Our Thinking

Messaging Isn’t Marketing

August 2018

By Aileen McDonough, Director Communications

When a company decides to create or refresh its brand, the first thing that most people think about is a making a change to the logo and visuals. Images are an easy way for people to understand and connect with a brand, and they have an incredible ability to inspire emotion and action.

However, the power of the words to convey the ideas behind the brand cannot be ignored.This is why messaging continues to be a key element in the branding process. In fact, updating or changing a company logo without communicating the fundamental concepts that prompted the change can often do more harm than good. And a brand new company logo without a clear, purpose-driven story behind it is simply a picture — it may as well be hieroglyphics to today’s customer.

What is messaging?

Messaging conveys the underlying value your company offers.

It’s the bones of your brand, laid bare of slogans to reveal the bottom-line promise you make to your customers and stakeholders: We will do X, because it helps you do Y.

This very simple promise defines and informs every communications piece that people create on the company’s behalf. It is the value proposition, clearly and concisely articulated. It outlines the benefits a customer will realize by choosing the company’s product or services. It communicates the most important thing a company does for its customers, and why the customers keep coming back.

Messaging is, after all, not just talk. It must be aligned with the actions of a company.

Because companies are meant to do something for customers, and your company’s success is based solely on whether you do it well, badly, or not at all. That is the promise every brand makes, and must keep, in order to stay in business. Companies that understand this boiled-down truth understand messaging.

Consider Airbnb’s messaging campaign: Belong Anywhere. Airbnb is a platform. It’s not a hotel (even though it currently has more listings than the top five major hotel brands combined). There are no mints on the pillow. What Airbnb provides is an experience: traveling inexpensively, feeling comfortable exploring new places, living like a local. The belong anywhere idea guides everything Airbnb does, including the company’s recent, highly successful forays into experiences and events such as concerts.

Messaging is the sentence written in invisible ink, the words that appear when a light is shined on your brand. It’s the underlying philosophy, the raison d’etre that comes to the fore when the brand is tested.

When customers complain, or turn away, a company must go back to its messaging and ask: Are we keeping our brand promise?

If the answer is no, then the company has strayed from its messaging and a course-correction is in order. Or perhaps the messaging has not evolved with the industry or culture, and it’s time for a review and a refresh to stay relevant and keep customers engaged. (This is where a branding consultancy can help!)

What messaging is not:

Messaging is not marketing.

Messaging is not slogans.

Messaging is not taglines.

Messaging is not marketing, any more than the lighthouse beam is the boat. Rather, messaging guides communications, so that they are always turned in the right direction, expressing the unique value the company has to offer. When everyone in a company understands and supports the messaging, communications pieces are aligned. Cohesive. Powerful.

Have you looked at your messaging lately?


Straightline is an international brand strategy and design consultancy. We work with leaders of global and emerging businesses to develop brand strategies and creative solutions that help organizations improve their business and bottom line. To have a conversation about your brand, contact us.

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