Messaging is the identification and documentation of major company or product themes that you want your customers to understand. A marketing message is typically a one-sentence or two-sentence expression of how your product or company:
- Meets an important customer need.
- Differs from the competition.
The individuals in your company should consistently include these messages in every customer communication they create, including collateral, Web sites, e-mail messages, press releases, and sales presentations.
Multiple sets of messages
Marketing messages are created at the company, product line, and individual product levels. For any given level, you should establish only two to four major messages (each based on a separate customer need).
Although marketing messages are easy to merge into documents, these messages are rarely used verbatim. Only their key concepts and words are repeated.
Why is messaging important?
Research has revealed that consumers do not remember a marketing message until they hear it about seven times (depending on the medium). When you deliver consistent marketing messages, you can build customer awareness and preference faster than you can with a haphazard approach.
Messaging documents can also boost the efficiency of your organization because they:
- Ensure consistency and integration across multiple communications formats.
- Simplify the direction of copywriters and other creative staff.
- Speed up reviews of draft and final copy content.
- Save time and money by minimizing rework.
Anatomy of a messaging document
A messaging document is typically organized into a four-level hierarchical message map. The following are the four levels of message map content:
- Single net impression is the overall sense or feeling that you want your customers to have after they are exposed to your messages. Success doesn't mean that your customers actually remember any of your specific messages but rather that they come away with a positive feeling (for example, reassured, energized, or impressed with quality or affordability), which they then associate with your brand.
- Differentiating (or major) messages help win sales by communicating important benefits that set you apart from your competition. You should use no more than three or four differentiating messages, and you should base each one on meeting a critical customer need. You can weigh the importance of your differentiating messages, and you should combine them to build your single net impression.
- Substantiating messages highlight the product features and capabilities that deliver the benefits that you touted in the differentiating message. You should have several substantiating messages for each differentiating message.
- Qualifying messages contain information that establishes you as a viable vendor. They do not, however, differentiate you from your competition. For example, all computer manufacturers must state their compliance with current industry standards before they can even be considered in the market.
Sample message map table
The following table shows how to structure and present your messaging documents. Remember, each differentiating and qualifying message cell should contain only one or two sentences. Substantiating messages should list product features and capabilities. All messages should build and support the net impression.
What makes a good differentiating or qualifying message?
Messages should be:
- Single-minded. They must convey just one message at a time.
- Meaningful. They must connect with your target audience.
- Differentiating. They must contrast your strengths against your competition (required only for differentiating messages, not qualifying messages).
- Important. They must be pertinent and significant to your target audience.
- Sustainable. They must resonate with your target audience well into the future.
- Believable. They must make sense to your target audience.
- Credible. They must be substantiated.
The following table contains example messages for Fabrikam, Inc., a fictitious company that manufactures drill bits.
The following are tips for developing marketing messages:
- Don't steal messages from competitors The idea is to differentiate your company from others.
- Don't focus on features Benefits belong in differentiating messages, and features do not. Differentiating messages must communicate customer benefits. Address features in the substantiating messages.
- Don't conduct messaging in a vacuum Test your messages on your target audience and other industry/business experts to ensure that the messages resonate with your audience. You can use the "Message Testing Questionnaire" to help with this process.
- Leave your messages in place for a reasonable amount of time You'll know that you've just started to repeat your messages enough when you're tired of hearing them. Your target audience hears and internalizes messages only after an extended period of communications. Don't change your messages just because you are tired of repeatedly hearing them.
- Use your target audience profiles (TAPs) Use TAPs to understand more about your customers. For more information about TAPs, click "Profiling your target audience" in the More information section of this article.
- Emphasize psychographics Consumers tend to make emotion-based purchasing decisions more often than businesses do, so emphasize psychographics when you create marketing messaging aimed at consumers.
The use of consistent and integrated messaging across multiple communication vehicles is a time-tested and proven technique for effectively conveying your messages to the target audience. By having a clear understanding of messaging, you are able to create more efficient production of communication materials with less rework, thereby saving time and money.
About the author Cindy Kennaugh is President of On The Mark, a Silicon Valley–based consulting firm specializing in all aspects of business-to-business marketing in the high-technology industry.