If your public-facing communications are like a fully staged theatrical production with costumes, music, and lighting, then your messaging guide is like the script. It provides the essential building blocks that allow you to articulate your value, key differentiators, and vision.
Put another way: just as a visual brand guide helps determine how to use the logos, colors, and other aspects of your brand identity, a messaging guide establishes the verbal components of your brand communications.
Not every organization or institution needs a messaging guide, but there are some telltale signs you may want to consider creating one:
1. You Have Difficulty Explaining What Your Organization Does
Recently, one of our clients sat down to write an e-blast to prospective donors and found herself daunted by the blank page. “How do I make a focused case for support that encapsulates all that we do?” she asked herself.
Then she remembered the messaging guide Libretto had just created for her team. Drawing from the key and supporting messages outlined in the platform, she was able to craft compelling content that was true to the values and mission.
An effective messaging guide will surface the key differentiators of an organization and articulate them clearly and concisely. This can provide the perfect starting point for members of the internal communications team – even if they already know the organization well.
2. Your Organization Lacks Internal Alignment
Large organizations with multiple teams working independently often find that stakeholders have differing opinions on how to talk about the organization. As a result, materials from different divisions can be wildly divergent, diluting the brand's impact.
Although the process of achieving alignment can be challenging, it will pay significant dividends. The messaging platform establishes a standard that communications staff can reference to keep the rest of the organization on track and on message.
Teams dealing with alignment issues benefit from working with external communications specialists, who offer an outside perspective and can help broker discussions among various stakeholders.
3. Your Offering Has Changed Substantially
In 2013, Libretto developed a successful institutional messaging guide for Marlboro College, which included key and supporting messages for the undergraduate and graduate programs. Over the next three years, the Graduate and Professional Studies division added a number of new degree programs and shifted the focus of some of their existing programs.
In response to these changes, we crafted a new, discrete messaging platform focused exclusively on the graduate offering. This is the beauty of a messaging guide – it is a living, breathing document that can evolve and adapt even as it establishes standards and provides consistency.
If you already have a messaging guide, it’s crucial to periodically check how closely it maps to your offering.
4. You Need to Differentiate Your Organization in a Competitive Marketplace
Newer organizations need to stand out from the competition and affirm their value and credibility quickly. Established organizations need to ensure that they remain relevant in a crowded field. A well-crafted messaging guide can help achieve both these goals.
How you position your organization depends on both internal and external factors. Even if you feel that your product or offering hasn’t changed substantially, you may need to evolve how you talk about yourself in response to shifting market dynamics.
This is a particularly compelling reason for startups to develop a messaging guide early on. Investing in a robust system for talking about your product or service is crucial in order to distinguish your company from competitors who may appear similar – especially as you work to build brand recognition.