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A Beginner’s Guide to Messaging Development

Gigi Griffis • 3 minutes

Albert Einstein once said “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

But when it comes to talking about our businesses, that’s easier said than done.

In fact, telling the simple story of our products, services, and businesses isn’t just a matter of understanding how and why those products, services, and businesses work…it’s a matter of understanding what our audience needs to know about the product/service/business—and at what stage of the sales funnel they need to know it.

Which is why developing your overall messaging is so difficult—and so important.

Just in case you’re in the midst of your own messaging conundrums, here’s a simple look at how to start defining and developing your messaging:

Step One: Discovery

As with any other content strategy project, good messaging development starts with a discovery process. During discovery, you’ll want to, at a minimum:

• Review business assets internal and external (everything from brochures and websites to company-wide memos and sales decks)

• Interview key stakeholders to understand how they think and talk about the business, its customers, and its values, as well as what they love and hate about their current messaging

• Review available data and customer feedback to understand what customers find compelling and how they understand the brand story

• Check out the assets of top competitors and if you really want to rock your messaging project, here are a few ways to dig deeper:

• Sit in on a sales pitch or call, noting key selling points, customer questions, hesitations, and storyline

• Review outside assets that are written by or for your target audience (targeting travel bloggers? Search their blogs for content about your industry. Want to reach foodies? Review the language they use to describe similar restaurants on Yelp.)

When it comes to telling your story to clients, it’s important to keep it simple, but when it comes to messaging development discovery, there’s no such thing as too much information. Review, interview, audit, and read as much as you can within budget, timeline, and reason.

And while you’re sifting through the assets and interviews, don’t forget to take tons of notes and to highlight important points, recurring themes, and key language along the way.

A Basic Template for Story Development

After discovery, create a basic outline of your product, service, or business story. Try to keep it to three to five key points with supporting information.

If you’re unsure which messages are key to your story, focus on the what, why, and how: What do you do? Why does it matter? And how are you different/how do you get it done?

Still stuck? Try answering these questions in a succinct way and your key messages might start to take shape:

1. Why does your product or service matter? Or what problem are you trying to solve?
2. What is it that you do to solve that problem?
3. How do you do it?
4. Who cares?
5. What should we (the users/customers) do next?

From Story to Messaging

Once you know what story you’re telling, your next task is to figure out how to tell it. This stage of the process is really about honing the messages, making sure your voice fits with your brand personality, and matching your language choices to the way your customers think and talk about you.

During this stage of the process, I often write out my three to five key messages, write a sample sentence or paragraph that explains or contains each message, and list key phrases relevant to that message. This helps stakeholders understand the context and what a message might actually look like on the page—and it helps authors understand how to tell your story.

Where To Use Your Messaging

Once you have your messaging in place, your language perfected, and your storyline honed, the next step is to put that messaging to practical use by including it in:

• Elevator pitches
• Sales pitches/presentations
• Ad concepts
• Your homepage
• Your website
• Everywhere that you communicate about your business

For an initial messaging project, it’s usually a good idea to create one or two of these assets from the messaging and include at least one round of revisions after stakeholders have seen how the messaging works within your assets. Reading a list of key points can be a very different experience to hearing an elevator pitch or reading a marketing concept—even though the key points are included.

Message Away!

Now all that’s left to do is start your project. When it comes to messaging, always remember to focus on simplicity, answer the what, why, and hows, and flesh out your messaging document with examples, key phrases, and real asset language to give your authors and stakeholders a deeper understanding of what the final product should look like.

How does your messaging development process work? What steps do you take? What kind of assets do you include?


This is a guest post by Gigi Griffis. Gigi is a content strategist and web writer specializing in travel, technology, education, non-profit, and wellness content. In 2010, she quit her agency job and started Content for Do-Gooders, where she helps clients solve messy content problems around the world. You should follow her on Twitter.

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Gigi Griffis

Content Strategist

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