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Keeping Your Message Straight: The Three Levels of Your Professional Services Marketing Message

Over the last couple of weeks we have had the opportunity to discuss branding and marketing messaging with several professional services management teams. I was again struck by how so many firms struggle with their messaging and how to convey it to others in the firm. Besides the confusion and inconsistency this generates within a firm, it also makes it harder for the marketing team to maintain a disciplined message in the marketplace.

In trying to clarify the hierarchy of messaging for several management teams I found myself using a simple model that helped clarify the issue. It also puts the routine documents that one might use to capture your branding and messaging strategy in context. I'm sharing my model here in case you find it useful.

Your message to the external and internal world must work on three levels and is embodied in two working documents.

1. Your brand or market positioning.
This is the highest level, and it should be consistent to all internal and external audiences. So whatever audience you are addressing — from a potential new employee to clients in each of your verticals — your brand positioning must be consistent. This means that your brand message often needs to be a bit more abstract then your audience specific messages. The audience specific messages need to be consistent with the brand but do not need to cover every aspect of the brand. Since your brand message is relatively abstract and unchanging it often centers on values rather then dealing with specific services or target audiences. Think of it as your north star, a constant guide that keeps you on course.

To accomplish this task we often produce a Brand Positioning Statement (or simply, a Positioning Statement). This is a meticulously crafted paragraph that defines the essence of your firm. It can generally describe your business, convey whom you serve, and communicate the values and major benefits you bring to the table. In short, this statement explains your position in the marketplace. This paragraph becomes the DNA of your brand and all subsequent messaging. But it is an internal document. So even though it guides all of your messaging it is not intended to be read by anyone outside of the firm.

2. Audience specific messages.
Next down the chain are messages that address specific audiences, such as clients, business partners or potential employees. These messages need to be consistent with the brand position, but they are more detailed and specific. In a website, for instance, the home page is the ideal place to express your overall brand message. The pages lower in the site's hierarchy are typically targeted at specific audiences, so your messaging on these pages is more focused and detailed.

We often develop a document for our clients called a Messaging Architecture. This document identifies all of a client's key audiences, lays out each audience's key objections and concerns, then provides the appropriate response to each, along with supporting evidence. Each response is inspired by the Positioning Statement, but only the relevant parts are used and appropriate supporting detail is added to build a coherent and convincing argument.

3. Individual specific messages.
This is the most granular level, in which you are developing messages to a specific prospect or individual (for example, in a proposal or a face-to-face pitch). The message should be consistent with the Messaging Architecture but will contain highly specific and situation-relevant details.

You can't, of course, prepare a messaging document to covers these ad hoc circumstances. But your overall positioning and audience-specific messages provide a framework within which you can improvise with confidence and remain on-course.

 

There you have it. Three levels and two documents to keep your branding and messaging on track.

 

Author: Lee Frederiksen, Ph.D. Who wears the boots in our office? That would be Lee, our managing partner, who suits up in a pair of cowboy boots every day and drives strategy and research for our clients. With a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology, Lee is a former researcher and tenured professor at Virginia Tech, where he became a national authority on organizational behavior management and marketing. He left academia to start up and run three high-growth companies, including an $80 million runaway success story.

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