How You’re Screwing Up Your Brand Message Without Even Realizing It

gum-shoe.jpg

Which is worse when it comes to marketing projects—crickets or confusion? When you’ve just spent loads of time and money on an initiative, whether you get no response or get customers and prospects more confused than ever, it’s super disappointing. Frustrating. Overwhelming.

If you have more mess than message, it can feel like you’re spinning your wheels or having to reinvent them every time you have to do marketing. That whole “So what do you do?” question turns you as tongue-tied as a kid on their first date. You find yourself getting the wrong kind of creative with expenditures as well as your reasons for avoiding marketing projects all together.

Developing a clear and strong brand message, the kind that wins customers and confidence, is a process and not an easy one. The work often involves stakeholder interviews, market research, strategic planning, and visioning exercises. You may already be doing some of these things or you probably know how, and if not, there are lots of books and other resources you can turn to.

What’s really hard—and what trips up most people when trying to create a great brand message—are the mental and emotional obstacles that can sabotage the process or prevent it from happening at all.  

Most of these stumbling blocks are intangible and invisible which makes them all the more insidious. Failure to recognize and address them can wreak havoc on even your most strident marketing efforts. So here’s what you need to know about the emotional and mental roadblocks that could be sabotaging your brand messaging process.

It feels easier to fight fires than ignite motivation.

I see way too many people underestimate the time they need to develop their messaging and overestimate how well they understand their audience’s needs and their organization’s values. You know clarifying your vision and positioning will ultimately reignite your team’s energy for marketing. But when time = money and you spend most of it putting out the daily fires, it becomes what you know and that feels comfortable. That might sound crazy when your days feel crazy with all the tasks before you. But when you’re in your busyness, it can be very hard to set aside the time needed to do something completely opposite—sit still and reflect.

Fix: Set a deadline to build in some time-sensitivity. Involve others in the brand messaging process whether that’s a few others on your team, an outside branding expert you hire, or a colleague outside your department or organization you trust to hold your feet to the fire.

It’s about as glamorous as grandma’s underpants.

All the thinking and analysis that goes into building a brand message can feel like grunt work because it’s hard and for the most part, it happens behind the scenes. There’s no outside feedback or acknowledgment. No promise of viral potential yet at this stage. Putting your brand message into play through your website, social media, etc.—the implementation—that’s the exciting part. Yet developing the brand message must come first. Too often I see people skip or skim through the process of creating the brand message and go straight to the execution only to discover what they’re putting out there is more sizzle than substance. Remember: good bread starts with cultivating good wheat.

Fix: This one’s simple—don’t skip out on the process to develop your brand message and do the writing first. Don’t try to do this AFTER you’ve designed your website or put together a brochure. Words and figuring out how the main ideas should be organized come first.

It’s as comfortable as sand in your underwear.

Going through a brand message process will require you to look deep into your company’s psyche so you can pull out the core nuggets of importance and value. You’ll discover the areas of misalignment between what you do and what you say you do. You’ll see where there are points of disagreement or confusion among your team. You’ll learn what’s not working and what areas you need to fix. The problem-solving may require changes, and we’re wired to naturally resist change even if we know it’s going to be for the better. Change takes brain power to channel new neural pathways and that can feel unnatural and exhausting.

Fix: Realize that clarity with message starts with clarity of mind. As long as you are prepared to look under the rocks in your business and deal with the inconsistencies threaded throughout your communications, you’ll be fine.

Your people-pleasing is making things unpleasant.

Okay, no one likes to admit this. But the people-pleasers among us (myself included) know that an effort to make everyone feel included and heard can backfire, and you end up with too many cooks in the kitchen. Of course, you have to take others into account when developing your brand message. Numero uno are your customers/clients. Arguably your business world revolves around them so their needs and preferences certainly have to be accounted for. At the same time, be aware of how much you are trying to cater to the outliers. Among your customers, your team, and other stakeholders like a board or shareholders, vision and goals might not always align. But it’s impossible to be all things to all people. Trying to take that stance will muddle your brand message and quickly.

Fix: There comes a point when you simply must draw a line in the sand and stake your position. Comprise is fine but kowtowing is not.

You’re stuck in a box covered with blind spots.

When you’re entrenched in your business, it can be very hard to pull back and think outside of what you understand and are familiar with. Figuring out the more difficult aspects of your brand messaging like your value proposition may allude you when you lack experience with similar situations to know how to apply different strategies.

You’re also trying to create brand messaging while emotionally tied to past ideas and experiences which makes it nearly impossible to have an objective perspective. It can be hard to see the forest for the trees. That’s not your fault; it’s just how it is. While 100% objectivity is not a requirement to get to a great brand message, crafting a spot-on one requires some degree of distance.

Fix: If you’ve been doing the work using internal resources but find yourself struggling in this area, now is the time to bring in an outside communication professional who will broaden your perspective and ideas. If you’re not in a position to hire, you can run ideas and verbiage through focus groups or enlist the help of a colleague outside your organization.

---

When you recognize how these emotional and mental obstacles factor into your own situation, you’ll be able to set reasonable expectations of everyone involved and move through a brand messaging exercise at a pace that works for you and your business. You’ll also know how much support you’ll need and what type at various points in the process.

As you successfully work towards a strong brand message, you’ll gain a level of insight, alignment, and confidence in your business deeper than you’ve ever experienced. I’ve seen this happen many times and it’s a thrilling aspect of doing this work. The newfound clarity and renewed energy will permeate everything you do. You’ll find alternative approaches to problems that have plagued your communications. Your team conversations will run more smoothly with everyone on the same page and speaking in the same voice to the outside world. Your marketing efforts will be a whole lot easier, less costly and time-consuming—and much more fun! Your sales cycles will be shorter and customer loyalty will strengthen. Most importantly, your work will be more shareable which in turn will significantly grow your reach and impact.

Lisa Mullis