What makes an effective message?

The most difficult thing about creating a crisp, effective marketing message is zeroing in on the aspects of your product that are a) most important for your target buyers and b) unique. It’s not that difficult to describe most products, but the descriptions often end up putting people to sleep rather than compelling them to action. Worse, some marketing messages seem like an endless string of marketing nonsense. Why is this?

Creating an effective message requires discipline. First, it should appeal to a specific buyer or small group of buyers. These buyers have needs (hopefully burning, critical no-cost-is-too high needs), that your product addresses. But if you don’t narrow your focus to a specific set of people with specific needs, you’ll never be able to state your product’s value in a way that is truly compelling. It can be difficult to think about potentially overlooking or alienating some potential buyer somewhere who may want to buy the product someday. But if you don’t narrow your focus, there will be a tendency to keep adding on verbiage to attract all of these potential buyers, until the message has all the appeal of a giant lint ball.

The second trap that people fall into is including every aspect of the product in the key message, which is sometimes a variation on the problem described above. If you can’t focus on a small subset of buyers it can be hard to focus on a subset of features or to prioritize some messages over others.  Often this is because, having worked so hard to create a product, and having labored over every aspect, it can seem downright unkind to leave any part of this wonderment out of your main value proposition. But an essential part of message development is prioritizing your product’s features based on their uniqueness and value to the buyers.

Sometimes the marketing message is muddled because there is disagreement among company executives about what is important.  This may play out in endless arguments between CEO and CTO and Sales VP.  Or it may result in a continual stream of brilliant new ideas that disrupt ongoing marketing programs.  In either case, the failure of executives to agree on a single message and have the discipline to stick with it for a reasonable period of time can be disastrous, even fatal, for a company.  This is especially prevalent in technology start-ups that have developed some fantastically innovative solution.  In fact, the solution may be so darn innovative that no one knows what to do with it.  If the desire to be seen as innovative has overwhelmed the practical need to appeal to real buyers, marketing will not be effective and sales will be disappointing.

There are no magic words or magic bullets.  Message development is an ongoing process that starts with understanding your potential buyers.  You need to begin where they are, not where you are.  When you start with that as your reality, you can create effective messages that compel action.

It’s not rocket science, but it is hard work.