3 Steps to Creating Your Branding Message

By: Adam Kleinberg, special to Overdrive

You only have one value proposition and you want it to stick in your customers’ minds. BMW is the “ultimate driving machine.” Apple customers “think different.” Nike’s message — “Just do it” — is ubiquitous with the brand. In my column “The Secret to a Strong Branding Message? Focus,” I discuss the need to be one thing in the minds of your customers. But how do you determine what that one clear message should be? The answer is to triangulate. The basic notion of triangulation is that you can figure out a location if you know its distance relative to three distinct points. This is how ship captains stay out of the Bermuda Triangle. Look for the intersection of three perspectives to identify your promise: the customer perspective, internal perspective and marketplace perspective.

Take, for example, the Oakland, Calif.-based organization Cat Town that helps troubled cats find homes and where my wife volunteers. Its challenge was developing messaging that makes it stand out from the many other places where people can get cats, particularly shelters. Here are three essentials it looked at to create its brand message:

The customer perspective:
First, you need to get into your customer’s head. What matters to them? Don’t presume. Interview customers, survey them, pay attention to them on social media, follow them around the mall. Start thinking about what your customers most value and keep track of keywords you hear repeatedly from them.

This kind of observation revealed to Cat Town that it wasn’t for just anyone wanting a pet. The cats its work with are often sick, older or shy. It realized its customers value getting animals out of cages more than bringing a cute kitten home.

The internal perspective:
For a brand promise to be effective it must be true. What is it about your product or service that makes it unique? Where do you create value? Talk to people inside your organization. As the founder, what is your vision? What is your top sales person doing to close sales? What’s unique about your manufacturing process?

Cat Town wanted customers to know that not only their cats, but the process for finding them homes, was unique. Rather than being picked up on-site as cats are at most shelters, they are delivered right to people’s homes and have access to various at-home services.

The marketplace perspective:
Only one brand can own a position. How do your competitors position themselves? Look at their tag lines. Read the “about us” copy on their websites. Palmolive positions itself as the only dish soap that softens hands while you do dishes. You want to make sure your value proposition is distinct.

For Cat Town, maintaining a positive relationship with shelters, which could be considered as both competitors and partners, was important to its business. It needed to distinguish itself without disparaging the competition.

Where your brand message lives:
Once you have your insights written down, divide them on a Venn diagram — using three overlapping circles to determine where these perspectives intersect and how.

Ultimately, Cat Town decided its message would be: “Open the Cage.” It wanted to connect emotionally with customers interested in helping troubled animals. It also wanted to touch on its unique process of bringing cats right to people’s homes and differentiate themselves from competitors in a positive way. Another key aspect important for your brand messaging: looking to the future and your potential for growth. For Cat Town, that meant having a message that didn’t just describe its organization, but also sparked the potential for a movement. Whether you’re involved in something overtly humane like finding homes for cats or you’re selling software or motor oil — that’s the ethos you have to get across through your own branding message.



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