Answering the Age Old Question of Which Comes First – Messaging or Branding?

Do I have a messaging problem or a branding problem? What’s the difference?

Ok, people. Lets settle this once and for all: If youre asking that question the answer is probably both. Or at least: messaging, and chances are your brand is probably a little muddled.

Because with a clearly positioned brand, communicating that brand message is relatively easy.

Not sure what I mean when I say branding? So much has been written about this topic, Im not going to get into this here. Hint: it’s more than your logo

The Basics of Branding

Why is Branding Important

Why Branding Is Important When It Comes to Marketing

Back to it:

Lets set the stage

You are the keeper of a brand thats been around for a while and has been doing well enough at helping you find funding and people to engage. The people who have known about you for a while are big fans, though they might not be aware of all your organization has to offer.

Sounds familiar, right? Those are growth problems.

Now today, new conditions seem to be creeping up behind you and catching up to you: your market is shifting, old funding sources are drying up or changing their priorities. People are interested in the shiny new offering that moved in across town. And over the years, youve been ALL things to everyone in your market, so you have a lot of programs and partners that you now question do they make sense any more? How do we reach people?

Do I need to rebrand completely?
Do I need to change what we say?
Do I simply need some new graphics and a flashy Facebook campaign?
Do our website and marketing materials need to change? How drastically?

The answer is: definitely some of that, probably most of it, and no please dont make a Facebook campaign right now.

Where to start?

  1. Get people on the same page. No matter what the issue, it starts with getting people on the same page. That means a group deep dive session to do some initial problem surfacing and framing. If your team isnt aligned, then not even the best messaging or coolest logo is going to fly. Its not. Dont try.??Youve probably already tried this and have come up with a million taglines, names for programs, or big headlines for a brochure. But none of them were exactly perfect, right? Thats because you were doing this in a vacuum and in an uncollaborative way. Were big fans of collaboration.
  2. Its a brand issue, almost always. Branding is communication, so a brand can take on many forms and exist in many channels. Most significantly, if your internal team cant get a hold on what makes your org different and speak that difference expertly to the audiences who matter most, again, that logo wont even get designed. And that website project wont ever get done. That tagline isnt going to get written either until you:
    • Figure out what you can claim in your space
    • Understand who you are speaking to and what they are looking for
    • Understand the obstacles and opportunities for engaging with you
  3. Rally around your brand. Once you as a team can rally around what makes your org different and the best for a particular segment of people, then messaging and content creation can take off. Why? Because it has a starting point – a claim. A perspective. A voice. And it has well-defined audience. And that audience is so well defined that messaging and other types of content can be tested and improved upon (but not reinvented over and over). See the progression here?
  4. Consciously create. Now you can create some website navigation that makes sense. And maybe boil it all down into a impactful tagline and set of data visualizations that back up your claim. Now you can create a brochure that doesnt look like everyone elses because you have a point of view. And your boss, your intern, your funder, your student they all understand your point of view because it is compelling to them. You are speaking with authority and perspective without jargon that they dont understand. You are connecting with them in a way that says you get them.

So yes, you need better messaging, but we wouldn’t touch a project that started there. We will always roll back to the brand.

You can go down a branding rabbit hole and spend loads of time doing huge research for months. We love that approach, and if you have the budget for it please do it. For most of the orgs we work with, we find that a series of problem-solving workshops on branding and messaging, plus some interviews, usually suffices to get people and projects on track.

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