Is your team wrestling with message strategy? Under pressure to get results? Make sure everybody’s starting from the same place — a common understanding of message strategy actually is.
As the self-proclaimed Message Strategy Experts®, we feel like it’s our duty to explain this term to the world. So here we go.
Since “message strategy” is only two words, it’s already pretty simple, right? Yes, but let’s break it down — one word at a time. (Yep, it’s about to get waaay elementary. See if you can hang.)
First, “message.” According to merriam-webster.com, it means “a communication in writing, in speech, or by signals.” I love this — simple yet expansive. I also love that “signals” makes this definition inclusive of nonverbal communication.
Okay so duh, message equals communication. What does communication consist of? Two things: “what you say” and “how you say it.”
(You’ve heard parallel ideas all your life. Function and form. Substance and style. Content and concept. In the ad business, people debate whether to “sell the steak” or “sell the sizzle.” Then there’s a proper order to the process: “Say it square, then say it with flair.”)
|What you say||How you say it|
Now to the second word, strategy. I dusted off my 1992 American Heritage Dictionary for this one. “A plan of action intended to accomplish a specific goal.”
Putting these ideas together, then, message strategy is (drumroll please) deciding what to say and how to say it — in order to achieve a goal.
These single-syllable expressions — “what you say” and “how you say it” — are key to distinguishing message strategy from marketing strategy and media strategy. Marketing strategy is what drives the message. It’s “why you say it.” And media strategy determines placement and timing so that your message gets noticed in the first place. It’s “when you say it” and “where you say it.”
Anyway, back to the message. You probably wouldn’t argue that “what you say” matters. And you probably wouldn’t argue that “how you say it” matters. But, toward achieving your goal, does one matter more than the other? Famous ad guy David Ogilvy once declared,
Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Ogilvy_(businessman)
Another famous ad guy, Bill Bernbach, while not actually disagreeing with David, had a different view:
you say it.
Image source: https://www.thebalancesmb.com/advertising-industry-profile-bill-bernbach-38613
Who’s right? Truth is, they both are. The key is striking the right balance between “what you say” and “how to say it.” Those are your two essential factors of effective communication.
Try this two-factor framework as a guide for discussing your brand strategy, value propositions, content marketing plans, taglines, and sales themes. When you’re brainstorming with your team, walk up to the whiteboard (or screen-share a spreadsheet). Make two columns: “what to say” and “how to say it.” This is a simple way to make sure each aspect gets equal consideration. It’ll also help your team focus and organize their thoughts.
(Send us a message if you’d like to have a facilitator or referee.)
Consider also using these two factors as a means to analyze what your competitors are doing. Should prove enlightening.
Does a strong message strategy really help you create effective communications? We say yes, based on the results we’ve seen.
Does this approach work for every industry? Absolutely. And some industries may benefit more than others.