information for wider audiences including the media.
- Defining your key messages is crucial. These essential messages will feed into marketing content and define what people remember about the brand.
Your brand personality should be reflected in your tone of voice and choice of wording. Lastly, set ground rules for style and vocabulary to keep your message clear and consistent.
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