A company without a unified message and voice is like a ship without a rudder – it very quickly becomes apparent that you’re going nowhere fast. Crafting precise, coherent brand messaging is essential if your company or organization expects to speak with a consistent voice across all public-facing communications.
Coming up with an effective brand message isn’t something to be taken lightly. For each of the key ideas and themes you decide to express through your communications, you should have a clearly articulated rationale explaining why these points make sense for your company.
There are plenty of plug-and-play templates for writing value propositions, elevator pitches and mission statements, but if you want to create truly compelling messaging, you need to dig deeper and apply a more wide-ranging process – one that can help both your internal thinking and every piece of externally facing content you create.
Enter the art of rhetorical analysis. You may have been subjected to rhetorical analysis by a particularly pedantic or vindictive English teacher, but rest assured that using these principles to create a thorough brand story will be nothing like high school.
What is rhetorical analysis?
Rhetorical analysis is a method of interrogating a text in order to explain the tone, content, structure, intended audience, and other key defining aspects. Rhetorical analyses can be performed on any written or spoken text, as well as TV shows, movies, plays, and virtually every other narrative form of communication.
While its intended use is to discover more about an existing piece of writing, it can also be used to “reverse engineer” a key message, value proposition, or mission statement as well. By first determining the answers to several questions about what you want your brand message to achieve, you will have clear direction as you set off to write.
A traditional analysis involves identifying various rhetorical elements within the text itself. In the case of using rhetorical analysis to help generate your company’s messaging, you will supply the answers. Theoretically, a careful reader would be able to work backwards from your finished messaging to identify these very same components.
Rhetorical analysis begins with describing six key rhetorical elements, represented by the acronym SOAPSTone. These are:
At first it may not seem as though all of these elements apply to brand messaging, but with some careful reframing, they can still point you towards the most essential pieces of your communications puzzle. The answers to these questions don’t constitute the brand messagin itself. Instead, they help you identify all the key bits of information that you will need in order to write an effective messaging platform.
Who is the speaker?
Every text has a point of view – a person or entity behind it that gives voice to the content. While choice of speaker may seem like something reserved only for fiction writers, brand communications can come from a wide variety of perspectives. Does your company speak with a collective voice in the first person plural? Or does your primary brand voice belong to an individual representative, such as the president or founder? You could also decide to talk about your company in the third person – but fair warning: this can make you come across as not particularly approachable.
What is the occasion?
A better word for this element might be “context” – but “SCATSTone” isn’t a particularly memorable or pleasant acronym. Consider the broader context of the communications that your brand messaging will inform; this includes the overall landscape of your company’s sector. What kind of competitors does your company have? Where does your product or offering fit within the competitive hierarchy? What are some of the general expectations that customers will have of a company in your industry?
Who is the audience?
At first glance, this may strike you as one of the simplest questions to answer, but it deserves careful thought. Your answer needs to be more than simply, “Anyone who wants to buy my product!” What age range do you expect your customers to fall into? Where do they live? What kind of job do they have? How much money do they make? What type of lifestyle do they lead? Are there any particular interests that you expect most of your customers will share? These factors will have a tremendous impact on how you communicate with your potential customers and clients. Depending on your audience, you’ll want to adjust the kind of information you share to appeal to their interests, as well as your tone and vocabulary choice – for example, avoiding slang or jargon that your customers are unlikely to be familiar with. Don’t move on until you’ve thought long and hard about exactly whom you’ll be talking to.
What is the purpose?
In the case of a high-level brand message meant to position the company as a whole, your purpose will likely be to give an overall introduction to your company and your products or services. But when it comes to producing subsequent communications with a consistent brand voice, clearly articulating the purpose before you write a single word is essential. What do you want your audience to know? What kind of action do you want them to take? In other words, how would you define “success” for this particular piece of writing?
What is the subject?
Let’s face it – you’re running a business so the subject is pretty much always you. But it’s important to have a clear idea – in plain, simple English – of what you do and who you are before you try to spice it up with enticing descriptions and insider buzzwords. What are the key talking points you absolutely must hit? What essential features or services are you known for? What is your value proposition and/or mission statement? Why should customers choose you over any of your competitors?
What is the tone?
Style and tone matter just as much as the content of your communications when it comes to shaping people’s perceptions of your brand. Will your communications be casual or formal? Flowery and descriptive, or brief and to the point? The right tone depends a great deal on the occasion/context and the audience. A nonprofit organization assisting refugees should use a sober, more business-like tone, whereas something a little more playful would be appropriate for a daycare. How do your competitors present themselves? Do you want to stick to their example or stand out by taking a different tack?
Check your work
Once you have gained internal alignment around the answers to these questions, you will be in a solid position to start crafting effective brand messaging. Your newfound analysis skills don’t have to stop there, though. After you’ve written your company’s messaging, return to SOAPSTone to ensure that you are hitting all the points you established in the first place. Is your message appropriately crafted to appeal to your target audience? What specific words, phrases, and techniques achieve this? Have you touched on all the most salient talking points? Is your tone, style, and voice consistent throughout?
Crafting your company message is by no means an easy process, and approaching it through the lens of rhetorical analysis is just the first step in creating a captivating story that will resonate with your customers. But using a methodical, step-by-step technique to start what is essentially a highly creative – and somewhat subjective – process will help you get that much closer to a message that truly sings.
Looking for extra guidance to take your brand messaging further? Have a free consultation with one of Ace-up’s Business Coaches and see how they can help you today. They're thoroughly vetted, high-quality professionals in their fields, so they certainly know their stuff!