Supporting Breastfeeding Interventions for Faith-Based Organizations

Step 4: Define a Message Strategy

The message strategy is one of the most important elements of a communication strategy. It ensures synergy, consistency, and coordination of objectives and messages across all stakeholders and partners. Each primary and influencing audience needs a message strategy. The message strategy includes (a) communication objectives, (b) positioning, and (c) key messages. Refer to audience profiles to ensure the objectives, positioning and key messages are appropriate for that representative individual. As the strategy is drafted, reviewed, and revised, verify that the message strategy and audience profile still match.

It is extremely important that all messages be pretested on the intended audience before they are used more widely in order to make sure they the audiences understand them and like them. It will also ensure the you have the right cultural references and intent.

(a) Objectives

Communication objectives are measurable statements that clearly and concisely state what the target audience should think, feel, and do, as well as the timeframe required for the change. “SMART” objectives are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. The available evidence on the factors that drive the behavior of the selected audiences should determine what the communication objectives are. These measurable objectives help to determine whether or not the goal of the program was achieved.


Positioning is the heart of the SBCC strategy. Positioning identifies the most compelling and unique benefit that the behavior offers the audience. Effective positioning appeals to the emotions of the audience. Positioning presents the desired behavior in a way that is both persuasive and appealing to the audience. It shapes the development of messages and helps programs determine what communication channels to use. Positioning ensures that messages have a consistent voice and that all planned activities reinforce each other for a cumulative effect.

As part of the positioning, you will identify a key promise that highlights the main benefit associated with the proposed change. People change behavior, policies, and social norms only because they see a benefit to the change. That benefit must outweigh the personal cost of the change. An accompanying support statement, also called a “reason to believe”, describes why the audience should believe the promise. This could be based on data, peer testimonials, a statement from a reliable source, or a demonstration. The key promise and support statement should include both emotion and reason.

(c) Key Messages

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© 2014 JHUCCP/USAID COMMIT Project, Courtesy of Photoshare

Key messages outline the essential information you will convey to audiences in all materials and activities. Messages cut across all channels and must reinforce each other across these channels. Effectiveness increases when all SBCC materials and activities communicate harmonized key messages that are expressed in different ways and build on each other.

Well-designed messages are specific to the audience. They also clearly reflect both positioning and a specific thing that drives or inhibits behavior (a behavioral driver). Key messages clearly describe the behavior the audience can and should do. Key messages are not the text that appears in print materials (including taglines), or the words that are used to define a campaign (slogans). They are the ideas those words convey.

Key messages are often included in a creative brief, which is a document developed for creative agencies or internal teams that guides the development of materials, media products and campaigns more broadly.

Extra Resources

Download the Template to Define Message Strategy

See Appendix D: Define a Message Strategy for a comprehensive list of key messages by audience

When developing key messages:

  • Base them on country-specific formative research;
  • Tailor them to each specific audience based on that audience’s needs and characteristics;
  • Address known drivers of behavior and barriers to behavior change in your community;
  • Pre-test them with the audience and refine them based on audience feedback.
  • Use non-technical language for non-technical groups
  • Emphasize doable actions for all groups
  • Emphasize positive immediate results of optimal breastfeeding while recognizing constraints for the mother and family and say how they might be overcome
  • Listen and learn — don’t repeat the same messages and approaches that did not work well in the past, as you are unlikely to get different results.
Illustrative Example: Define a Message Strategy
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Step 3: Choose Intended Audiences (Prev Step)
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