What’s your point exactly?
17 December 2015
Each day we’re likely to see 3,500 branded messages. In one 45-minute journey, the average London commuter is said to be exposed to more than 130 adverts, featuring more than 80 different products or services. Everyone is vying for our attention.
According to a Nielsen study, 27 million pieces of social media content are shared each day. At the same time The National Center for Biotechnology Information finds that average attention spans have gone down from twelve seconds in 2000, to eight seconds in 2014. And with Moore’s Law predicted to hold until 2020, the amount of information in the world continues to double every 18 months. There is so much to take in. Unless you have a simple, clear and emotionally engaging brand message, chances are it won’t punch through.
To be effective, every organisation must have a clear sense of purpose. This is at the heart of what needs to get across to customers on the outside and employees on the inside. And although external and internal communications have different objectives and can require different formats, that core brand message needs to be consistent and it needs to be true.
Every company is unique, but when it comes to asking teams about their core messages most start with the obvious traits from their sector. “We are professional”, “the best”, “efficient”, “reliable”, “experts”, “you can trust us”. But these types of descriptions are too generic and have no real value. Every professional services company would want to use these terms and any customer or employee would expect them as a matter of course. Who wants to do business with, or work for, a company that lacks these traits and is unprofessional, inefficient, unreliable or untrustworthy?
In today’s markets basic expectations can be very high, especially where competition is fierce. Customers and employees expect more from the best companies. The value and real meaning in a clear core message comes from finding what makes a company different – what makes it special.
This is where it becomes difficult to define core messages from within a company. The people inside are usually too close, too busy and know too much about the day-to-day details. They lose sight of the big idea. This is where a brand agency can come in, with an external perspective and an independent position. They have an ability to see the things that your customers and your employees actually experience. And as they work with many companies, in many different sectors, they can spot those low-value generic terms because they hear them all the time.
Something we have found to be helpful is to find the three words that describe the essence of a brand. Then, through workshops, interviews and observations we take the thoughts and ideas from inside and outside a business and work to distil them into a single line. This is not about paragraphs filled with jargon or vision and mission statements. This is one sentence and three key words that sum up what you are all about. It doesn’t have to be particularly original or clever. It must be simple and true.
Creating core messages in this way, means they are remembered. They get remembered because they are short and simple, but also because if they really are true they resonate with people. If people recognise them and understand them as related to their previous learned experience, this becomes a mental reinforcement. Reinforcements are quicker and easier for our brains, rather than something that doesn’t make sense or has to be learned from scratch. When these connections happen, trust builds between your audience and what they see as a company that is honest about its strengths and weaknesses.
Core messages add this level of meaning to a brand. Logos, symbols, fonts and colour schemes on their own can allude to cultural meanings and memories. But without your own distinct core messages, graphics can be hollow. If you have a sense that your identity is ok but people still don’t really get what you do, this is a symptom that could be telling you that you lack a clear set of core brand messages.
Uncovering core messages
Ask the right people, not just management:
There is often a huge amount of untapped insight in Support Teams and Training and Sales staff who deal with customers and employees every day. Customer-support logs can reveal common issues. Trainers know what aspects of company confuse or annoy people the most. Sales people know the features and approaches that resonate with clients. These conversations give a more realistic view of a company and provide a structure to organize and analyze the findings.
Ask the right questions and keep asking till you get to the real answers:
Laddering is one type of interview technique used to uncover brand attributes and values. It digs deeper to unearth insights that have more relevance. People are asked to describe the features of a company. This gets the initial attributes. Then, by turning to questions about these we get to a higher level that forces people to consider the reasons for their attributes. For example, if an attribute is “we are very professional”, this can be explored by asking “why is being professional important?” or “what does being professional mean to you?” The answers to these questions can then be questioned again in the same way, leading to yet another layer of abstraction from the original attributes.
Use your intuition, but base it on experience and research:
As well as rational analysis based on logic and quantitative data, intuition plays a surprisingly strong role in decision-making. Having intuition is being open to what your own mind (including your sub-conscious) is telling you, often through a sense or feeling about whether something is right or not. At other times, intuition can provide the seed of a great idea. Intuition helps us draw connections and see patterns across diverse inputs without doing conscious analysis. But this only works when we gather significant amounts of relevant information for the subconscious mind to work with. Intuitive ideas don’t just come from nothing and are not just creative guesses.
Will people remember your core messages?
If you want your core messages to be remembered, they will have to be reinforced. This can be in the form of repetition; putting them into practice (so they are learned through experience); creating an emotional connection to them; or by making people commit phrases to memory. Reinforcement moves the memory relationship from a fleeting moment that will be forgotten (sensory memory) to a longer-lasting recollection (working memory).
Humans are good at remembering a few rich chunks of information. Our brains are not good at remembering irrelevant or nonsensical words or lengthy lists. Not surprisingly, if we understand something, we are more likely to remember it.
Repetition of messages is the most common approach used by businesses, but it is not as easy as it might seem. ‘Habituation’ is our ability to tune-out messages that are constantly repeated – such as banner advertisements online that we learn to ignore. So whilst consistency is good, variation of where and in what format your messages appear keeps people attentive. But the variations must be deliberate and relevant. Random repetition can get people’s attention, but it can also be annoying.
One example of this is our work with Thrings Solicitors. Thrings has been providing legal advice for almost 300 years. They embed themselves in their client’s issues, becoming trusted advisers to help businesses grow. They needed a way of communicating what makes them different – a core message being ‘a different way of looking’.
Rather than focus on the ‘what they do’ we concentrated on the ‘how they do it’ – specifically with client relationships. Working with copywriter Maf Bishop, we crafted five simple key messages to accompany the images and define the spirit of the brand – all around the theme of a different way of looking. Collaborating with street photographer, Matt Stuart, images were created with double meanings – they made people look twice – creating a campaign with core messages that are simple and memorable.