For many startups (and even established businesses), a strategic acquisition represents the ultimate goal. But big-money company sales don’t just happen; marketing a company for acquisition is a years-long process. Here are five lessons we've learned.
So, what is your brand? How have you gone about creating your branding and messaging?
Those are big questions with multifaceted answers, but, most simply, your brand is a promise to your customers. And if your brand messaging doesn’t properly articulate that promise and show how you back it up, it will fail.
Your brand is the combination of visual, verbal and emotional attributes that define your company and distinguish it from the competition. And it should be consistent everywhere. Sales pitches. Trade shows. Magazine and newspaper ads. Website. Billboard. Truck signage. Even down to how the receptionist answers the phone.
Your branding and messaging permeates everything you do, everywhere.
Building a strong brand is a multi-step process. But it doesn’t start with your logo! Rather, it begins with a hard, honest look at the core values of your company, whatever they may be: Customer satisfaction. Responsiveness. Hipness. Price. Honesty. Tech savvy. Quality. Atmosphere.
From there, you can begin carving out verbal elements of your brand that will work to make it tangible: the positioning and messaging for your company. The process is iterative. And it’s difficult. Afterall, you’re balancing fact, opinion, aspiration and emotion!
How do you articulate and codify your verbal branding and messaging?
By developing what I call the “Brand Messaging Toolkit” for your organization. This “toolkit” contains the key terms, key messages, boilerplate, your elevator speech and proof points needed to provide positioning consistency and credibility.
Creating the building blocks is just the beginning of this process. Shifting and shaping people’s perceptions of your brand requires an ongoing, thoughtful, strategic, multimedia communication plan.
Researching, developing and codifying your Brand Messaging Toolkit should be highly iterative and collaborative. When complete, it will form the foundation of your company’s positioning. The words, phrases, messages, proof points and scenarios in the toolkit can be used to quickly build the base of needed marketing content, presentation and collateral in the future.
What should the Brand Messaging Toolkit contain?
1. Key Terms. These are the specific words that represent distinct facets of your business that the company should seek to “own” from a branding perspective. Through strategic repetition, these terms will become synonymous with you company. Start by jotting down single words that represent your core values and how you want to be known.
2. Key messages. Key messages are phrases and short sentences that bring specific context to the key terms and are the goal of the entire branding effort. Key messages can often be built by artfully stringing together several key terms. Key messages are the building blocks for marketing-related content in all outlets: website, PR, email, advertising, social media, presentations, white papers and so on.
3. Proof points are an essential piece of the branding effort and bring specific credibility and life to key messages. Proof points accompany key messaging wherever necessary and appropriate in all outlets and are essential to the process. Data, client testimonials and case studies are critical proof points.
Data should include relevant statistics about your company (number of clients served, customer satisfaction survey results, years in business, awards won, market share information and so on).
Testimonials should be in both long form (50 words) and an edited shorter version of 10-15 words that focus on a key term. They can also be in video format.
Case studies or client success stories should be written from the point of view of your delighted clients. Build a bank of case studies representing a cross section of customer types and services provided. They should be crafted in written form in problem-solution-results format and designed to make the client look good for choosing your company.
4. Audience-specific messaging is key secondary brand messaging that speaks specifically to the major pain points and needs each of your distinct audience’s major pain points and needs. Audience could be different levels of buyers – stakeholders, influencers, decision makers – or it could mean speaking a slightly different language depending on the industry you are speaking to.
5. Overarching brand messaging. This messaging can be crafted once you have all of the above and includes such things as the “About Us” web copy, elevator speech, boilerplate copy, etc. By weaving together the approved key terms and key messages, and backing it with proof points, your brand messaging should be written in the inverted pyramid format to allow presentation in varying lengths with minimal editing.
Next Step: Website Content (Re)Development
Armed with all the above and detailed keyword research, you will be able to rewrite and edit all of your marketing-related website copy.
As noted, this is a highly iterative process. It takes a while and requires some research and discovery. You need to hear the voices of all key stakeholders, decision makers and company leaders with regards to how they want to see the company known in the marketplace.
You’ll want to listen to team members in sales and customer service to get a good sense of the perceptions from the trenches.
You’ll want to talk to customers and review competitive websites.
Enter this effort with an open mind and do a lot of listening and the pieces of the branding and messaging puzzle will slowly start to come together.