Your messaging matrix as a linchpin: How to earn institutional buy-in and reach your most important audiences. Your messaging matrix as a linchpin: How to earn institutional buy-in and reach your most important audiences.

It’s imperative for your institution’s ecosystem to be a united front when it comes to its messaging and brand identity. Disorganized or uncoordinated messages from any area of your brand hurt everything from recruitment to fundraising efforts. You can’t really afford to mess it up. 

It’s a decidedly thorny task to get everyone to support your brand language and use it correctly. After all, this is academia. Exercises in getting widespread buy-in aren’t always a sunset cruise.

There’s a good chance the documentation of your brand language guidelines, in particular, may already be in a file on your computer. Although we’re willing to bet it’s been gathering proverbial dust ever since you hit ‘Save.’

This, your brand messaging matrix, is the most obligatory brand building tool to create and arguably the least used. But you need it. Just not for its original purpose.

We’re talking about dusting off your brand messaging matrix and giving it a new purpose. It’s been a misunderstood and neglected tool for too long. This simple chart once meant for summarizing your brand’s positioning and distilling it for each audience should be repurposed to be used as a point-proving powerhouse (and thus a key ingredient for buy-in).

Messaging matrix 101 for your higher ed. institution.

A standard messaging matrix starts with an overarching message or brand statement for your university and then rearticulates that message based on your various audience segments. Generally, your matrix will cover:

  • Your brand’s overall positioning
  • The main personas (or audiences) you need to reach
  • The most important details for each persona
  • Custom messaging for each subset of your persona

Your brand messaging matrix can cover everyone from researchers to students, government to alumni, community to prospective students’ parents. Of course, the depths to which that segmentation can go is infinite: Your students’ branch can go faculty by faculty, and department by department if you really want it to.

From there, you will make proof points that should be sufficiently broad and diverse to include your audience subsets. These are qualitative and quantitative pieces of data that support your statements. If you go down the rabbit hole of audience segmentation you’ll have to explore a proof point for each of them, so choose your own adventure. 

In the end, your proof points are where you infuse your brand’s messaging with a fact-based narrative. 

Your messaging matrix holds the key to brand language buy-in.

You can’t argue with facts. And those scholarly skeptics whose buy-in you need can’t either. That’s where your new best friend — the messaging matrix — comes in. Repurposed and ready for action. 

The qualitative and quantitative proof points you use are vital pieces of information that back up any of the statements you make. They exist as sources of truth, and solid evidence of the work that has been done. 

You have your data, even if it’s not showing up in your messaging matrix already. Your institution publishes facts and figures all the time. You’ve got a long list of tangible reasons why your place is as great as you communicate. 

Your messaging matrix acts as a conduit through which you, the marketer, prove your thesis. 

If your messaging says “We’re a globally-renowned centre of excellence in engineering,” for example, your proof points will be your back-up when the skeptics speak up. Because you won’t just get questions from your colleagues on your ‘excellence’ in that area; they’ll scrutinize what you mean by ‘global‘ and ‘renowned‘ too.

When pressed, you can point to the Nobel Laureates or Rhodes Scholars that live in your proof points. And you’ll get an assured and conclusive “Okay” in response.

The cynics and professional scrutinizers within a university environment are the hardest to get buy-in from, but perhaps the ones you need it from the most. When they come to question any of the statements they read in your messaging matrix, point them to the tool and they’ll see the statements’ defensible proof to back it up. What’s left for them to do but believe in the brand language your institution has laid out?

If you have built your brand the right way, the foundation will already have been built on those proof points. If you laid the groundwork correctly, and you’ve identified those key differentiators, now you just need to put it in this framework to show that you don’t just talk the talk.

All together now: Getting buy-in is a constant process.

Your messaging matrix allows you (and by extension, your colleagues) to back strong claims with confidence because the work’s been done to show that you’ve earned them. That’s not to say the work to getting it all together is quick and effortless.

Messaging matrices often take concentrated brainpower to develop. But involving more than your own marketing team can help move things forward at a faster clip. And, maybe make things a little more inspiring in your efforts to get buy-in from your colleagues. 

To do this, the right agency will work alongside you to develop the framework with a working group of stakeholders. Then they will populate a limited number of proof points for each topline message. Next, they work with the internal marketing team, and facilitate a broader internal exercise: now even more of your institution’s stakeholders will identify more proof points under each topline message. Everyone gets involved. Proof upon proof. 

More than working together and creating an inclusive environment, the participation of your various stakeholders instills buy-in because they can identify themselves in the larger picture. Their voices are being heard, but more than that, they’re proving to themselves their accomplishments fit into what’s being said at the institutional level. 

What is important to them — what they’ve had direct experience with or knowledge about — bolsters your entire brand’s messaging with the proof to back it up.

Through this exercise in acceptance, a wealth of ambassadors for your brand rise to the surface — more people showing that your institution walks the walk, converting skeptics and doubters alike. 

And this exercise never ends. 

Our proof point? Your institution is constantly pushing new boundaries in research, making discoveries, influencing how industries operate, and putting people out into the world who become catalysts for change.

If your messaging matrix has been lying dormant on your desktop, realize that it should be a living document. Because your proof points are always building evidence for your brand, provoking buy-in from skeptics new and old. Go ahead, dust it off.

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