The message is on the one hand the information that the sender sends, on the other hand the information the receiver receives.

Sender (S) sends a message (x) via a medium to a Receiver (R) with an Effect (E).

The sent message often differs from the received message, since the sender encodes his message and the receiver decodes the message. Sender and receiver each have their own context (Realm of understanding).


Consider the following:

  • The message can be verbal & non-verbal.
  • The message can be sent consciously and unconsciously.

Read below:

  • Rules of thumb when developing the message
    • The message must be formulated positively
  • Key questions for developing the message
  • Research questions for developing the message
    • Balance outside-in & inside-out
  • Message and Identity & Image
  • Message and Content
  • Message and Context
  • Message and Customer Journey
  • Message and Storytelling 
    • Examples of ‘roles’ in a campaign
    • Determine the division of roles in the Story
  • Message: the Core of Communication
  • The message in a Campaign: wrapped in Creative Concept

Rules of thumb when developing the message

  • The message must be formulated positively.
  • The message is the translation of the proposition / desired positioning in text & image.   
  • Provide proof for the promise (proposition).  
  • Adjust Tone of voice & Atmosphere for each target group.   
  • Create a context that allows the target group to interpret the message the way you want.

The message must be formulated positively.

Always think of a positive message. A positive message is usually more effective than a negative message. So offer the recipient an alternative, something that he wants, something that motivates him. The Position Statement is an aid to quickly arrive at a message . 

With a negative message such as ‘don’t think of a pink elephant’, most people do think of a pink elephant. Stop smoking is also difficult. Striving for a healthy life is easier.    

With an Image campaign, a negative message usually does not work well either. Take for example the message: ‘Don’t think so negatively about us / our brand.‘ This is not how you can create a desired image. You do not offer an alternative: what should the target group think, what is the desired image? You cannot destroy an existing image, it is not something that you can delete from someone’s brain, as if you were deleting a document. You can, however, push an existing unwanted image into the background by making the target group think more about the desired image: the alternative. 

In short : Think of a message that promises something such as: ‘ If you buy / find this you will reach your goal.‘(We call such a promise a proposition .) Here ‘your goal’ is: to become happy, to be free, to belong, to have respect, etc. With your message, therefore, respond to motivations, values, etc. You can do this by researching the Means-end chain .  

Key questions for developing the message

  • Which message (which argument, which atmosphere, which emotion) attracts the target group and motivates them to the desired behaviour? With which arguments, text and image (= content) do we get the receiver moving, so that he will do what we want?
  • What emotion does the product / brand / topic of the campaign claim ?    
  • What makes the product / brand / topic of the Campaign unique?  
  • How can the brand best profile itself to respond to what attracts and motivates the target group?

Research questions for developing the message

You can convert the following research questions into interview questions.

  • What does the target group know / believe about Brand X?  
  • What attitude does the target group have towards Brand X?
  • What does the target audience think of the things they know / believe about Brand X?
  • Why does the target group choose Brand X or a competitor?
  • What are the main reasons for this choice? (For example: belonging & being unique within the group.)
  • Why does the target group find these reasons important?
  • What motivates the target group?
  • What can motivate the target group to opt for Brand X?

Balance outside-in & inside-out

The questions above assume an outside-in approach. Also determine a proposition according to the inside-out approach. Both approaches must be in balance with each other. Do not promise what you cannot deliver, but do promise something that motivates the target group.  

Message and Identity & Image

Corporate Identity projected as Corporate Image. (Birkigt & Stadler)

Identity can be understood as the sent message: which message does the brand send out about itself? On the other hand, the image is then the message received.

Message and Content

Traditionally it is assumed that a sender sends a message to the receiver, that message is then assumed to be inside a medium and this message could have an effect. But what exactly is meant by ‘the message’ is not always clear. The message can be for example

  • Information that the sender wants to transfer.
  • Information that the sender unknowingly gives.
  • Information that the recipient gets from a medium.
  • The promise – proposition – that the sender presents.

Usually the message means something in text, design is then seen as packaging to make the message more attractive. Thus the text is seen as the content and the design as something superficial. But a photo says more than 1,000 words. And a video says even more.    

On social media it is often clear what the intended effect of a message is: as many likes as possible, reposts, etc. But what is the message? A social media post often does not even contain text, but only consists of a picture or video.

In short: Content was traditionally seen as text, and this is called the message. But nowadays what is presented by (social)media in general is called ‘content‘ and this can consist of text, image, video, sound, etc. 

Message and Context

The message is traditionally seen as a piece of information that is brought out and / or is taken from a medium by the target group. A communication plan is often designed with the purpose that the same message reaches the target group through various means.

But the effect is not so much about what you send as a sender, but what the receiver does with your content and with the content of others. The recipient is bombarded with all kinds of content, online and offline. From all the information that surrounds him, he must filter what he finds important and make something meaningful from it. That is: what he as a receiver feels to be meaningful, not necessarily what the sender thinks is meaningful.

A screenshot of a cell phone Description automatically generated
Roman Osipovich Jakobson’s model

What the recipient does with the content and how he interprets the content depends mainly on the context he links to it. That context may consist of his cultural background, previous experiences with the brand, etc.

Message and Customer Journey 

Traditionally, a communication plan is made to ensure that ‘the message’ reaches the target group through various means, with the aim of getting the message out. But to achieve the desired effect, it is usually better to adjust the message to the target group.

The target group is often not interested in the message of the sender. For example, he is looking for entertainment and relaxation. Sometimes he is looking for information about a subject that is somewhat related to the message of the sender, but usually not.

The solution is then to provide entertainment and use the obtained attention to get the message in the spotlight. (For example, think of the Elaboration Likelihood Model.) 

If the sender is in the lucky situation that the target group is indeed looking for information that the sender wants to get rid of, then the target group will quickly develop its knowledge and context. Because the information found is added to his context and he starts looking for new information. This creates a search and searching for a product that he wants to buy, is called a Customer Journey.

That is why it is useful to map out the behaviour of the target group. This behaviour can then be adjusted in the direction of the desired purchasing behaviour (or the search for a vacancy, etc.). The behaviour can therefore be adjusted in the direction of a Customer Journey and the Customer Journey can be optimised, so that the target group makes the decision that the sender wants.

During that Customer Journey, the message must be adapted to what information the target group needs in that fase of his search. The best means of communication must also be chosen so that the message reaches the right target group at the right time at the right touch point and leads to the right effect.

In short: Not one message must be sent, but different messages via different means at different times in the Customer Journey.

Message and Storytelling

The message that the recipient understands, depends to a large extent on the context that the recipient connects to the content. (See above.)  

The message that the sender sends should be adapted to the behaviour of the recipient. This can be search behaviour, or he can be looking for relaxation, or he can be in a Customer Journey etc.. (See above.)

The foregoing gives two reasons why telling a story is importantFirstly, a story can provide a context through which the message is interpreted as the sender had predicted. Secondly, the receiver develops his knowledge and context, therefore it is useful to adapt the message to what the receiver needs at that moment, in that way a story is created. A story is dynamic, while a message is static.  

A third reason why the story is important also has to do with the context. People are more and more interested in the story behind a product or brand. They not only want the product, they also want to know the context. For example a responsible product is often not tastier or better to use, but the story makes it feel better.

Fourth, you can see a campaign as a story in which different players play a role. For example, if you look at a single advertisement in a campaign (or an other means of communication), you will already see several players asking for the lead-role.

Examples of ‘roles’ in a campaign:

  • The brand that is the sender of the advertisement.
  • The subject of the Campaign:
    • The product / service that is offered in the advertisement.
    • The subject that is brought to the attention if it is not about a product / service. Such as: bullying, discrimination, etc.
  • A person who recommends the product.

Determine the division of roles in the Story

Often several of the aforementioned ‘players’ play a role in your campaign at the same time. Therefore, decide which topic will receive the main role or which topics will receive the main roles. For example the product and the brand. Choose a leading role that the target group finds attractive.

In a campaign, an ‘endorser‘ is often used, he then has the leading role alongside the brand that is the sender. Two brands can also play a role in a campaign or in the Brand Story. For example, Nestlé is an endorser for KitKat, but KitKat can also be seen as Nestlé’s endorser. 

So developing a campaign is very similar to writing a scenario for a film or writing a play.

With the use of social media you can also give the recipient a role in the campaign. Just like with a game.

Message: the Core of Communication

Communication is about influencing the brain of the recipient, without using reward or punishment. So, in communication we can only use the power of the message. 

People often think that communication is about media, but with media you don’t get people moving. It is about the content of the media: the message. It is mainly about the quality of the content.  

The message in a Campaign: wrapped in Creative Concept

In a campaign, the Message is packaged in the Big Idea / Creative Concept. This is the ‘trick’ that must ensure that the barrier in the receiver’s head is bypassed or cleared. With the Big Idea you package the message so that it will be accepted by the target group, so that the recipient understands the message as you want. 

The Communication Strategy is the plan with which you want to convey the Message / Big Idea / Creative Concept to the target group / recipient.   

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