In a perfect world, brands would launch with a fully worked out messaging platform, a strategy for communicating with the target audience on many different levels. While the perfect world stubbornly refuses to materialize, imagining its properties is sometimes a fruitful way to make real world solutions less blunt-nosed, less bottom-lined and, frankly, less bird-brained.
To be clear, by “messaging platform” I mean the total composite takeaway you want your audience to absorb and—just as important—believe. In its purest form, some part of that takeaway would permeate every communication. Why only part? Because, as we all know, there’s barely enough space-time available in any one advertising or promotional format to convey even one straight-forward motivating proposition.
TV? Zap! Envelope? Rip! Magazine? Flip!
As a consequence, it’s vitally important that everything you do say ladders up to a unified messaging platform. By the same token, your message to consumers will become garbled in no time, unless its entirety is implicit in every snippet you push out through advertising, promotion, PR or social media. In essence, your messaging platform must, by analogy, be fractal.
Accomplishing this is much easier than it sounds. All that’s required is a firm grasp of the difference between a communication and a communication medium. That is, the realization that a successful communication doesn’t arise spontaneously from a collection of MBA-approved introductory gambits, catch phrases and calls to action any more than it arises from painstaking stock art searches (“I’m not crazy about her outift”) or trend-hopping font choices.
Start with a train of thought…
Effective communication arises from a coherent thought process brought to life by creative talent. It’s that thought process—an intermingling of strategy, empathy, observation and theatrical flair—that’s the basis for a successful messaging platform. Whatever you want consumers to take away, you’ll need to touch all these bases. Otherwise, all those late nights sequestered in a conference room with day-old pasta-salad and warm Diet Coke are for nothing.
As I see it, coherence in this sense contributes much more to the success of your campaign than secondary factors like ownability, style or voice. Yet, so often, marketers mistake the wrapping paper for the present. The result is millions spent on highly polished advertising that reflects a marketer’s motivations very well—and the motivations of consumers not at all.
…reflecting what your audience actually values.
Now, that’s not to say that consistent messaging boils down to repeating the same phrases each and every time. That kind of consistency is, as the poet says, “…the hobgoblin of little minds” and is rooted in anxiety. Like a traveler clutching a phrase book, marketers who fear to deviate from a set script for each campaign transmit only one message,
“We’re not interested in talking to you. We just want you to buy our stuff.”
It’s a realty no exercise in Consumer Friendly Language can hope to mask. In its worst form, this rigid tag-lining of word and image also constitutes one of the clearest arguments for the obsolescence of the advertising campaign as a communication strategy. Sure, everyone knows every brand is in the business of selling on some level. But we want the same thing from brand communications that we want from the best cashiers at our favorite retail stores—a dash of courtesy, non-intrusive concern and at least a ritualized acknowledgment of our individuality.
Much of the time, however, branded communication—especially in digital space—is a tad too reminiscent of Kristen Wiig’s Target Lady cashier. Like so much digital palaver, Target Lady’s chatter is all and only about herself.
Protect the marketing ecosystem.
What you do want to be is consistent about is what matters most: giving consumers information they can use to decide on their own that it’s time to buy. In a perfect world, each communication would focus on a different aspect of your value. By saying one thing clearly, one thing memorably, one thing that vividly engages consumers’ emotions in each communication, you’ll build a composite picture that makes an indelible, motivating impression.
Regrettably, many brands sacrifice coherent messaging by equating “message” with “offer.” Sprint.com, for example, squanders the emotionally-charged broadcast campaign “I am Unlimited” by making it fight for space with “Save $100 when you switch” and a flotilla of other offers. By splintering its message Sprint, diminishes the product category, thereby damaging the entire marketing ecosystem. Certainly, if I were Sprint or Samsung, I wouldn’t want consumers to equate my product to picking up a two-pound bag of yellow onions at the corner supermarket “Now through Thursday.”