All winning campaigns in the business world have a common element: a powerful message. But what makes a winning message?

The answer is not obvious. First of all, it has little to do with information. And although it goes against conventional wisdom, money is not king in the land of messaging.

Which is good news.

You don’t have to be a large corporation or a billionaire to “buy” a good message. You simply need to resonate; to connect in an emotionally compelling way. But how do you do this?

Similar to constructing a quality narrative, a good message is, above all, a story—the story of how we’re going to get from where we are to where we dream of being.

John F. Kennedy offered the New Frontier. Apple implored us to Think Different. Even Southwest Airlines has connected with our travelling desires, telling us to “grab your bag, it’s on!”

Many people think those are just catchy slogans. They aren’t. They are powerful stories, convincingly linking a present problem to a future solution.

Strong messages contain contrasts—your strengths versus your opponent’s weaknesses, emotional and empathetic components and, when possible, elements that inoculate your brand.

That may seem overwhelming. But these components can come easily into play by developing a message box.

One of the best depictions of a message box was provided by Ron Faucheux in his book Running for Office. He explains that the purpose of a message box is to break down your message into four parts: what you will say about yourself, what you will say about your competitor, what your competitor will say about himself/herself, and what your competitor will say about you.

Using this box will help frame the choice between your product and your competitor’s product.

When creating your message box, your message elements should allow you to be able to answer yes to the following questions:

  • Will this message appeal to the groups necessary to sell my product?
  • Does this message zero-in on both my strengths and your opponent’s weaknesses?
  • Does the message apply uniquely to my business?
  • Does the message help in some way to inoculate me on points where I am subject to attack?
  • Does my message offer an emotional connection to my audience or empathize with an issue they are facing?

Using this framework I’ve created a hypothetical message box for Southwest Airlines versus a Legacy Carrier.


Southwest on SouthwestSouthwest Airlines takes a new approach to air travel. Our focus will be on low fares, fun and ease of travel, without the restrictions.

  • No baggage fees
  • No change fees
  • Just serving peanuts
Southwest on Legacy CarrierThe legacy airlines treat customers like a number, providing less service for higher costs. They refuse to change and they restrict choice.

  • High baggage fees
  • Large change fees
  • Blackout dates/restrictions
Legacy Carrier on Legacy CarrierOur airline rewards customers for loyalty with first class upgrades and free flights. We fly to more locations and offer larger options.

  • Multi-class cabin
  • International flights
  • Larger reward program
Legacy Carrier on SouthwestSouthwest strips down plane travel to the bare bones offering nothing but peanuts in return. You have limited destination options and no first class seats.

  • No meals served on board
  • Domestic-only flights
  • Single cabin airlines

You can already start to see the contrasts the message box affords between the two brands.

How are they different? Southwest has no baggage fees, change fees or expensive fares.

What do legacy carriers offer? Higher fees, more restrictions and traditional services (first class seats).

Using the message box, let’s breakdown the elements of the Southwest message: Grab a bag, it’s on!

  • Will this message appeal to the groups necessary to sell my product?

One of the biggest gripes by travelers are added travel fees. This message reminds people that on Southwest, you can grab your bag for free (it’s on!).

  • Does this message zero-in on both your strengths and your opponent’s weaknesses?

One of Southwest Airlines’ biggest strengths is its no-frills approach. This message directly speaks to their strengths and contrasts it with the legacy carriers’ weaknesses.

  • Does the message apply uniquely to your business?

Since Southwest is the only airline offering these types of freebies, yes, it is unique to them.

  • Does it offer an emotional connection to your audience or empathize with an issue they are facing?

Remember when air travel was fun? Travel has inherent emotional connections for people and Southwest’s messaging is trying to bring back the fun in travel. Remember when you didn’t have to pay $200 for bag fees? Struggling to make ends meet? Southwest’s “Grab a bag” empathizes with that plight.

Notice that through the development of the message box the following became apparent:

  • The contrasts between the two brands (Southwest and legacy)
  • The strengths of their brand and what they should emphasize
  • Where to protect their brand against other brand’s attacks

Using a message box and this formula will help give your business the first step in developing a message. Focusing on providing an emotional connection help ensure your message has resonance.