If you asked each department in your company what the most important thing you do is, why people should choose your company, and what your brand’s most important characteristic is, would everyone have the same answers?
If you currently operate and generate messaging without a message architecture, then everyone (inside your business and out) will have different answers. Of course, your business and brand can encompass a variety of benefits, functions, and traits, but a message architecture outlines the hierarchy of all your various attributes to inform your business’s overall messaging. A message architecture tells people in every department (no matter your business’s size) what things they should be talking about.
For example, Facebook might have a message architecture that prioritizes their communication in the following way:
- Considerate – Messaging focuses on being proactive, transparent, and helpful.
- Friendly – They emphasize Facebook as a welcoming community.
- Creative – Facebook highlights its ability to innovate and listen to user feedback.
If other businesses say they want to try to be more like Facebook, they will focus on communication and messaging that fits into these categories.
Message architecture provides a framework to guide and prioritize messaging efforts across departments, programs, and even the globe (if your company’s that large) to ensure all communication supports your business’s overarching objectives. Message architecture informs the subtext of your content across platforms and media (copy, emails, images, videos, etc.), helping each department align their communication goals.
Understand Message Architecture Further by Knowing What It Is NOT
Message architecture, which should be both specific to communication and actionable, is easily confused with other branding, communication, and marketing tools, such as:
- Mission Statement – A documented mission statement should outline what your business hopes to achieve. You might consider your mission statement while developing a message architecture.
- Vision Statement – Vision statements focus on the future and how your mission statement will shift as you grow. When developing a message architecture, you should consider how your messaging can help you accomplish the future you envision.
- Brand Personality – A brand personality is a set of human characteristics attributed to your brand, which helps you stylize your messaging and visuals. Your brand personality’s values will come into play when developing a message architecture.
- Marketing Glossary – Message architecture is intended to guide what your company says, not how they say it. Although a message architecture does not function as a glossary, the process of determining what to communicate will help define a more consistent vocabulary.
How to Build Your Own Message Architecture
The most popular and widely used process for developing a message architecture is the card sorting approach, a method which Margot Bloomstein outlined in her book Content Strategy at Work: Real-World Stories to Strengthen Every Interactive Project.
To begin, you will need a set of about 100 cards (or sticky notes) with a different adjective written on each. (Make your own or purchase a deck of Bloomstein’s BrandSort cards.) You will also need to designate a group to handle the project. Depending on the size of your business, this might include representatives from each department, a corporate-level marketing professional and stakeholders, your entire company, or just you.
Next, you will work together to sort cards into three categories:
- Who you are not.
- Who you currently are.
- Who you want to be.
After determining the “not” words, what you are left with is who you are currently. Next, discuss which words you might discard or add in the future. Take photos of each group of adjectives and note regarding hotly debated words.
After separating cards into groups, you will further sort them into categories, grouping similar adjectives and discussing their nuances. Stack words on top of each other within each category with the highest priority on top.
Once words in categories have been ranked, you will need to prioritize the categories. To do so, consider the following questions:
- What is your core identity?
- Which words describe your products or services?
- How are you viewed within your community, industry, or marketplace?
- How do your customers see your business or brand?
Before beginning the exercise, it’s a good idea to designate a leader (either in-house or a hired consultant) who will be able to keep your discussion on-task. Remember the point of developing and documenting a message architecture is not to choose a few adjectives that describe your company, but to designate and prioritize your business’s most important messages.
Generate Content within Your Message Architecture
Now that you have a solid message architecture, be sure to share it with your WriterAccess content strategist and writing team. With this information, your content marketing team will be able to execute an effective marketing strategy, keeping your business and brand on-message.
Jennifer G is a full-time freelance writer and editor with a B.A. in creative writing from the University of Montana. She enjoys researching and writing creative content to engage readers and developing professional voices for clients across all industries. She specializes in medical, health, veterinary, and financial writing. Having worked nearly thirteen years in finance, Jennifer applies her experience in the banking industry (marketing, social media management, consumer and commercial lending, customer service, accounts, and bookkeeping) to her writing work within the industry.