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The Proper Use of Key Messaging

A version of this post originally appeared on April 23, 2018

Most everyone knows the Jason Bourne movie franchise, starting with 2002’s The Bourne Identity, based on the first book of the Robert Ludlum trilogy. There have been at least three sequels. And I hear another one is in the works. Shown here is a poster for the original movie. The artwork created for the poster is called key art. This image of a gun-totin’ Matt Damon on the run appeared on the poster, on advertising, on standees, online … anywhere it might help convince someone to see the movie. Because stars sell tickets, Matt Damon’s name and image dominate. But, because female lead Franka Potente is well-known in her native Germany, her image was added, just to the left and behind Matt, to the key art used there. There are usually other, smaller scenes depicted in the key art to give movie-goers an idea of what to expect from the film. For any product or service that needs to be marketed, key art is important. Key messaging works in much the same way. Extrapolated from a brand’s Positioning Statement, key messaging is designed to influence the way a market feels about a brand.

Key art is designed to communicate the kind of experience you can expect if you go see the movie. In essence, it communicates the brand promise. A lot of resources go into developing key are that will trigger just the right kinds of emotions in the target audiences. That’s why, although it may be customized from one usage to another, key art is consistent throughout. You can see from the two images, they’re different but the same. For movies, and really for any product or service that needs to be marketed, key art is important. Key messaging works in much the same way. Extrapolated from a brand’s Positioning Statement, key messaging is designed to influence the way a market feels about a brand.

Brand platforms need three key planks:
• Purpose Statement
• Mission Statement
• Positioning Statement

We’ve covered these in some detail in other posts. But for now, let’s just look at the Positioning Statement and the key messaging that comes out of it. Let’s look at how and what that communicates about a brand.

Interested in learning more about how 
Boardwalk communicates a brand promise?

The Positioning Statement defines how a market should perceive a brand in order for it to have maximum competitive advantage over its rivals. More than that, it should define how a market should feel about the brand. It’s usually written in very simple terms so it’s easy to “get it” on a visceral level. Once you do the research that results in you defining your Purpose Statement and Mission Statement, you can deduce how you want your market to think of you. Now explain it, and make it believable, to a 12 year-old child. That’s the idea. Here is an example of a positioning statement Boardwalk developed for a Los Angeles based, non-profit theatre group. “theatre dybbuk* is an intensely creative performing arts group that genuinely moves people with meaningful, engaging experiences based on modern interpretations of Jewish tradition.”

The goal is not to have everyone who comes in contact with theatre dybbuk to be able to recite this statement. The goal is to have everyone feel this is the truth about them. This is their brand promise. This is what they’re going to deliver if you engage with them. But to get people to feel this way the group has to communicate. This is where key messaging comes in.

Whatever topical messages need to be communicated over the life of any business, “one day-only sale” or “we’re hiring”, whatever, there should be some sort of messaging that reinforces the feelings articulated in its positioning statement. This is key messaging. Very often key messaging is integrated into advertising messaging, either literally or through semiotics. Sometimes it is run alongside it. Some brands run completely separate brand advertising solely to deliver their key messaging.

So take theatre dybbuk’s above Positioning Statement. When they add one or another of their many stories to it, they can easily turn it into an elevator self-introduction.

They can add the who-what-when-where-and-why kind of information that journalists need and turn it into the boilerplate language at the end of their press releases.

They can add more detail as they go and write 50-word, 100-word and 250-word descriptions of their group. That way, they’ll have them at the ready when a journalist calls them up and asks for “250 words on what it is you guys do.” No one will have to scramble to write something and make sure it’s on-brand. It’s already done.

They can add these descriptions to any of their advertisements, programs, website, social media or any other communication. They’ll know, each time they do, they’re reinforcing the brand positioning they want. They’re letting their market know what kind of experience to expect just like the key art for The Bournd Identity does. Key messaging, written and used properly, will eventually “train” the market to have the kind of feelings about the brand that are advantageous to its future growth.

* The lower case initials are intentional.

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