Step 4: Developing Powerful and Relevant Messages for Your Audiences

Strategic communications planning is the foundation for successful and impactful communications and marketing activities. Each month, Vanguard Communications is releasing a new article describing each step of this important process. Click through to read past articles from our Strategic Communications Planning series. Interested in bringing the strategic communications planning process to your organization? Send us a note and let us know how we can help.

The messages you develop for your strategic communications plan will be the result of a well-crafted situational analysis, specific communications objectives and identifying the right priority audiences.

Messages are important because they will help everyone in your organization be consistent and stay on the same page when developing materials. They also will increase your team’s efficiency because you won’t be recreating the wheel each time you want to draft a new document; you’ll be dipping into your messages and using them to mold the rest of your communications.

To draft effective messages, the first step is to look back at the barriers and benefits you listed for your audience to make them hyper-specific and convince your audience to support the change in awareness or attitudes that you’d like to see.

Messages should address the question of “So what?” for your audience. What can your audience do to support or better understand your communications goal? What is the call to action that will help your audience push your organization a little closer to your goal?

Remember that messages should be relevant, compelling, motivational, culturally engaging and appropriate, and sticky.

Not all audiences will respond to the same messages, so if you have more than one audience you should develop a set of messages for each of your audiences. Based on their barriers and benefits, you also might want to consider what mode of persuasion they will react best to. Think Aristotle and the Modes of Persuasion: ethos, pathos and logos. Ethos is the credibility of the speaker or writer you are referencing in your messages, pathos accesses the emotions and beliefs making the audience feel like they have a personal stake in the issue, and logos uses reasoning and facts to persuade the audience. For example, practitioners will probably be more responsive to a message that uses facts (logos) while an audience composed of parents will be more responsive to family anecdotes (ethos).

Here are some examples of messages for a children’s mental health campaign:

  • For families: Being open and honest about mental health concerns in your family will make it easier for your children ask for help when it’s needed. (Pathos.)
  • For educators: Education research shows academic performance and attendance improve when students are connected to a supportive system of care. (Logos.)
  • For practitioners: Research shows that positive mental health is essential to a child’s healthy development from birth. (Ethos.)

Once you have your draft messages, remember to pretest them with a group of people from your selected audience. Even if you feel you have a good set of messages, this is an important step that is often skipped. Pretesting will allow you to confirm that your messages are easy to understand, compelling, actionable and not offensive. Options for pretesting come in many forms for all types of budgets. Focus groups or surveys are involved and expensive, but if your budget is tight you can ask people you know in the target audience to identify red flags.

The final step in message development is discipline. You need to make sure key team members have access to the messages and know how to effectively use them. This way, everyone will be singing from the same sheet of music for consistent and harmonious communication!