“Hi, my name is Roy. How are you today?”
“My name is Craig. I’m pleased to meet you.”
When we meet people for the first time, we quickly learn a lot about them by how they are dressed and what they say to us. We soon learn their names or where they are from.
But we learn a lot more about people than what they tell us with words. Subtle cues such as their facial expression, mannerisms, body language, accent, and tone of voice “send a message.” Their accent may indicate what part of the country they are from, and their vocabulary can indicate their level of education. A smile sends a message that a person is friendly or happy. Wrinkled, lowered eyebrows send a message that a person is unhappy or thinking deeply. And the list goes on.
Marketing revolves around the concept of “sending a message.” This article deals with what we call your marketing messaging, which are the key facts and benefits you choose to communicate to customers and prospects. The two significant messaging components are the 1) words you use and 2) photographs (or illustrations) you use.
This article builds on the previous article, “How to Define Your Market Niche.” Your market niche determines what key messages you should communicate. For example, depending on their niches, one company will develop messaging that emphasizes speed, while another company in the same industry will emphasize affordability. One company may highlight functionality, while another may highlight durability or ease of use.
The following six steps give you a roadmap to follow to develop clear messaging that will increase your sales.
1. Build on your unique selling proposition.
Your unique selling proposition (USP) is the foundation of your messaging. As discussed in the previous article, a USP is a feature, quality, or service you provide that is different from what your competitors offer. It encapsulates the primary reason people do business with you.
Your USP isn’t always based on the product/service itself. Perhaps you offer free shipping/returns or an industry-leading warranty. Casper, an online mattress-in-a-box company, offers a 100-night free trial. If you don’t like the mattress, you can send it back without paying for it. Rosewood Marketing works with one client whose USP is peerless customer care combined with a high-quality product.
The job of your messaging is to flesh out what all this looks like in a way that attracts attention, creates interest, develops desire, and explains how to take the next step.
2. Connect with the prospect’s problem and their motivation to solve it.
Your messaging is your opportunity to show that you understand the prospect’s pain points, frustrations, or desires. Your prospective customers aren’t so much interested in your product itself as they are in what it can do for them. Your messaging should show that you empathize with them and show that you have a solution that will help them resolve the tension they feel or solve the problem they face.
Think about the stakes for the customer. What negative experiences will they have if they don’t find a suitable solution? Here are some examples of potential negative results of not making a purchase:
- Leather belt: needing to buy a new belt every six months when the cheap one starts to tear or split.
- Garden shed: continuing to feel frustrated with messy tools cluttering the garage.
- Vinyl fence: needing to repair or repaint a wooden fence periodically.
Beyond connecting with your prospect’s problem, you should also consider your prospect’s underlying motivation. What is important to them? Here is an example:
The problem: It’s hard to find healthy, affordable food.
What is important to the customer: Knowing that I am protecting my family’s health in a fast-food world.
On a deeper level than simply buying a product or service, people want their purchase to provide a feeling such as security, satisfaction, confidence, or connection. In This Is Marketing, Seth Godin reminds us, “People don’t want what you make. They want what it will do for them. They want the way it will make them feel.” This leads right into the next point.
3. Show the benefits of using your product or service.
A family that stops by your sales lot isn’t looking just for a playset with a curving slide and monkey bars. Instead, they are looking for the memory-making experiences of playing with friends on a fun, sunny day. They want the health benefits of exercising in the fresh air. When you start thinking about what all a playset offers, you begin to realize that you are selling a whole lot more than a simple playset.
A famous long-running ad campaign by Mastercard is based squarely on this concept. The first ad showed a father and son attending a baseball game, along with the following copy:
“Two tickets: $46
Two hot dogs, two popcorns, two sodas: $27
One autographed baseball: $50
Actual conversation with 11-year-old son: Priceless.
There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.”
The father’s purchase of a ticket to a baseball game wasn’t about the game but the benefit that the game provided: an opportunity to connect with his son.
Your messaging should be less about communicating what your product is or what it can do but about the benefit of owning or using your product or service. For every feature, write down the benefit your customer experiences because of that feature.
Stay authentic and genuine so you don’t fall into the trap of exaggerating or promising something that you really can’t deliver for your customer. The message on a Kellogg’s Raisin Bran box promises: “Enjoy the classic, delicious taste of Kellogg’s Raisin Bran, and you’ll smile your way through the day.”
This is an empty promise. Yes, you may enjoy the cereal, but eating raisin bran for breakfast doesn’t guarantee anything about the rest of your day.
An example from a tube of Crest toothpaste is much better: “Helps stop cavities before they start.” This is a promise Crest can keep. It does not promise to remove the chance of getting a cavity but rather to help keep them from starting.
4. Choose 3-5 messages to communicate consistently.
After you have jotted down ideas for your key messaging points, weed out the ones that are weak, less important to customers, or too much like your competitor’s messaging. You want to end up with three to five messaging points that you can develop with words and photos.
Here are example messaging points for a shed manufacturer:
- Your building will last longer because we use quality construction techniques and materials.
- Your property will stand out in the neighborhood because our buildings have attractive styling.
- You can enjoy peace of mind knowing that you have a place for your belongings (your overflowing garage will no longer bother you).
- You can customize nearly everything about your new building, so it meets your needs perfectly and looks just like you want it.
Marketing messages like these are not intended to be given word-for-word to your target market. Instead, they are concepts that you can communicate in various ways.
5. Use photos that evoke the right emotions.
Professional product photos are essential, but here I’m talking about photos that support your messaging. The right words with the right image or illustrations make a powerful combination.
A famous 1959 black and white ad for the VW Beetle had the headline “Think Small” at the bottom of the page. Approximately three-fourths of the ad was simply white space. The only photo on the page was a tiny VW Beetle sitting alone, engulfed in white space. The image and headline complemented each other.
This ad was part of what became a larger Volkswagen campaign with the messaging that “smaller is better.” The ads in the campaign took what could be seen as a weakness (the Beetle’s small size) into an appealing strength that appealed to some consumers and drove strong sales.
When possible, use photos to show the results of using your product or service: happy children on a playset, grinning faces around a table, a family enjoying their new home.
6. Package your messages into modules and publish them regularly.
A “message module” combines several elements that together communicate one of your messaging points. These components can vary, but at Rosewood Marketing, we think of a message module as having these elements: a headline, body copy, and a photo or illustration. When used as an advertisement, a call to action is included.
You will need at least one module for each messaging point. You may want to create several different options that communicate the same point in different ways, with different headlines, different photos, and different body copy. While the presentation is different, the message is the same.
After you’ve developed your messages into modules, they can be published in many different formats across a variety of channels:
- Print ads
- Digital ads
- Your website
- Social media
- Trade show signage
Consistently rotate through your different key messages. Saying “the same old thing” will not wear out your message. New people are continually entering the market, people’s situations and needs change, and people typically need to see a message multiple times before they respond. Consistency makes marketing more effective.
Doing the work to distill your messaging as described in this article pays off. You’ll no longer need to scratch your head trying to think of a topic for your next advertisement. You’ll gain the benefits of efficiency and consistency in your marketing. Your messaging will be focused instead of scattered and random.
Pricing as messaging
Investor Warren Buffet said, “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” This article has focused on the words and photos we use, but it’s worth remembering that pricing also sends a message. Your price is part of your message.
Prospects make assumptions about your business or product based on what you charge. As consumers, we tend to believe that the product is worth the same amount as the published price. In marketing, your price is the single largest indicator of value.
Be realistic with the value of your offering and charge accordingly. Setting a price that is out of line with the actual value you can deliver to the customer is a disservice to the customer and you. People are willing to pay for the things they want, and they usually believe the adage that “You get what you pay for.”
Your messaging should be unique to you and unique to your target market. If your target market changes, you will need to change your messaging to match the needs and desires of the new market.
If you are committed to doing it well, refining and then executing your messaging often means hiring outside help with experience in copywriting, photography, or design. But it’s worth the investment because presenting the right message to the right people will make a noticeable difference in your sales.