Welcome. Isn’t that the first message we want people to know about our organizations—both as an offering and as the feeling we want them to have?

Some of you have pointed out that for a brand consultant I seem to spent a lot of time focusing on brand identities and other graphic communications. Guilty. I’m like you. I gravitate to the shiny object in front of me. Because they’re visual they’re easy to use as examples to illustrate larger branding issues. Brand strategies work behind the scenes and are a little specific and complex for a simple essay and to be honest position statements and key message points often aren’t apparent, get buried in text, or aren’t there at all.

And there lies the point: we need to make our organizations’ position statements come alive, not only in our graphics and visuals, but in our promotional text as well, hand-in-hand, as equals.

A fellow brand consultant, Mark Thomson, wrote eloquently about this issue. In fact, he takes brand messages a step further, he believes brands should tell a story. He writes, “Today’s branding remains rooted in design . . . While this is the historical root of our industry, its strategic core lies deeper. A brand both defines who you are and what you do, and it expresses this role through language, design, actions, and behaviors. Like hand in glove, the definitional and expressive elements of a good brand story fit each other snugly: Unfortunately, branding today sometimes feels like a glove without the hand; not much to hold onto when it comes to making introductions and forming relationships.”

I feel as Mark does. Hey, I know it’s not easy. You’ve got a season to sell. You’ve got an exhibition to promote. Yes, I know: the day-to-day, season-to-season messages that we must project about our arts organizations often take precedent over organization messages. But what does that leave you at the end of the year? Are audiences only aware of your most recent event, exhibition, or performance? How are you ever going to make audiences aware of your organization as a whole if you don’t do it through top-level, key, organization messages?

Think about these:

What’s Your First Message? What the first thing you want audiences to know about your organization? Well, I would argue that it’s that they are welcome. No, you don’t have to say it explicitly, but it couldn’t hurt. Take a look at the Philadelphia Zoo’s first message, “America’s First Zoo.” I find a lot of arts organizations starting talking about themselves in terms of precedent, history, or quantity: “We were the first to . . . ” ” The Theatre was founded in . . .” “The Museum has over 100,000 . . .”  Now these points are certainly differentiating and unique, but are they beneficial to audiences? Do audiences care about these aspects? Are they relevant to the experience they’ll have? Not to pick on the Philadelphia Zoo, well maybe a little: It may very well be that the Zoo is proud to be first, a primacy of timing of sorts, and maybe they’ve even found through study that this message is important to audiences as well. And if that’s true, more power to them, they’ve done their due diligence.

Benefits not Features. I would argue, however, that audiences don’t care about precedent, history, or quantity. These are secondary or tertiary messages after more primary ones such as: How is this experience going to make me feel emotionally? What is it going to do for my long-term mood? What am I going to get out of it that has a lasting effect that will make me want to come back? With precedent, history, or quantity, an audience’s initial thoughts could be: this organization is old, stuffy, dusty, out-of-step, and is going to take a long, long time to go through because of how much stuff they have. Sure you may have visuals that counter those thoughts, but aren’t messages and visuals supposed to be hand and glove?

Look at Your Stuff. What does the “About Us” section on your website start with? On Twitter? On Facebook? On your blog? How about your brochures? Where’s the paragraph about the organization overall? Oh, you say you never thought of including that or “there’s never any room for that.” Hmmm. Now look at the last paragraph in your news releases? You know the one, that short 50 to 100 word paragraph about your organization. Don’t have one or it begins with, “The organization was started when  . . .”

You get the idea. Schedule a meeting with your copywriters!