Message architecture – the first step to your communication strategy

A friend of mine decided to start her own online business. She intended to teach languages online. I loved the idea and wanted to support her the best I could. Along the way I thought many people that consider starting online business in the times of corona virus may find it useful. And this is how this article come to be.

Common approach

From the start, my friend decided to teach languages on Instagram. Why Instagram? She followed many IG-bloggers and knew all their approaches and tricks as well as possibilities and functions (including monetarization) of this tool, at least from the follower perspective. So it seemed logical to go for Instagram.

This approach is quite common as many people follow it. However, as any other approach, it has its advantages and downsides. Let us take a closer look.

Common approach pros & contras

This approach is pragmatic and it totally makes sense. So on the positive side:

  • it minimizes the number of things-to-learn,
  • it allows concentrating efforts on content creation and
  • it allows launching the business very quickly.

However, this approach follows the trend rather than searches for unique ways that would support your personality and highlight your unique selling point. Thus the downsides are:

  • your efforts might get lost in the masses of very similar content
  • chosen communication channel(s) might not reach your ideal client
  • content creation might become torture if you are not good at it, have very little experience in content creation and/or do not enjoy it.

So in order to get all the positives and minimize all the negative side effects, I offer a strategic approach that suits small businesses very well.

Strategic approach for small businesses

Small businesses are those got started by one, two or three people on their own risk and financial resources. What I love about small businesses is their flexibility and ability to be authentic and successful in their niche.

Being authentic, believable and trustable is only possible if you communicate clearly. To do so you need to make your ‚why‘ explicit developing a message architecture for your business.

Starting communicating from your ‚why‘

The importance of starting your business’s communication from the ‚why‘ is best described by Simon Sinek in his famous TED talk. So I’ll just leave it embedded here for those who haven’t seen it yet.

Why do you need message architecture

According to Margot Bloomstein message architecture is ‚a hierarchy of communication goals that reflects a common vocabulary‘. Simply put: if you boil down your authenticity and unique selling point you should end up with a handful of keywords. Those are your message architecture.

So why do you need it?

Your message architecture helps guide the whole lot of decisions. So here are some examples:

  • Do I need a logo? how should it look like?
  • What should my slogan be?
  • What colours suit my content best?
  • What typography should I go for?
  • How do I address my prospects and clients?
  • How do I know what is the right tone and voice for my communication?
  • What communication channels are selling best for my business?
  • What type of content should I create and how often?
  • Do I need photo content? How should my photos look like? Any guidelines?
  • Do I need video content? How do I do it so it is authentic?
  • and many more

So a message architecture helps you answer all these questions in a consistent way so that in the end all of it falls perfectly in place and makes sense. So yes, message architecture is highly useful and it is not difficult to create.

Further below I describe two methods of creating a message architecture for your business. Both of these methods allow to dig deeper and make your inner motivation, your purpose and your ‚why‘ explicit.

5 MUSE keywords

This approach comes from the storytelling methodology called MUSE. Usually, it is being applied to frame a story or a multimedia project. However, it is also beneficial for one-person businesses who aim to frame their purpose, discover their authenticity and develop their message architecture.

Step 1 – brainstorming

Brainstorm as many words as possible that describe and frame your project, business idea and yourself. Try to come up with at least 30 words. The more the better.

You can either do it digitally (in a Word file) or manually using Post-its (one post-it per word).

Brainstorming words ask your friends, family and colleagues for help.

Describing yourself think of your professional ego as well.

Step 2 – clustering

Now group the words into five clusters with following titles – these are MUSE keywords:

  • Inspiration
  • Difference
  • Audience
  • Feeling
  • Call-to-Action

What inspires you/your business? All the words you relate to your (your business’s) inspiration go into Inspiration cluster.

What makes you/your business idea different? All these words go into Difference cluster.

What does your audience look like? Who are they? What do they have in common? Words related to this go into Audience category.

What feelings do you want to spread? How do you wish your audience would feel about you/your business idea? These words go straight into Feeling cluster.

What do you want your audience to do? What is the higher purpose? Related words go into Call-to-Action category.

Step 3 – pick the strongest

Each MUSE keyword should now be associated with at least 4 words. Take your time and look for only one keyword – the strongest one to describe the associated MUSE keyword. And then write an explanation.

You can change the order of the MUSE keywords if it helps you in the process.

Step 4 – example

Here is the message architecture for this website

Inspiration: Self-improvement

Every day is an opportunity to be a better version of me as a person, parent, friend and professional.

Difference: Perspective

I like combining my knowledge from different and seemingly unrelated fields. This ability to look at things from a different perspective helped me to find new solutions and differentiate my work from the mainstream.

Audience: Failure

We all make mistakes. However, we are never happy to admit it. I believe we should embrace failures and even celebrate them. Admitting my mistakes helps me connect with people.

Feelings – Trust

I am doing my best to be open about my mistakes. This honesty is important as it helps my clients to talk about their mistakes without shame, feel safe asking ’stupid‘ questions. Accepting imperfection helps building trust in all of my relationships.

CTA – Courage

Encourage people to take challenges and try out new things.

If you need more help with your MUSE keywords here is the page of MUSE storytelling, explaining these keywords in a framework of a story.

Card Sorting

The first time I have heard about card sorting it was from Margot Bloomstein’s book ‚Content Strategy at Work‘. This approach is useful for the businesses with more than one person on board.

I’ll write about it later.

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