The 5 W’s for Small Business Brand Messaging

When it comes to generating marketing ideas for a business — any business — most people start at the HOW. How will I market my business? Facebook ads, direct mail, television commercials? And away they go, long before they have even considered what the brand stands for … or what message they’re trying to deliver.

In journalism, we use the 5 W’s when building news articles. The who, what, why, when and where are critical to telling a story that anyone can quickly understand. The thing is: This concept works when explaining just about anything. And a business’s brand message is a great place to start … wayyyy before you start designing your print ad or recording a podcast.

I’ve used this simple method for defining marketing messaging and strategies for a number of businesses. It not only forces you to understand what you’re trying to say, but it also helps create far more effective marketing plans. Let’s take a look.

The 5 W’s of Brand Messaging

WHO: We always start here. Whether you sell bagels or plumbing services, determine who your core audience is. Do you sell bagels to busy workers on the run? Do you want to focus on plumbing services for homeowners or commercial spaces?

Once you’ve narrowed that down, how else can you segment your audience? Do you have customers who use your tax services annually, but could also benefit from other financial planning products you offer? Find ways to put customers into buckets that allow you to market new offerings to them … when they’re ready for the message.

WHAT: Speaking of the message, what is the promise you’re offering to your customers? This is where your company’s culture comes into play, especially when developing your over-arching message.

Think of your “what” as a tagline that embodies what your business is about and why it matters. For instance, BMW says it’s “the ultimate driving machine,” which elicits an emotional response, and targets the type of customer they’re seeking.

When your main message is set, supplemental messages about new product offerings or services will easily roll up into your umbrella message.

WHY: The obvious answer to the “why” question is: Because we want to increase revenue. But I challenge you to not make the why about you.

Instead, ask yourself why your product or service is beneficial to your customer. This is harder than it sounds, but crucial to creating a message that speaks your customers’ language, solves their problems and builds loyalty and love of your brand.

WHERE: If you’ve made it this far, you’ve completed the hardest part. Way to go! Now you can start thinking about where to deliver your message to your core audience. Are you a restaurant that gets a lot of questions, messages and interaction on Facebook? Are you a portrait photographer who could show off your best work on Instagram?

Would sending appointment reminders over text be best suited for your audience? Or would they rather hear from you in their email inbox? Stop worrying about what you like, and instead, watch and listen to where they’re at. It’s a lot easier to go wherever they’re interacting than trying to convince them to go where you prefer to hang out.

WHEN: Determining when you should deliver your message is

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