How to create effective brand messaging?

Do you want to create brand messaging in a way that it would resonate with your customers? Or inform and encourage cooperative behaviours among your employees? Or communicate well-constructed, informative, and reassuring messages to your investors?

Then you could benefit from having a messaging matrix.

What is a messaging matrix?

A messaging matrix is a tool that serves as the backbone of your corporate communications. Finding the strategically-fit messages for your key audiences requires distilling lots of data and connecting many dots, which you can compare to solving a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle. That said, there is a method to creating effective brand messaging.

This scientifically-sound, step-by-step, how-to guide could help you create brand messaging that resonates with your audience.

This scientifically-sound, step-by-step, how-to guide could help you create brand messaging that resonates with your audience.


First, let’s address the elephant in the room: Most of us are not very effective communicators. Often, a large chunk of what we say doesn’t get heard.

Most of that waste can be attributed to a systemic problem, which insidiously undermines the effectiveness of our communications efforts. And to solve it, first, we need to acknowledge it.

80% of what you say goes unnoticed.

We live in a busy and hectic world. Psychologists state that travellers tackling peak-hour congestion suffer more significant anxiety than fighter pilots or riot police facing angry mobs of protesters.

Commuters can experience greater stress than a fighter pilot
Commuters can experience greater stress than a fighter pilot going into battle or a police officer facing a rioting mob.

According to the Mental Noise Theory, when people are upset, anxious or experiencing stress, their brain’s ability to capture and process information is reduced by 80 percent! Eight. Zero.

As far as communications go- we live in a perpetual state of mental and emotional emergency, which has grave implications for your brand messaging.

According to the Mental Noise Theory, when people are upset, anxious or experiencing stress, their brain’s ability to capture and process information is reduced by 80 percent.

You cannot create any message and realistically expect people to hear it, let alone being persuaded by it.

Your brand messaging needs to be so concise, so precise, and so consistent that they would cut through the mental noise, which is the purview of the discipline named Risk and Crisis Communication. That’s why you need to incorporate the principles and wisdom of Risk and Crisis Communication into your messaging.

Now without further ado, let’s start building a matrix -piece by piece- in six steps.

Step #1: Identify your stakeholders

Your first task must be to identify your stakeholders. That is a relatively simple -but mechanic- process. The key here is to widen your horizon, not focusing solely on your buyers. Always remember that your company’s reputation extends far beyond your customer base.

Identifying stakeholders

You can start by creating categories of interested or affected parties. At this stage, a two-by-two matrix would help. Put Value on the vertical axis and Importance on the horizontal.

Some of your stakeholders receive value, while others deliver it. Likewise, some of your stakeholders are indispensable for your existence, whereas others merely contribute to your success.

Next, assign names to these categories: Commercial (upper right), organizational (lower right), community & influencers (upper left), and collaborators (lower left.)

Stakeholder matrix, value importance matrix for brand messaging
Stakeholder matrix, value importance matrix

Now, use the below list to identify all of your constituencies within each quadrant. At this stage, don’t worry about prioritization. Just make sure that you have included all of your stakeholders. Your goal should be to be thorough. Identifying critical parties is the topic of the next step. Select all that apply.

Full list of all potential stakeholders for creating brand messaging
Full list of all potential stakeholders

Prioritizing stakeholders

Finally, identify your key stakeholders. To do that, you can use another two-by-two matrix called the Power/Interest Grid.

This exercise will allow you to determine your most critical constituencies. Place your stakeholders under one of the following four quadrants. If possible, limit yourself to ten interested or affected parties:

  • High-power, high-interest stakeholders: These are your key stakeholders, whom you should manage and engage. They are the bulls-eye of your communication efforts.
  • Low-power, high-interest stakeholders: Keep these constituencies well informed. Usually, these parties -in addition to those that are in the first group- make it to the messaging matrix.
  • High-power, low-interest stakeholders: This group needs to be satisfied, yet not over-communicated. They are not particularly interested in your company. They may or may not be included in your messaging matrix.
  • Low-power, low-interest stakeholders: These are the stakeholders that need to be monitored. You can keep communicate and efforts to a minimum.
Power / Interest Grid for creating brand messaging
Power / Interest Grid

Now that you have the list of your key stakeholders, you can move to the second step of brand mesasging, in which you will describe your stakeholders.

Step #2 – Describe your stakeholders

Your next task is to get a better understanding of some of your key stakeholders. Here, your focus should be on your customers and -if need be- on your employees.

The primary goal is to humanize your buyers. In other words, you are going to turn them into personas. “Is this necessary?” you might ask. The answer is no. But it is highly recommended. Here is why.

The primary goal is to humanize your buyers. In other words, you are going to turn them into personas.

By understanding your customers’ shared pain points, you can create more effective brand messaging. By discovering their goals, wishes, and dreams, you can find the appropriate tone of voice. And by analyzing their demographic and biographic information, you can allocate your resources more efficiently.

How to create a buyer persona?

Persona creation is a fun exercise. There are many ways of doing it, but arguably the most straightforward version is that of HubSpot’s persona development template.

Look at different segments of your customer base and try to identify common behaviour patterns. Most organizations develop multiple buyer personas. You could have as few as one, or as many as five. Don’t limit yourself to a particular number. In the meantime choose quality over quantity. The result should look something like this:

A sample of buyer persona for creating brand messaging
A sample of buyer persona

The road to highly effective messaging goes through creating semi-fictional stakeholder personas.

The road to highly effective brand messaging goes through creating semi-fictional stakeholder personas. While persona creation is more typical for humanizing buyer segments, you can also use it to categorize your employees. Now, you are ready for the next step, which is identifying the questions of your stakeholders.

Step #3: Identifying stakeholder questions

It is possible to predict 95 percent of the questions that stakeholders will actually ask. You could generate the list of stakeholder issues and concerns typically through research, media analysis, reviews of historical stakeholder feedback, interviews with experts, and focus groups.

It is possible to predict 95 percent of the questions that stakeholders will actually ask.

Fortunately, by creating buyer personas we have already made considerable progress on that front. You should have a pretty good idea about the needs and wants of your customers. So let’s focus on the parties for whom you have not create a persona.

What do stakeholders want?

With the help of a bit of Google search- we can create a generic list of what stakeholders want. For instance, here are the five biggest concerns for shareholders. You can use the following terms to search general stakeholder questions:

  • “Most frequently asked questions by XYZ.”
  • “What do XYZ really want to hear.”
  • “What are the biggest concerns of XYZ.”
  • “Questions that may be asked by XYZ.”
  • “What do XYZ want to hear.”

Next, run the list of concerns and questions by your colleagues, who are in close contact with those stakeholders. Ask them three questions:

  1. “Are we missing anything important?”
  2. “Which questions do not apply and should be removed from this list?”
  3. “How would you prioritize stakeholders’ concerns?”

Now that you know the most pressing concerns of each stakeholder group -buyers and institutions alike- you can proceed to the next stage.

Step 4: Developing key messages

Before you start crafting your brand messaging, let’s remember: When stressed out, people lose 80% of their cognitive abilities!

That’s why for your messages to be persuasive, you need to take the theories and principles of Risk and Crisis Communication to heart. According to the subject-matter expert Dr. Covello, there are four principles to which our messages should adhere.

Four rule of thumbs of crafting messages

  1. Rule of 3: In high-stress situations, people can process only three messages at a time. That’s why you should have no more than three messages per stakeholder.
  2. Rule of 27/9/3: For each stakeholder category, you should have three messages (or less) that have 27 words (or less) in total. As a rule of thumb, you should be able to read all three messages in less than nine seconds.
  3. Rule of AGL-4: During high-stress situations, messages should be at the average grade level of the intended audience minus four (AGL-4.) That is to say, if your average employee is a high school graduate, then you should construct messages to be understood by a primary school graduate.
  4. Rule of Negative Dominance: Research shows that during emotionally charged situations, people focus more on negative messages than the positive ones. That’s why avoid negative words when possible, or balance every negative message with three positive ones. Also do not use words such as: no, not, never, nothing, none.

You should have three messages per stakeholder, each having nine words or less. Your brand messaging should be so clear that people with four years of less education from average stakeholders of yours should be able to understand it. And finally, you should avoid negativity at all cost.

Four types of messages

With the above principles in mind, now you can focus on your content. Story-based communications strategist Cindy Atlee says that there are four things a message can do:

1. Descriptor messages can INFORM
2. Differentiator messages can PROMOTE
3. Connector messages can INSPIRE
4. Motivator messages can ACTIVATE

You can select the appropriate type of messages for each interested party. For instance, your shareholders might be more interested in descriptor messages containing facts and data. (e.g. Our growth rate beats the industry average.) Your customers might be more open to hearing benefit-driven differentiator messages. (Use our service and reduce employee churn.) Your staff might respond better to inspiring messages. (e.g. We believe every employee has a unique gift.) Finally, your volunteers and community might want to hear motivator messages that engage. (e.g. Together we are curing canine cancer.)

Proving proof points

Now that you are done with your brand messaging, provide three proofs for every core message, again, by following the 27/9/3 rule.

The supporting information should be strictly fact-based. No matter how relevant and noticeable your brand messaging is, by not providing factual information, you could tarnish your credibility. We will come back to this issue later on.

No matter how relevant and noticeable your brand messging is, in the absence of factual information, your credibility could be tarnished.

Once you have written down three short, positive, and clear messages per stakeholder -and backed them up with proof points- validate your work by people, who could act as a surrogate for key stakeholders. Upon calibrating your messages, move to the fifth step.

Step 5: Building the messaging matrix

Start by writing the name of the key stakeholder on the top. Next, go back to your notes and find out their key concern:

What keeps them stay awake at night? What is their biggest pain point? Write that down in a concise and precise way.

Multiple spokespersons could use this document, and they might not have in-depth knowledge about your key stakeholders like you do. If you want everyone to speak with one voice -which is one of the primary objectives of this exercise- then, make everything as clear as day.

Multiple spokespersons could use this document, and they might not have in-depth knowledge about your key stakeholders like you do.

Next, write down your three key messages, which you have developed at the fourth step. Double check if they all follow the four principles of crisis communications that we discussed above.

Finally, next to each message, write down your proof points, which should adhere to the rule of 27/9/3. To make things even easier on the reader, you can put headlines or a keyword for your proof points.

Repeat these steps for each constituency to complete your brand messaging matrix. The result should look something like this. Now, we are ready for the final step.

A template of messaging matrix for creating brand messaging
A template of messaging matrix

Step 6: Delivering your messages

Building a messaging matrix requires quite a bit of effort. Time, analytical thinking, and collaboration are needed to find strategically-fit messages. That said, creating brand messaging is only half of the battle. The rubber meets the road when you start communicating those messages.

Remember: creating brand messging is only half of the battle.

The last step is all about giving proper direction to the users so that they can effectively convey your messages.

Three modes of persuasion

Aristotle believed that achieving persuasion requires the existence of three elements: a credible speaker (ethos), an emotion-stirring speech (pathos) and logically-sound arguments (logos.) Let’s back up his wisdom with scientific principles.

1- The source of trust

Usually, the more competent and expert a person, the more we trust him/her. Think about a doctor, a police officer, or anyone in a professional uniform. During stressful situations, though, the perception of empathy and care overtakes expertise. Risk communications experts state that during crises, people judge the messenger before the message. Listeners form their first impression in as little as nine seconds.

What this means is that the effectiveness of your message is determined long before your spokesperson opens his/her mouth. Likewise, the persuasiveness of your website is determined long before a visitor starts reading your copy. If you want your messages to hit home, then you must create an aura of empathy, honesty, and commitment, while paying attention to details.

2- Telling stories and using visual aids

Dr. Jennifer Aaker, the renown marketing expert, says that stories are remembered up to 22 times more than facts alone. She adds, “When people think of advocating for their ideas, they think of convincing arguments based on data, facts, and figures. However, studies show that if you share a story, people are often more likely to be persuaded. And when data and story are used together, audiences are moved both intellectually and emotionally. When telling a story, you take the listener on a journey, moving them from one perspective to another. In this way, a story is a powerful tool for engendering confidence in you and your vision”

Stories are remembered up to 22 times more than facts alone.

Therefore -when possible- wrapping factual information in concise and precise stories could drastically increase the impact of your messages.

Likewise, neuro research shows that our brain processes images 60 times faster in comparison to words. That’s why using visual aids, showing -not just telling- could significantly increase the emotional impact of your content.

3- Citing experts

As a rule of thumb, whenever you make a claim, cite the work of subject matter experts. For instance, which of the following two arguments do you find more persuasive?

  1. Man spends more on Cyber Monday and Black Friday than women.
  2. According to the American Marketing Association, men spend %69 more on Cyber Monday and Black Friday than women.

As seen above, supporting your messages by citing third parties will make your messages more logically sound, thus increasing their persuasiveness. Adding the following three scientific principles at the beginning of your messaging matrix should be useful. Even better, you can use infographics to make sure that your messages stick with the spokespersons.

Final thoughts

So, there you have it: a step-by-step guide to building a messaging matrix. Before wrapping up, let’s remember the key points:

Final quality control

  1. We live in a world, in which we are always stressed out. As a result, methods of communication that would work under normal circumstances no longer apply. That’s why your messaging matrix should respect the principles of risk communications.
  2. The first step is to identify, categorize your stakeholders and determine the key ones.
  3. The second step is to define each stakeholder, and build personas for those non-institutional ones.
  4. The third step is to figure out stakeholder questions as 95% of them are predictable.
  5. The fourth step is to develop key messages by adhering to risk communication principles.
  6. The fifth step is to put everything together by using a messaging matrix template.
  7. And the final step is to inform or train the spokespersons about how to deliver messages.

Adding the following three scientific principles at the beginning -or end- of your messaging matrix should be useful.

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