Why your messaging strategy should be both foundational and fluid
When you hear the same chord played over and over, eventually it starts to sound a little stale.
The same goes for messaging. When your organization relies on one narrow collection of messages—hitting the same note again and again—your customers can become tonedeaf to what you’re really trying to say.
For your messages to be most resonant and memorable, you need to mix things up. Marketers must employ a broad set of messages—adaptable for the right moments, people, and applications—while staying specific and authentic to their brand.
At New Kind we generally group messages into two categories: foundational and fluid.
- Foundational messages express the organization’s core purpose, building off the mission, vision, values, and differentiators that have always been—and will always be—true to the brand.
- Fluid messages capture attention and evolve as the company or company’s products evolve. They are easily adaptable and interchangeable—an opportunity for marketing teams to prototype messages in different scenarios.
Let’s talk about why—as well as when and where foundational vs. fluid messages come into play when you’re communicating on behalf of your brand.
Your brand’s foundational messages should tell your story in a timeless way—true to your past, present, and future. The backbone of your brand.
Think of them as evergreen—not influenced by passing trends or happenings within (and without) your organization. Core to the DNA of your brand, these are the messages you should expect every person in your company to internalize and evangelize.
Your story should be a central piece of your brand’s messaging strategy. It’s the poetic articulation of who you are, why you’re in the business you’re in, and why you’re uniquely positioned to serve your customers. It’s a memorable narrative your audience will learn and love you for.
Your story shouldn’t change or shift dramatically if it’s truly rooted in your mission, vision, and values. Telling one story to one person and then changing the narrative for someone else erodes your reputation and weakens your positioning.
A shapeshifting story also indicates a lack of internal confidence. Customers aren’t likely to trust your products or expertise when what you say changes every time the wind blows.
Erratic stories cause confusion across every stage of your sales funnel. Consistency is key, especially when you’re making a first impression. When your brand is new in the mind of your prospective customers or clients, you need to build equity into messages that explain who you are and why they should choose you over a competitor. You need relatable, repeatable messages that reinforce your value.
A messaging paradox to bear in mind: customers only begin to truly internalize what you’re saying right around the time you get tired of saying it. Be patient.
As for customers who’ve been with you for a while—they need the reassurance that though many things may change and evolve in their world, they can trust that you’ll operate with the same ethos as you did on day one.
Your brand pillars should be another evergreen component of your messaging strategy. They’re the bedrock of your brand story. The expression of your differentiators—the unique strengths that set your organization apart from your competitors.
If you’ve done your research and have taken steps to understand what your customers need, you should have a clear sense of what sets you apart. Those points of difference are the raw material for your brand pillars.
Though your products or services may change over time, your brand pillars shouldn’t. Try not to tie your brand pillars to specific products or services, particularly in a world where you’re constantly optimizing, innovating, and changing your offerings.
Unclear or shifting brand pillars are an indicator of a lack of differentiation—and uncertainty that the brand can actually deliver on those differentiators. As the name suggests, your pillars should be the foundational supports of your brand story. Exactly how you articulate them to appeal to various audience groups can (and should) shift, but the real substance of the message should be consistent… which brings us to your personas.
Before sharing your brand with the world, you need to have a clear idea of who’s actually interested in what you have to offer.
While your exact persona messages will shift depending on what you’re talking about (Are you driving awareness of your overall brand? A specific product or service? An event or campaign?), an understanding of what resonates with each of your audiences should be part of your core, foundational messaging strategy.
Take the time to really understand the jobs your personas are trying to get done. Dig into the challenges they’re up against each day. Identify what persuades them to act. Keep all of that in mind when you’re messaging to them.
Since it’s springtime, here’s a gardening analogy for you: Think of the more fluid or flexible elements of your messaging strategy as annuals. They’ll probably require a little more regular care and feeding than your evergreen, foundational messages—and you’ll need to dig them up and replant them from time to time. But that’s what they’re there for. To be tested, revised, retired or reincarnated—all in a relatively short amount of time.
Unlike your foundational messaging, these ephemeral pieces are your opportunity to experiment and find out what works—and what doesn’t.
If you’re an open source or SaaS company, change is likely the only constant in your world. New products, services, updates, upgrades, code, and innovations pervade your office, 24/7. And while you may have flagship offerings that anchor your product portfolio, it’s likely that even those will evolve as time goes on.
For that reason, some aspects of your product messaging can afford to be somewhat fluid. True, the core value proposition and positioning of your products may remain unchanged, but as your products evolve, your messaging should adapt too. New functions? New use cases? To at least a small degree, your messaging needs to reflect those changes.
And in the world of digital advertising and publishing, adopting a more ephemeral approach to product messaging (outside of the product’s core purpose and function) gives you the chance to rapidly A/B test what works—and quickly find out what doesn’t. Release early, release often.
The simplest place to experiment with fluid messaging is in campaign materials.
Campaigns are typically time-sensitive marketing executions. They have a shelf-life or predetermined run date, and are often set up to be easily adjustable, A/B tested, or turned on and off—low risk, high reward.
So if you have an off-the-wall idea you think could communicate your brand or product—but don’t want to embed it deeply into the core of your brand—a campaign could be the ticket.
While your campaign messages should still feel like they fit within the world of your brand, they are a great place to be slightly more relaxed and take a little more risk. Then once you figure out what’s working, you can easily replicate it across other campaigns or in your overall messaging strategy.
The right message at the right time
It’s important to consider what stage of growth your company is in—and what your goals are—when considering whether to invest in foundational or fluid messaging strategies.
For early-stage organizations looking to get their brand out into the world for the first time, it’s important to have a solid messaging foundation that helps reinforce the brand’s story, big brand message, and differentiators. In these crucial early days of building awareness, consistency is key. You need to build familiarity and recognition.
When you’ve been in business a bit longer and have started to build recognition and memorability with your audience, you can add some variety to your strategy—incorporating more experimental messaging to the mix.
Fluid, easily interchangeable campaign messages can be a great way to test specific approaches as you promote various aspects of your business and stay relevant. They’re also a great way to test new messages to see if they should perhaps become part of your foundational framework. Even the foundation evolves over time—just at a slower pace.
This trajectory is typical of the tech companies we work with, but the right approach can vary from organization to organization. It’s not unheard of for a new SaaS company to come out the gate with off-of-center launch campaigns, aimed at capturing the attention of a skeptical tech industry in which it often feels like every company is saying the same thing.
Here’s a useful framework we use regularly at New Kind: The messaging architecture.
When it comes to helping brands articulate their story and unique perspective, we often focus most heavily on their core, foundational layer—their purpose. And while it’s true that all brands need messages that help reinforce their foundation—there comes a time when it’s also important to utilize messages that are little more fluid.
But when in doubt, start with your foundation. Then start building in the fun. Give your company a solid base for your messaging to stand on and you’ll more easily be able to tell the world what you stand for.