by Wendy O’Donovan Phillips


6 messaging strategies

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on June 2nd, 2022

If you’re beginning to think about taking your practices’s marketing plan to the next level with an advertising campaign, then it might be time to think about the message you want to send. In advertising, there are six messaging strategies that are most commonly used: emotional, unique selling proposition, generic, positioning, brand image or preemptive. Knowing which messaging strategy you want your organization to use is a big first step towards creating a successful ad campaign. A good messaging strategy can also help position your brand for scalability and big wins. According to Spellbrand, “One of the fundamental differences between Fortune 500 companies and Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs) is the clarity of marketing messages and the importance placed on strategic marketing using brand storytelling.”

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1. Emotional

An emotional message strategy uses feelings to sell. An ad using this tactic should make its target audience feel an emotional connection to the product or brand. For a powerful example of emotional advertising, watch this ad about the importance of first aid. Emotion is more than just a handy tool to sprinkle throughout marketing tactics, it has a very real, scientifically-proven impact on consumer decision-making.

Antonio Damasio is a professor of neuropsychology at the University of Southern California. He conducted extensive studies wherein he examined the decision-making capabilities of individuals whose brains had been damaged or affected in such a way as to hinder their ability to feel emotion. Ostensibly, one might think these individuals would have an easier time making decisions than those bogged down with emotions; after all, they could look at situations logically with an almost pure sense of objectivity. However, what Damasio discovered was that they had significantly more difficulty with decision-making than their emotionally charged counterparts. He suspected that this was because they could not decide how they felt about each option despite having all the information they might need to decide.

How does this apply to marketing? It means that marketers can throw all the facts, logic and features they want at consumers, but it will ultimately be an emotion that drives their decisions.

2. Unique Selling Proposition

This strategy highlights something unique about your product or brand that others do not offer. What is the differentiated factor that sets your practice apart? What resonates with your prospects? This is the main selling point. A great example of this is included in Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle TED Talk in which he expresses a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership; starting with a golden circle and the question “Why?”

The essence of a Unique Selling Proposition can be difficult to pin down, as it varies so wildly based on the offerings of specific companies. To make matters more confusing, a USP is not a slogan, but can be used as such. One of the best examples of a successful USP is the classic Domino’s Pizza offer of “fresh hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less or it’s free.” While no longer offered, this highly specific offering helped the Domino’s brand stand out in a competitive industry by expressing a unique proposition that benefitted the consumer in either scenario.

When writing your USP, experts advise breaking up the process into these 3 steps:

  • Analyzing your competitors
  • Putting yourself in your customers’ shoes
  • Brainstorming emotional concepts for your business

3. Generic

Don’t be confused or put off by the word “generic.” This does not mean that you should use uninspired, non-descriptive language in your messaging. When an ad is using a generic strategy, it is focusing on selling the category rather than the specific brand. For example, you may choose to highlight why visiting a clinic is a smart choice rather than highlighting why visiting your specific practoce is a good choice. For example, a dentist might use the category of teeth whitening to drive traffic to their office without specifically selling people on it first.

Before pursuing this strategy, be warned: the marketing landscape has seen a marked shift away from generic messaging, especially after the events of 2020 led to marketing messaging becoming a congealed mass of generic platitudes (e.g., “we’re all in this together”) that made it nearly impossible for the offending brands to stand out. Specificity can go a long way, as Forbes contributor Pia Silver says in her blog: “Without making some bold decisions about where you are going to draw a line in the sand and what you want to build a solid reputation on, writing copy or coming up with your brand message is going to be a lot of fluff.”

4. Positioning

Positioning identifies the product or brand as the best in comparison to the competition. Oftentimes these ads will boast features such as #1 in customer service. For a more clear understanding, take a look at this 7 Step Brand Positioning Strategy Process, courtesy of Cult Branding:

In order to create a position strategy, you must first identify your brand’s uniqueness and determine what differentiates you from your competition. There are 7 key steps to effectively clarify your positioning in the marketplace:

  1. Determine how your brand is currently positioning itself
  2. Identify your direct competitors
  3. Understand how each competitor is positioning their brand
  4. Compare your positioning to your competitors’ to identify your uniqueness
  5. Develop a distinct and value-based positioning idea
  6. Craft a brand positioning statement
  7. Test the efficacy of your brand positioning statement

5. Brand Image

If you decide to create a psychological connection with a brand/product, then you are likely using this message strategy. This strategy oftentimes creates a personality for a brand and may not always specifically sell a product. For example, Johnson & Johnson used the idea of “love” in one of its ads, not necessarily targeted at a specific product.

Your brand image plays perhaps the most important role in how potential patients perceive your brand. It encompasses everything from the colors in your logo to the imagery in your marketing materials. It’s crucial that you stay consistent in your imagery so that people think of you when they see it.

6. Pre-emptive

Last but not least is the choice to use a preemptive strategy. This means that you are choosing to be the first to make a claim about your product or service. This claim may also be true for your competition, but you are the first to tell your target audience about it. Listerine used this strategy in their ads that claimed their breath strips would be like covering up a crime scene. If you plan to use this approach, make sure that you are extremely thorough in your research of competitors and their marketing approaches and strategies.
Success depends on first finding the right message, but it’s equally critical to distribute this message effectively.

Big Buzz is a marketing agency delivering a steady stream of move-in-ready leads to teams serving the senior living industry. For more than 15 years, Big Buzz has helped senior living marketing and sales teams nurture leads to increase occupancy, grow and scale. CEO Wendy O’Donovan Phillips is the author of the book Flourish!: The Method Used by Aging Services Organizations for the Ultimate Marketing Results, has been published in McKnight’s, has been a regular contributor to Forbes, and has been quoted in The Washington Post, ABC News and Chicago Tribune. The Big Buzz leadership team regularly lectures in front of audiences ranging from 25 to 3,000 attendees, including at Argentum and various LeadingAge chapters. Agency awards and accolades include recognition for excellence by the American Marketing Association, Gold Key Award Winner by the Business Marketing Association, HubSpot Academy Inbound Marketing Certification, and Top Advertising and Marketing Agency by Clutch.

by Wendy O’Donovan Phillips



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