In Mad Men, a series that follows an advertising agency on Madison Avenue in the 60s, Creative Director Don Draper sits before his clients, defeated.

The clients are a cigarette company and the Federal Trade Commission have recently outlawed any advertising that says or insinuates cigarettes are safe.

Don can’t think of any ideas for a campaign that resolves this problem. He’s failed them and the clients begin to walk out the door. As they do, one of them says to his colleague, “Don’t worry. At least we know everyone has this problem.”

At this, Don stands up. He gives a nice monologue about the Commission providing a fresh slate. No one can use any traditional tactics or slogans. Every company is in checkmate.

“This is the greatest advertising opportunity since the invention of cereal. We have six identical companies making six identical products. We can say anything we want,” he says.

What Don is referring to here is creative positioning. Get a generic product. Create a good campaign. Get more market share.

But things have changed since the 60s. The world is more transparent, the market more competitive, and we, the consumers, are more sceptical. As business owners, we can’t create a generic product and merely spend money on creative positioning to stand out in the market anymore.

We can’t get away with greenwashing, or saying we do good just because we hired an adviser on corporate social responsibility. We have to live and breathe what we say, as Wally Olins, the father of brand identity, said.

“Overall, because branding is about creating and sustaining trust it means delivering on promises. The best and most successful brands are completely coherent. Every aspect of what they do and what they are reinforces everything else,” Olins writes.

In turn, the power of our messaging we put out into the world is not dependent on what we say, but what we choose to be and do. (And I’m saying this as a copywriter).

So the food and drink company who has mixed messaging internally often always has mixed messaging across their website, newsletter and socials and can’t seem to take things to the next level. The cafe that isn’t bound in any brand story tells a crap story to customers (and their employees) and becomes diluted in a coffee-drenched market.

Before we look at our external messaging (and marketing at large), then, build the internal foundations. Get clear on who you’re here to serve, on your origin story, on your values, your personality pillars, and your key differences in the market. Once you get clear, you can get deliberate. You can be more strategic, effective and streamlined in what you say, how you say it, and where you say it.

So brand messaging, brand storytelling and marketing (they interlink) is as much about bonding, as it is about branding. A strong brand is about everyone being on the same page, your customers included.

That’s why I leaned more into the brand message strategy space. Today, small businesses have to publish a lot—across socials, blogs, email, website—if they want to earn attention and trust from the market. But if they’re not clear or deliberate, the overall message and value in the market becomes diluted.

They hire that copywriter for this, that other freelancer for that, which is fine, of course, providing everyone is working within the parameters of the larger brand story. But it’s hard to work within those parameters if you don’t know what those parameters are.

So go on, get clear on the parameters. Alternatively, if you want a professional to build those for you (and with you), give me a message.

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