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How to develop key messages

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of www.cuttingedgepr.com

Developing key messages is essential for successful communication outcomes. They should be central in all your branding and communication activities.

Key messages are the essence of what you want to communicate to engage your target audiences, helping you to:

  • Prioritize and focus information.
  • Ensure consistency, continuity and accuracy.
  • Measure and track success.
  • Stay focused when communicating.

Communication veteran Debbie Wetherhead recommends 3 steps to prepare key messages:

  1. Review organizational goals and objectives to ensure key messages will align with overall business strategy.
  2. Identify brand vocabulary, considering words and phrases you want associated with your brand and their SEO implications.
  3. Conduct a competitor analysis to avoid creating key messages in a vacuum or too close to competitorsí offerings. You can review competitorsí websites, marketing material, ads, news and social media mentions, value propositions, proof points and brand vocabulary.

Features of your key messages should be:

  • Concise: Maximum of 3 key messages on one page of written or printed material; each statement only 1-3 sentences long, or under 30 seconds when spoken.
  • Strategic: Define, differentiate and align with benefits/value proposition.
  • Relevant: Balance what you need to communicate with what your audience wants to know.
  • Compelling: Meaningful information designed to stimulate action.
  • Simple: Reader-friendly language; minimal jargon and acronyms.
  • Memorable: Easy to recall and repeat; avoid run-on sentences.
  • Relatable: Active rather than passive voice; no advertising slogans.
  • Tailored: Adaptable to different target audiences, with flexible language and depth of information.

Tips for developing your key messages

  1. Determine whether you need a timeless message or a one-off message.
  2. Identify your target audiences or stakeholders.
  3. Decide if a single core message is sufficient.
  4. Prepare key messages that describe an organization, product, service, program or point of view.
  5. Focus on benefits, highlighting your value proposition and stating the benefit for target audience members.
  6. Use supporting information to substantiate, differentiate and add credibility. Facts, figures and statistics, quoting authorities, stories and visuals can be effective.

Review

  • Ensure the messages you have developed support your overall communication strategy and organizational business plans.
  • Do the messages relate uniquely to you, or can they seem just as apt for your competitors?
  • When read out loud, do they sound conversational? Ring true?
  • Can you simplify the language or make statements more concise?
  • Do the messages motivate stakeholders or target audience to act?

Test the messages to ensure they resonate with internal and external audiences.

Check your key messages periodically to ensure they are still relevant to you and the changing marketplace.

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