If you go to Amazon.com and search for “marketing messages” in the book department, you will get over 12,000 results. Furthermore, there are literally hundreds of consultant agencies that will help your organization develop a messaging platform. Yet, large and small companies alike, in the IT space in particular, struggle to create messaging, and more still struggle to deliver this messaging to their target audiences. The reason for this is simple: developing concise, impactful messages is really hard. Harder still is getting your target audience to receive, digest, and act upon those messages in a consistent manner. This is why most messaging processes utilized by messaging consultants focus on message development, and not on message delivery. Much of this difficulty results from a lack of understanding of the purpose of marketing messages and how these messages are implicitly tied to the mediums utilized to deliver those messages, which is the purpose for today’s blog.
Marketing, as we know it today, is a relatively new business field, which developed along with the spread of mass media such as radio and television. As it developed, it evolved from simply making potential customers aware of the product’s existence, to the concept of using marketing to create interest in (and often even a need for) the product. Wikipedia defines the primary purpose marketing as “communicating the value of a product, service or brand to customers, for the purpose of promoting or selling that product, service, or brand.” Thus, the purpose of a marketing message is to encapsulate that value in a concise and impactful way (for simplicity’s sake, we will leave branding out of this discussion, and focus on messaging for products and services). Put another way, the purpose of a marketing message is to get the attention of potential customer, and creating a preference for your particular product or service for that customer’s need(s). As such, marketing messages are a tool that enables sales to be more effective by creating prospective customers (“attention”) and by influencing customer perceptions of your product (“preference”). This is the fundamental reason we develop marketing messages, and why they are important (if they are developed and delivered correctly).
the purpose of a marketing message is to get the attention of potential customer, and creating a preference for your particular product or service for that customer’s need(s).
The medium used to deliver marketing messages has a profound impact on the development of those messages. For most marketing people, message development activities are focused around messaging that can be embedded in marketing content such as white papers, PowerPoint slides, web pages, banner ads, media buys, and the like. While you may be able to (potentially) reach large numbers of people through these mediums, we all know as marketing professionals that the yield of these mediums is relatively low, often on the order of single-digit percentages for lead creation (the “attention” part), and even less than that for actual customer creation. More importantly, this approach limits the scope of message delivery to those mediums which the marketing team controls, which by its nature limits the scope of messaging development to that which is appropriate for these mediums.
Why this is a problem is illustrated by the typical first sales call on a prospective customer. While we as marketers would like to think that this first sales call revolves around the great PowerPoint presentation that we have created, and ends with the salesperson leaving the prospective customer with some of our shiny new collateral explaining our products, the reality for most salespeople is quite different. I have been on more than a few first sales calls where the salesperson never even opened up his laptop or tablet, or only used the marketing or product presentations as ‘backup’ to answer specific questions that the prospect brought up. The reason for this is simple, to the salesperson, the purpose of the first sales call is to understand the prospect’s need, to create a personal connection with that prospect, and to create interest in the prospect around his company’s product. That means that the messaging has to be tailored to the specific delivery mechanism of a one-on-one (or one-on-few) conversation to be effective. Moreover, the salesperson has to be trained on how to effectively deliver the message, and how to respond if the message is not understood. Similarly, successful viral marketing campaigns have to tailor the messages to be able to be spread effectively through social media.
Implicit in the concept of marketing messages is that they are customer-oriented. For most marketing people, this means identifying the market segments that you are trying to reach, as well as the roles within prospective customer companies that you are targeting with your message. However, to be effective, you must also identify likely customer needs, so that your messaging can address those as well. This is one of the areas that makes messaging development so difficult in the IT world – since most of us don’t utilize IT equipment in our daily lives, it is often difficult for us as marketers to understand what real problems IT decision-makers deal with, and how our products might solve them. This often leads to a messaging approach that focuses on product positioning vs. competitors (e.g., why my product is better than yours), and leaves it up to the reader to figure out how the product being marketed might address his needs. This approach also neglects the fact that most IT needs are driven by business needs, and the expenditures for those IT needs have to be justified in terms of the business benefits they will provide. It is critical that your marketing messaging include these business benefits if you are going to get your messages noticed by your prospective customers. It is also critical that your messaging speaks your customers’ language, utilizing the standard terms and concepts in his/her industry, as this helps the messaging to be more effective in its impact.
As you think about messaging, one of the most useful concepts to consider is that of a message tree (sometimes also called a messaging platform). The messaging tree illustrates how your core message (the product promise) is tailored to reach different audiences via different delivery mechanisms (the sub-messages). Optimally, the message tree is organized along three axes: vertical market, prospect role and delivery mechanism. Formally developing a message tree has three benefits: i) it allows you to see gaps in your message coverage; ii) it shows you where your messages might be contradictory (i.e., what you say to one audience is not consistent with what you say to another audience); and iii) it lets you evaluate how changes to your core message impact the sub-messages. The best message trees also combine verbal messages with graphic messages to further standardize the delivery, improving customer retention of the key facets of the. While creating a message tree would seem to have obvious benefits, it is more often than not something that most marketing organizations do not practice on a regular basis.
One final thought: one of the most critical (and most overlooked) aspects of messaging development is message validation, or put another way, do customers believe and agree with your message? After all, the most critical person that you need to ‘buy in’ to your message is not you, your marketing VP, your CEO or your investors – it is the prospective customers you are trying to sell products and services to. A rigorous process of message validation can help you to identify where your perceptions about your company, your products and your services are misaligned with those of your customers. If done on a regular basis (we suggest annually), it will also allow you to identify market changes and how they affect your positioning and value. We will deal with approaches to each of these concepts in this blog series. Let us know if there are any other messaging subjects you are interested in discussing. Thanks!