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I have children, so my “vacation” plans are typically driven by their needs. Is there a place to burn off energy? A restaurant where occasional screaming is acceptable? Some kind of Disney attraction?

When I recently had the chance to escape for a few days without my kids, my “needs” changed dramatically. Is there a bar? Is there a pool? Is there someone who will carry drinks from the bar to where I’m sitting beside the pool?

I got exactly what I hoped for. Sun: check. Pool: check. Bar: check. But our hotel at the end of a street otherwise populated by spring breakers had also built its brand around the arts, and that grabbed me, almost as much as the poolside mojitos. (Almost.)

There were artists’ interpretations of select poems hanging in the hallways. There were mini curated libraries in the common spaces. The courtyard housed iron sculptures featuring prose about the sun and the sea. And the hotel had a room set aside where writers come to rest and work.

Someone on the marketing team had clearly written a buyer persona that looked a lot like me, and they had mapped everything from design to service to messaging to that persona. “Where culture and creativity meet” was among the key messages I saw in every nurturing email before I arrived, and every communication I received after I left.

Key marketing messages for B2B brands

We don’t work with companies that sell sunshine and rum, so what does this example have to do with business-to-business branding and messaging? There is a human being at the center of my story, and there should be a human being at the center of B2B brand messaging, as well.

My buyer persona was parent-who-fancies-herself-a-creative-type-and-is-splurging-on-a-rare-vacation-without-her-children. The buyer persona you need to reach might be frustrated-manager-who-knows-he’s-capable-of-more-if-only-he-could-automate-these-time-consuming-IT-tasks. Or perhaps, IT-security-leader-losing-sleep-over-cyber-breach-risks. Whatever your ideal buyer’s profile, you can bet emotion somehow factors into the messages that will determine whether they buy from you or from your competitor.

They want some task to be easier tomorrow than it is today. They want to be viewed differently within their organization and need help to make that happen. They’ve been charged with a challenge they’re not sure how to overcome.

Understanding which force is driving your potential customer is a critical first step to infusing key messages into your marketing strategy.

6 Steps toward drafting the right marketing messages

Key messages create cohesion, help define your focus and serve as the cornerstone of your branding, marketing and internal communications. They ensure accuracy and consistency, help spokespeople stay focused during media interviews and provide a gauge to measure marketing success.

But defining your company’s messages can be a daunting task.

Start with these six steps to identify your differentiators and the value proposition that makes your company unique:

  1. Identify your target audiences. Once you’ve identified a few key personas, start “interviewing” them. What are their pain points? What are their hopes? What do they fear? Which brands do they identify with? How do they see themselves within their organizations? Are there phrases to which they’re likely to respond? The answers to these questions should infuse your messaging.
  2. Review your company goals. Before you spend time honing your key marketing messages, it’s important to understand what those messages need to achieve. If your company is a startup, your primary goal may be branding, so key messages should be long-term to support the brand image you want to convey. Or, your company may be branching into a new market segment, in which case, your key messages should communicate the company’s expertise and credibility within that market.
  3. Ascertain your primary value and benefits. This is the crux of a good key message. How is your business or product different? What special capabilities, expertise or accolades set your company apart? How do you do what you do better/faster/smarter/cheaper than the next guy? Synthesize these benefits into one or two sentences to help your audience understand what’s in it for them.
  4. Research competitors’ messages. That’s research, not copy. It’s important to understand what your competitors are saying – and what seems to be resonating with their customers – to ensure your messages are hitting the right points and to counter their claims. If Company B says its solutions are the most advanced on the market and help your target buyers look like rock stars at work, your messages should debunk that statement, while emphasizing what sets your offerings apart. You have a wealth of data to comb through, from competitors’ website to PPC ad copy and performance to trending content.
  5. Brainstorm key words associated with your brand. When people think about Apple, the words that come to mind may include innovative, ubiquitous and effortless. What words do you want your audience to associate with your brand? Gather your team and throw out all the words and emotions relevant to your company, product and mission. Then refine the list until you arrive at a handful of descriptive, powerful words to weave into your key messages.
  6. Test, test, test. Once you’ve developed your messages, it’s time to test them out. Work the messages into written materials and conversations internally and externally. Are the messages easy to convey? Do they sound as strong verbally as they do on paper? What reactions do they illicit? Take the time to test and hone your messages until they’re perfect, and then roll them out across your organization.

Key message development is a time-consuming process, but it’s one that should be done before you embark on any other part of your marketing and communications efforts – including your website, your content and social media strategy, your media relations outreach and more.