Often when I talk to clients or teach classes for the Long Beach Nonprofit Partnership, I refer to “key marketing messages.” I start by asking them what their key marketing messages are without telling me their product. Clearly defined key marketing messages reveal a strong brand that people understand instantly without necessarily knowing your product or mission.
Talking about their own product or service without naming their product or service consistently stumps them. Then I ask them to describe the Apple Store and in comparison, describe Best Buy. They usually come up with a list like this:
Sleek and Subtle
In Your Face
They didn’t mention one product or one service. They mentioned the qualities that permeate those stores, those brands, and thus become their key marketing messages that are communicated clearly, and intentionally.
As another example, I ask them to name a fast food chain that uses red and yellow in their logos. The top two to get named are usually McDonald’s and In-N-Out, though there are many others that also use yellow and red in their logos. When asked to describe these two restaurants, I usually hear the following:
High volume (over 30 billion served)
Note that the menus of the two restaurants have great overlap. They have burgers, fries, shakes and sodas. They both even have a double patty burger. Even though they both use the same colors, they are drastically different in how they communicate what they do. In-N-Out features crossed palm trees giving the subtle message of life, freshness, movement. McDonald’s has the golden arches—long lasting, immovable. Their brands come through in so many more ways than just through the colors of their logos.
While my clients and students are spouting off their products and services, I caution them to describe the feeling or the essence of how they do what they do to boil it down to their key marketing messages. There are two roads I see them consistently take.
Nonprofits often go to their list of core values. Key marketing messages are close to core values, but usually people don’t describe a business as having integrity—a common core value–unless they’ve seen that organization face a crisis. Core values may be the foundation of their key marketing messages but they usually are not marketable in their raw form. You don’t walk into Apple and say, “Wow, what an honest company.” Of course there are exceptions. Public safety consistently uses values as key marketing messages and they use them consistently. “Protect, honor and serve” is communicated with a navy blue or black uniform, worn proudly and properly. “Truth, Justice and the American Way” is truly a values statement, but we can’t all be Superman.
Business professionals, on the other hand, tend to go to testimonials that show gratitude for the product or service they provided. Again, no one walks into an office and says, “Oh, this company is very appreciated.” That’s not to say that we can’t or won’t use testimonials in our marketing materials, but testimonials usually do not spell out your key marketing messages.
Sometimes clients will offer their media messages, also often referred to as key marketing messages, usually making use of superlatives like first, best, only, biggest, and so on. I refer to those as “talking points” that may change depending on the issue at hand. There will surely be an overlay of your key marketing messages, but talking points alone do not express your key marketing messages.
Your key marketing messages expose the essence of your brand—beyond the colors of your logo. Your marketing materials, the way you personally present yourself, the look of your office and everything you do should express these key marketing messages clearly.
Looking at the lists above, you can see that McDonald’s is struggling a bit. Surely this was not their intended list of messages. It’s not that you can’t sell those items and be successful—we just pointed out how wonderful In-N-Out is selling the same items. McDonald’s needs to reevaluate what their key messages are then match those through everything it does. If you visit their corporate website, you can see this phrase under the Ray Kroc story: Quality, Service, Cleanliness and Value, but when you go to their “values” page, they list their community service endeavors—sustainability, green, recycling and animal welfare. If they stuck to Ray Kroc’s list, they’d probably be okay. It’s the quality of their product that constantly comes into question. Balancing quality with value is probably the quagmire they face in their marketing platform on a regular basis.
So how do you develop your key marketing messages? Simply ask yourself what three things would you want your target market to associate with you. I personally want people to think of McCormick L.A. as creative, straightforward, and knowledgeable. Everything I do I can measure against those three things as the essence of my brand.
Examine what you do and how you do it then boil that down into three words that describe your organization or company. Don’t get bogged down in worrying whether other people say these same things. A unique sales positioning statement comes after this. Look back at the lists of Apple and Best Buy. Those same messages can apply to BMW and Kia.
Define these and you will have the best tools for measuring all of your marketing tactics. If you find what is mirrored to you is not your intention, as in the case of McDonald’s, then it’s time to re-brand.