3 Steps for Establishing a Core Marketing Message

As we step into a new year, it’s worth revising and refreshing your marketing plan, and ensuring that you have the right strategy in place to maximize your results.

If, indeed, you have a strategy at all.

While all the big brands definitely have a concerted, coordinated strategic plan in place, many smaller businesses are still largely winging it, often switching between different social media marketing trends and advice, in order to maximize their reach and brand awareness.

A take-it-as-it-comes approach might work for some and following the advice of various web commentators will generally have some merit. But before you do any of that, you need to establish your marketing goals, and the core focus of your communications plan, in order to ensure that everything you post online, or share on your local bulletin board, or wherever else, is driven by your central foundational aims.

So how do you do that? Here are three key tips.

1. Define your “why”

Any regular readers of Social Media Today will have likely read our advice on this before, but it bears repeating at regular intervals to ensure that marketers take in the key lessons of the exercise.

Back in 1996, Harvard University researchers James Collins and Jerry Porras authored a series of papers on building a company’s vision, which aim to simplify and streamline the process of establishing clear marketing goals, to ensure that your messaging not only communicates your key sales activation, but also resonates with your target audience.

In order to help guide brands on this, Collins and Porras established an exercise they called “The Five Whys.”

It works like this:

  • First, you start with a statement about your business, relative to what it is you do. That statement will be either “We make X products” or “We provide X services” respectively.
  • Based on that statement, you then pose the question: “Why is that important?” You can either then answer this yourself, or Collins and Porras recommend getting all of your executives/leaders to answer this as part of the exercise.
  • So, as an example, let’s say you run a hairdressing business. You might begin with: “We provide hairstyling services.” Why is that important? “Because people feel good about themselves when they look their best.”
  • From there you dig deeper again, asking the “Why is that important?” of your first answer, then your second, and so on, ideally digging deeper into the response five times by testing each subsequent response.
  • So taking our hairdressing example and the first answer: “Because people feel good about themselves when they look their best.” Why is that important? “Because self-confidence helps people feel free to be their best.” Why is that important? “Because when you’re at your best, you can achieve your goals.” Why is that important? “Because people want to get the most out of life.” Why is that important? “Because happiness and fulfillment are everybody’s ultimate aim.”

Based on the five whys, we’ve dug deeper into the true aim of a hairdressing business. It’s not about cutting hair and selling hair care products, the surface-level activities of your brand, it’s actually about helping people build self-confidence, and ultimately happiness stemming from that.

Based on this insight, you can then establish a mission statement:

“We empower self-confidence and happiness in our clients”

That then gives you clearer guidance for your marketing. You’re not trying to pitch people on the latest products, you’re trying to help them feel better about themselves. That, then, will be the angle for all of your ads, all of your social posts, all of your external messaging.

By digging deeper into your brand purpose, you’re then able to better sell to your potential customers based on what they want, not what you want them to buy.

That’s a much stronger angle for your marketing and much more powerful driver for your marketing messages.

2. Simplify your messaging into as few words as possible

The above exercise gives you your internal focus, but you also need to have a simple tagline for your communications.

Again, it’s important to consider what your audience wants, not what you think, as these are not always in alignment.

For example, Nike’s internal branding, based on the five whys methodology, is:

“To experience the emotion of competition, winning, and crushing competitors”

But Nike’s tagline, of course, is “Just do it.”

You see how the two messages align?

Taking our hairdressing salon as an example, using our purpose-driven focus brought us to: 

We empower self-confidence and happiness in our clients”

You can then hone in on the key elements to make it a more resonant, responsive focus for your external branding:

“Helping you find the best version of yourself”

Okay, that may not be amazing, but you get the idea.

Based on this, you can then use this message in all of your external communications, repeating the notion as part of your broader branding. That, again, should also be tied into every social post, every video clip.

The aim of brand messaging is to reinforce this message, as repeated examples of such are how you actually build a brand identity.

3. Update your social profiles

From here, you can then update your social profiles with your external message, while also communicating the key elements of your business ethos to all of your staff, marketing or not.

The more you can embed this core messaging into all elements of your business, the more you can establish this as a branding linkage with your clients, and get them more aligned not only to your business, but to your actual brand, by aligning with their needs and desires.

The exercise here is designed to ensure that what you say and what you do are connected, and that your messaging is more attached to your clients’ thinking.

Sure, you can just wing it, and try to come up with creative ideas every other week based on the trend of the moment, and you may well have some success that way. But that is not how you build a brand.

As per Collins and Porras:

Companies that enjoy enduring success have core values and a core purpose that remains fixed while their business strategies and practices endlessly adapt to a changing world.”

Understanding your true business “why” is key to building a foundational approach to marketing, from which all of your messages will bloom.

Purpose, commitment and consistency are how you drive ongoing brand performance. 

Bonus: It is also possible to use ChatGPT to run through this exercise, which will provide you with varied responses to help expand your thinking.

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