3 steps to create a Message Strategy

At my web agency, we plan content creation right at the beginning of a web project. After all, only good content brings a site to life. Find out how we do it.

Why do we recommend developing a Message Strategy early on in a web project? The answer is obvious: content is an integral part of any user experience. After all, users come for meaningful content and not for pretty design.

A positive user experience (UX) combines reliable technology, clear and inviting design, and exciting and easily readable content.
A good user experience (UX) combines reliable technology, clear and inviting design, and meaningful content.

When we develop a Message Strategy as part of the overall Content Strategy, we first need to know what a company stands for. Thereafter, we find out what users need when they browse through the company’s website. Then we match the two: We combine what a company stands for with the needs of its target groups to identify all of the relevant topics we need to tackle on the website. This process also establishes key cornerstones for the information architecture and the user journey. Since the Message Strategy provides elementary insights for the user experience, we recommend developing a Message Strategy right at the beginning of a web project. We do this in the following 3 steps.

Step 1: What the company stands for

The clearer the message, the stronger the branding effect
Every single page that a visitor views on a website must convey the company’s core message. Whether it is the ‘About Us’ page or the shop’s checkout process — the experience we provide via design, imagery, tonality and content must feed into a core message. The core message is a clear and specific statement of what a company stands for.

The clearer the message, the more precise the editorial team works
A clear and specific core message also helps the editorial team. It acts like a compass because every piece of content produced has to pay into this message. Therefore, when we start working on a website, we always define the brand’s core message first. We do this by looking at the brand’s promises and values. We study the communication strategy, and listen carefully when the project team talks about its company. With all these elements, we craft a core message. During this process, the brands core topics also emerge.

Example: Developing a core message for a web agency

My web agency Liip stands for digital progress — everything we do reflects this. There are 3 core topics that are particularly relevant to us.
1. We act responsibly: For us digital progress isn’t something purely technological. Progress affects the entire ecosystem — including society and the well-being of our planet. We take this into account, and exercise this broad responsibility in our organisational structure and corporate culture.
2. We use technology to create new things: A glance at our projects and skills shows that we are at home in the digital world. Technology is our core business. We use it to help customers develop new things.
3. We are experts in our field: When a company collaborate with us, they are looking for expertise they don’t have themselves. This expertise represents Liip’s value. We also cultivate this in our external communications.

Wherever anyone sees us or reads about us, these 3 topics must be visible in our communications. Because they all feed into a single core message: digital progress.

Liip’s core message and topics are responsible, tech and experts.
Liip’s core message and topics are responsible, tech and experts.
My web agency’s core message and core topics – this is how we position ourselves and this is the message each piece of content has to deliver.

Step 2: What users want

To avoid getting stuck in a company’s internal viewpoint, we listen carefully to the needs of our users. We interview users to understand their needs and wants. We ask what potential visitors are specifically looking for on a company’s website, what they find exciting, and what bores them. It also helps to give them a navigation task and watch how they click through the existing website. Potential tasks include ‘buy product X’, ‘find the opening hours’, ‘register for a course’, or ‘find out if you like this company’. We use the insights gained from this to define our user groups. We work closely with our behavioural psychologists and UX designers because identifying users’ needs is equally vital to the design process. Once a user’s need is clear, we summarize it in a single quote. The example of my web agency’s user groups illustrates the process.

Example: Developing user groups for a web agency

We defined four main target groups for my web agency, Liip, and considered what they are looking for in our website.
Directors: Potential customers come to our website to find out if we can give their company a decisive edge in digital transformation.
Start-ups or incubators: Switzerland is known worldwide for its culture of innovation. We help these companies to implement their ideas. Entrepreneurs from these companies come to our website to see if we fit the innovative bill.
Product owners: Customers who are actually working with us are equally important. In defining target groups, we have described these customers as product owners.
Press: We represent a new type of entrepreneurship. We are convinced that modern companies not only keep an eye on their profits, but their social responsibility, too. The press helps us to convey this message to the world. Journalists should therefore be able to find out about our culture and values quickly and easily on our website.

What visitors expect from our communications. For the sake of simplicity, we have not included HR in this example.
What visitors expect from our communications. For the sake of simplicity, we have not included HR in this example.
Each user group has a specific need when coming to our website. We summarize this need with a statement. Image Sources: Director, CEO Start-Up, Product Owner, Journalist

STEP 3: Bringing core message and user needs together

We have defined what the company stands for — in other words, we have the internal viewpoint. We have identified what our users need from the website content — in other words, we also have the external viewpoint. Now we have to bring these internal and external viewpoints together. This results in specific topic areas. Specific formats also usually emerge. Think of it as ‘nailing the sweet spot’ — that perfect point where supply and demand coincide. In this step, we work closely with our UX designers and, of course, the users. We discuss the feasibility of topic areas and potential formats to ensure accuracy.

Example: Developing topics for a web agency

Defining the core message takes lots of sensitivity and creative work. Developing user groups is quite time consuming. Then comes the 3. step, which calls for combinatorics: we bring the first 2 activities together.
Topics relating to ‘responsibility’: Our culture and our organisational structure of ‘holacracy’ is of interest to the press. Our organisational structure is also of particular interest to people who are responsible for digital transformation in their own companies. The topics of ‘holacracy’ and ‘culture’ therefore pull our topics together perfectly with the needs of our target groups.
Topics relating to ‘technology’: Our projects and services demonstrate that we use technology to create real innovation. This is interesting to leaders who are looking for support with digital transformation. These topics are also relevant to start-ups who are looking for a concrete implementation partner in Liip. By setting out our projects and services, we can present ourselves as an agency, but also meet our target groups’ information needs.
Topics relating to ‘expertise’: Telling people about our expertise is all well and good. However, demonstrating our expertise is more convincing. We therefore give our experts plenty of space and freedom to plumb the depths of their knowledge and write about it. Not everyone may understand it, but it immediately shows our ‘product owner’ target group what we are capable of. Another thing that helps this target group to quickly assess our expertise is the tangible results of our work. The ‘Expert Topics’ and ‘Results’ sections allow us to perfectly combine our experts’ internal viewpoint with our readers’ thirst for knowledge.

And here it is: our Message Strategy— the basis for any Content Strategy. We can use it to define subtopics and formats, choose distribution channels and derive monitoring targets. The matrix also serves as a guiding compass to direct all communication activities.

The company’s internal viewpoint (green circle) and target groups’ external viewpoint (portraits) come together in specific topics and formats (yellow circle).
The company’s internal viewpoint (green circle) and target groups’ external viewpoint (portraits) come together in specific topics and formats (yellow circle).
The company’s internal viewpoint (green circle) and target groups’ external viewpoint (portraits) come together in specific topics and formats (yellow circle). Image Sources: Director, CEO Start-Up, Product Owner, Journalist

Lessons learned

To establish the basis of a content strategy, you need to know your company’s core message and core topics. You must then position yourself so that you cover what your user group wants from you.

Checklist

STEP 1: Define the core message

Find out what your company stands for — and formulate it in a way that a 12-year-old child would understand.

STEP 2: Define target groups

Find out who visits your website and what they want from it.

STEP 3: Find the ‘sweet spot’

Combine steps 1 and 2 to define which topics perfectly cover your target group’s questions and needs, and also make a convincing argument for your company to this target group.

Defining the core topics forms the basis of any Liip content strategy. To ensure that these topics will be similarly incorporated by the editorial team, we also tackle content governance.

My words make the internet a better place. And I build teams that do the same.