The term “messaging” has been bandied about marketing situation rooms since … well, forever. But, like many marketing industry terms-turned-cliches, it’s one of those broad marketing-speak vocabulary words that insiders use but, for the most part, fail to translate clearly to non-marketers.

What it is

In content marketing, messaging means the same as it does in general usage. So let me give you a working definition:

Messaging is a noun. It’s the substance and/or subtext of intent that belies actual, concrete communication. It’s not what you say. It’s what you mean and how that meaning affects the receiver of that message.

I’ll use an acting analogy.

An actor does more than recite the lines written for their role. They infuse the lines they say with unspoken intent and motive that we pick up through other cues — facial expressions, body language, or tone. In fact, actors are trained to practice thinking an inner monologue in their heads or subtext that, in turn, affects their line delivery and performance. If they’ve done their job, we get the message. (find meme)

Here’s another example:

Modern politicians rely on data from focus groups and polls to craft messages that resonate with people they want to vote for them. I’m not going to go into the intricacies of message coding and dog whistling — using innocuous language in a way that exploits stereotypes or unsubstantiated fears, but … you get the drift.

Messaging, used in the context of content, is how brands articulate who they are, what they do, what’s important to them, and how they can make their customers’ lives better.

Why it Matters

We all use messaging everyday. We use it in conversation, social media engagement, in our dress, our carriage, our style and word choices. All these things collectively tell the world who we are.

Same goes for brand messaging. Everything you do — how you network, how you deliver products and services, how you operate as a company, your brand image, marketing collateral — conveys who you are.

Problem is, many small-to-medium businesses (and some big ones) fail to define their messaging. They don’t take the time to decide what it is they want to say to people about themselves. They just shoot in the dark at the moon using obsolete advertising practices — like broadcast commercials, relying on print marketing materials or throwing up a website — assuming they’re “getting the word out”. It doesn’t work anymore.

The old marketing model of casting a wide net so you can reach the masses has bitten the dust. Unfortunately, not everyone has gotten the memo. Brands who fail to plan their message also fail to reach their target clients and gain conversions.

Define your message: articulate your brand’s heart

If you want to stay in the game, take an honest look at your approach to messaging. Take the process of messaging seriously. Don’t blow it off. Your brand’s future may depend on it.

Start by working through these steps:

  • Define Your Business in Core Documentation. Start by clarifying your mission, vision, core values, target and value proposition. If you haven’t done it yet, now’s the time.


  • Put your heart into it — Write Your “WHY.” If you feel emotionally detached from your brand, you’ve probably lost sight of your “why” — the reason you started your company in the first place. So, I’m giving you a writing prompt: free write what doing your brand means to you … personally.
  • Write a brand manifesto. Write a statement that declares what your brand stands for.
  • List 5 things your brand does for your client/customer better than anyone. This is not the time to be Debbie Downer. List your brand’s superpowers — that “thing” that differentiates you. It could be nothing more than an attitude, swag or that certain “je ne sais quoi.” Hint: your brand is a reflection of you. If you tap into what makes you unique, you’ll find the key to your brand’s place in your niche.

Next-level messaging: your message architecture

Once you’ve articulated your brand’s message foundation, it’s time to begin structuring the re-bar: your message architecture. This is the process of taking your core message and deciding how it’ll translate in actual content. While there are a variety of ways to build a message architecture, it should include three thing:

  1. A message hierarchy – ranking your messages in order of priority.
  2. Messaging guidelines — determine guidelines for all content creators to convey that message (start with a content mission statement and content style guide).
  3. A message plan – determine what content types and outlets you’ll use to target your message receivers.

Obviously, there’s more to mapping out a message architecture than this. Ready to move forward?  Read my post, “Message Architecture Primer”. =

Need more? Get in touch for a consultation.