February 18, 2022 / Marjoram
Brand messaging is hard to maintain in large, industrial corporate environments. And it’s not particularly hard to understand why.
Each product, division, or sub-brand has its own unique marketing challenges and needs. And each requires its own tailored communication approach. Fitting these varying messaging strategies under the umbrella of the overarching brand — which has its own set of competing priorities — is often a difficult puzzle to piece together.
As any marketing executive with experience steering B2B product teams can tell you, there are natural tensions…to say the least. That opinion is typically informed by the thousands of times they’ve had to quote the brand book back to their troops after running their campaigns through the brand approval process.
So, what’s the secret to achieving messaging harmony between the brand (an abstract concept) and the product (a real, physical solution)? How do you find the glue to neutralize the friction and hold it all together?
Often, the real struggle is not in maintaining messaging standards. It’s in attaining sufficient clarity in how the overall brand relates to each of its sub-brands. It’s a complicated matrix of relationships. So if you find that clarity, balancing the needs of the parent brand and the sibling sub-brands becomes much simpler.
The Surprising Benefits of Product vs Brand Friction
Some tension between brand and product messaging is unavoidable. But that doesn’t necessarily make it unproductive.
The mission of the brand team is to present the overall organization with consistency and passion, and to generate excitement for the company. Brand teams see everything holistically. They want every product to fit neatly into the brand story to drive awareness and success.
Product teams, on the other hand, are concerned with the success of their — you guessed it! — products. They are laser-focused on creating demand for this specific solution (or solutions).
Both missions are vitally important. And accounting for the priorities of each group can help create stronger, more effective messaging — appeals that speak to the needs of your technically-oriented, B2B buyers and connect those needs to the company’s overarching brand attributes. The push-and-pull process of weighing competing messaging priorities can help spur creativity, sharpen your strategic approach and, ultimately, shape a better narrative.
However, if that natural tension between brand and product isn’t managed properly and carefully, it can reach unhealthy levels and lead to considerably less productive results. This scenario is more likely to unfold within the decentralized marketing structure that is prevalent in large, corporate environments.
With the brand team concentrated at the company’s headquarters, as is often the case, and product teams distributed around the globe, there may not be sufficient opportunities to build trust and connection between teams. In these circumstances, it isn’t uncommon for a more top-down approach to take root, with the brand team approving (or rejecting) the product teams’ language.
This isn’t an inherently inferior strategy for fostering brand message discipline. But it does leave more room for unresolved tension and unconstructive friction.
Is There A Right Way to Approach Brand Discipline?
We don’t make the products you buy. We make the products you buy better.
This memorable corporate philosophy used to be the calling card of BASF, serving as the chemical company’s tagline for decades. This philosophy, with one minor twist, also happens to be a great fit for brand teams looking for the best way to achieve messaging harmony between product and brand:
We don’t make the message you market. We make the message you market better.
Let’s unpack that a bit.
The Consultative Approach
In many big companies, the brand team is responsible for ensuring that all marketing language, including that produced by the product teams, stays within brand guidelines. Some brand teams embrace a consultative approach. If language changes are required, suggestions are made and sent back to the product team for execution or re-concepting.
Within this approach, product teams retain control of their work and the creative process. They incorporate the brand team’s feedback into their strategy and a balance is achieved. A balance between the needs of the brand and the needs of the product. The more collaborative brand teams help product teams make their appeals better by encouraging them to take full advantage of the parent brand’s strengths.
But not all brand teams subscribe to this method of message control. Some assume a more prescriptive role.
The Prescriptive Approach
These brand teams tend to exercise more granular control over language, voice, tone, and other elements of messaging, using lengthy, overly detailed brand standards. Their relationships with their product teams are less about engaging in a back-and-forth, and more about handing down yes or no verdicts from on high.
In this approach, product marketing teams are less empowered to come up with impactful, creative messaging that resonates with their customer base. Instead of focusing on a communication strategy that puts the product in the best position, they’re sometimes forced to recycle sterile, prefabricated language. They have to play it safe in order to deliver content they know will get approved. Often, that means diluting the positive impact that messaging can have on the product’s market positioning.
More collaborative brand teams trust their product marketing counterparts and give them the flexibility to utilize the brand story and guidelines for the good of their products. They aim to help product teams make their messaging truly better, not just more compliant.
Prescriptive brand teams exercise stringent command of product teams’ marketing and communication efforts. They embrace the role of brand police and extend their reach down to the product level. However, because they lack in-depth knowledge of the product’s market and customers, this approach doesn’t always yield the best results.
How to Achieve Balance in Your Product Messaging
When it comes to marrying brand and product messaging, your best bet is to take a more collaborative approach. Brand discipline is critically important, but a flexible framework allows the creative freedom necessary for product teams to pursue excellence while faithfully representing the brand.
However, there are ways to create the proper messaging balance even with more prescriptive brand teams at the control switch. You do this by translating the brand narrative into product-level insights. When doing this, you bring the aspirational message of the brand down to the immediate concerns of the product marketing audience.
Your first order of business? Develop a messaging framework.
What is a Messaging Framework?
Product messaging has to relay the story of the product to the customer and relate it to the broader story of the brand. Let’s first acknowledge that this isn’t an easy task. The customer is looking to solve a specific, technical problem. How you position that solution has to satisfy the customer’s concern while at the same time fitting into a brand attribute, a brand value, or the larger brand story. One of the biggest challenges in creating good product messaging is keeping those competing needs in mind.
Your product’s audience is made up of technically-oriented, B2B buyers with real-world problems, needs, and pain points — like keeping their assembly line running, for example. Your brand has a larger pool of audiences which includes the general public, employees, prospects, and current customers. As such, brand messaging typically takes on a more aspirational tone — “we make the products you buy better,” for example — which has a more B2C flavor.
How do you come up with language that appeals to multiple audience types?
You map out all of their needs in one place and use it as a guide for ideation. That’s exactly the idea behind a messaging framework.
How a Messaging Framework Benefits Brand and Product Messaging
Ultimately, the messaging framework you create will help you understand and aggregate the various points of view of all of your product’s stakeholders. Doing so will allow you to:
- Gain a better understanding of how your product impacts each audience
- Connect the product to buyer’s needs and business goals
- See how the product’s buyer fits into the brand story
- Identify opportunities for product/brand differentiation
- Find potential points of overlap between brand characteristics and product benefits
- Ideate effective approaches to sales and marketing communication
There’s no shortage of messaging framework templates out there. And that’s a great place to start if you’re hoping to tailor one for your organization.
Messaging templates are excellent tools! But they’re not the only ones at your disposal in your quest to create great product messaging. Here we’ve highlighted one additional tool in particular that we’ve found to be very helpful.
The messaging waterfall is a method with which you can achieve the right messaging mix and proper balance in your product marketing efforts.
The concept is simple: You start at the organizational top, with your corporate brand, and outline your company’s ideals, personality, values and attributes. Next, you focus on the product. You describe the real-world problem the product solves, document its features and benefits, and identify what differentiates your solution from others on the market. Then, you connect these real-world solutions to the needs of individual customer groups. Building out customer personas for your primary and secondary audience segments is a helpful exercise for this purpose.
All those messaging elements swirl together to feed targeted campaigns that help achieve your business goals.
Whereas a messaging framework is a static document, the waterfall method is an actual process to be applied in any product messaging ideation exercise. It’s a great way to ensure that your brand message is distilled and articulated uniquely to each individual buyer group in every marketing campaign.
Marrying Brand and Product
Targeted messages don’t need to be dry and mechanical. There’s no reason why product messaging shouldn’t include the more aspirational, benefit-driven language of the brand. With the right tools and tactics, you can create harmony between your brand and products in your marketing initiatives.
The messaging framework helps you to identify all the necessary ingredients for effective brand and product messaging, while the messaging waterfall helps you to deploy all those elements creatively and effectively at the campaign level.
There is no brand without products. And it’s much harder to connect your products with your customers without a well-defined and recognizable brand. Getting that balance right in your marketing communication efforts is the result of your brand and product teams collaborating to help each other with their individual missions as well as their common goal to win the customer.