Back to school for brands: Get “in shape” with a message triangle

Your brand message can be boiled down into three clear elements with this handy geometric device.

It’s back to school season, so it’s time for a pop quiz. Here are three simple questions: What does your company do? What’s your brand’s mission? What is your brand known for?

If these questions stumped you, you’re not alone. But the goal is to have strong, succinct answers at the ready. Perhaps like many professionals, you drew a blank or found many thoughts flooding in at once. If you “aced” the quiz, you can advance to the next level. That means in an upcoming meeting, ask your team to go around and answer one of the questions. Would their answers be uniform or all over the map? Would the things they highlight be in the same ballpark as what it says on your website or sales collateral? Would the answers come naturally to them? Would they have to make things up on the spot?

Not many organizations nail that level of internal brand alignment and education. But if yours does, level up again. What if I asked some of your clients or prospects to answer basic questions about your brand? Does this idea give you pause? They will have answers. But those answers may surprise you because if you don’t clearly and consistently communicate the essence of your brand, you can’t expect external audiences to know. They will fill in the blanks on their own.

Companies who proceed without brand clarity do so at their own peril. That’s especially true in 2020, when budgets are strapped and attention spans are short. Your brand messaging must be highly relevant and memorable to break through. But how do you get there?

Keep it simple

When I’m working on a big idea for an important audience—whether for a reporter, prospect, client or colleague—I like to run a “keep it simple” diagnostic with one of my most valuable advisors. This process helps me assess if my message is clear or if it needs refining (usually meaning it’s overcomplicated or contains too much information).

Here’s how the process works. I give myself a minute to articulate the core concept and call to action. My advisor excels at providing unfiltered feedback and asks questions that sometimes pick my idea apart. At the end of my pitch, he articulates what stood out most to him. If he does so effectively, I smile. If he loses the thread, I sigh. Not because he messed up, but because I failed to present a cohesive message.

This advisor is one of my favorite “keep it simple” sounding boards because he’s smart, curious, funny—and he’s my seven-year-old son.

If you remember one thing from this article, it’s that this “keep it simple” approach works with almost any big idea or brand strategy. If a smart kid can’t comprehend and repeat it back, “it” needs work.

“Shape” your brand strategy

To help you focus and “keep it simple,” there is another back to school-inspired exercise to “shape” your brand strategy—and that shape is a (message) triangle.

Imagine a basic triangle shape. You have your three sides with open space at the center. At G&S, we advise people to think about that open space inside the triangle first. Come up with the statement that speaks to the core of your brand’s purpose—the foundation of what your company aims to deliver.

Then work out and fill in the three sides of the triangle. The sides of the triangle demonstrate the three most important manifestations of that brand purpose or promise. Approach this basic brand geometry strategically by getting input from your best people and partners. This will keep you honest and help you refine the triangle accordingly.

Visual learners, please see an example below. We worked with our client INSIGHTEC to distil an entire universe of their innovation into a triangle to keep us focused:

Just TRI It

The beautiful challenge of the triangle is the forced simplicity; it’s not a brand octagon, after all.

Keep your message triangle tight and streamlined if you want your brand’s most vital attributes to be memorable. And aligning on what goes in the brand triangle may generate different answers or outcomes from different professionals on your team.

This is a key part of the process, as you collaborate to work this messaging down to its essence. This work will lead you to learn, optimize and amplify what makes your brand unique. Ultimately, a message triangle that can be easily remembered and incorporated into daily communications—internal and external—is powerful.

Kathleen Reynolds is a vice president with G&S Business Communications.

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