Written by George van Rooyen
Modern marketers are faced with a complex business landscape. They have many different products, industries, personas, and geographic locations to consider. And, unfortunately, it’s rare that a single piece of messaging appeals equally to all audiences.
Another common challenge is explaining complicated products and solutions in ways that are easy to understand. We’ve all come across long product descriptions that are filled with jargon and buzzwords, but don’t actually offer much insight into how that product works or what benefits it offers.
To avoid the sort of messaging that perplexes and annoys an audience, make use of the eight components mentioned below. These are all tried-and-tested marketing elements that apply to both a B2C and B2B context.
1. Know What You Want to Communicate
Before jumping into the creation of any messaging, take a step back and consider exactly what it is that you want to communicate—and who you want to communicate it to. No message will be effective if its intention isn’t clear and its audience isn’t (very) well defined, so don’t start writing until you’re confident that you understand who you’re communicating with.
2. Keep It Simple
It’s all too tempting to overstuff a marketing message. But the best messaging is short and simple. It doesn’t attempt to squeeze every product feature and benefit onto a single advertisement or landing page. It also steers clear of adjectives, adverbs, industry jargon, and any other writerly flourishes that muddle the message. Instead, it delivers a powerful message in a short, straightforward way.
Take a look at this example from Unbounce. This is from a landing page that’s linked to one of its Google Ads.
Unbounce offers multiple products, all with complex features. However, on this page there is no attempt to explain any of this. The page homes in on the single thing that prospects care about—growing their businesses—and builds its messaging around this desire.
Of course, there will come a time when it’s necessary to dive into the details, but that happens further down the funnel. When it comes to top-of-funnel messaging like the example above, less is more.
3. Focus on the Most Important Benefits
As mentioned above, marketers have a tendency to overwhelm their audience with features and benefits. The urge is understandable. The more use cases, features, and benefits are mentioned in the copy, the likelier it is that readers will realize how perfectly a solution suits their needs, right? Not necessarily. A page that tries to do too much can confuse your audience and reduce the overall impact of the message.
A better idea is to pick a handful of benefits— three to five—that you want the audience to know about and focus exclusively on those. Here’s an example from Hootsuite.
Like Unbounce, Hootsuite’s solution has loads of complex features, but the company doesn’t try to explain all of them on a single page. It focuses only on the four things its audience cares about most, which, by the way, is why voice-of-customer research is crucial.
Also, notice that the messaging is framed in terms of benefits, not product features. This is crucial. Potential buyers don’t care about features—they care about the benefits those features can offer them in their daily lives. (To personalize these potential benefits, it also helps to address the reader directly throughout the copy. Look at how Hootsuite uses: “Get the support you need—when you need it.”
4. Emphasize What’s Fresh and New
Marketing messages with phrases like “the latest in…” or “new and improved…” have become so commonplace as to be meaningless and cliché. As Youngme Moon writes in Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd: “In the 1960s and ’70s, the words “new and improved” really meant something to people; today, those same words don’t mean much at all.” Consumers all over the globe have become more sophisticated, savvy, and cynical—so claims of improved products and formulations are met with a healthy amount of skepticism.
However, we’re all still attracted to the fresh and the new. Just consider how often car and electronics ads tout new features and technologies. So, whenever possible, highlight the fact that a product is innovative. Steer clear of hackneyed phrases like “new and improved,” but make it clear that you’re offering something new and different.
5. Grab Attention and Create Excitement
As David Ogilvy famously said: “You cannot bore people into buying your product—you can only interest them in buying it.” Marketers looking to garner the attention of consumers in our noisy modern world must grab attention and create excitement with their marketing messages.
Of course, there are many disingenuous, even borderline unethical, ways to do this. Old magazine and newspaper ads often relied on racy images, regardless of these photos’ relevance to what was being sold. Nowadays, websites resort to clickbait titles that fail to deliver on their promise.
But there are also positive, ethical ways to do this. Shopify’s homepage offers two great examples. First, it sports a globe that illustrates all the international business being done thanks to Shopify, complete with the number of active countries and the sales value of transactions facilitated by the company.
Second, Shopify profiles websites of actual customers on its homepage, which not only acts as social proof, but creates FOMO amongst visitors who don’t yet have their own e-commerce site.
Shopify’s homepage shows how excitement can be generated in creative ways. Grabbing attention doesn’t necessarily require a big marketing budget, celebrity endorsement, or even a particularly bold claim. In the hands of a creative marketer, just about any piece of marketing content can be delivered in a way that generates excitement and grabs attention.
6. Differentiate Your Product/Service
Differentiation is a key part of effective messaging. Not only do you want to clearly highlight a need, you also want your audience to understand why your brand is best positioned to meet that need. Sadly, though, differentiation can be tricky.
Here’s what positioning guru April Dunford says on the topic: “The unique greatness of our offerings often feels obvious to folk inside the company. We have a ready answer to the question — ‘Why should a customer choose us?’ Yet, if we ask customers the same question, they often find the differences between what we offer and what other companies offer hard to understand.”
The reason for this, says Dunford, is that the unique strengths of a particular product or service are often not placed at the centre of messaging. Instead, marketers fall “back on a ‘default’ or ‘status quo’ position that does nothing to help customers understand what sets us apart.” This especially tends to happen when a brand and its product suite evolve beyond what they were in the early days.
To help with positioning and differentiation, April Dunford provides an excellent product positioning exercise on her website that’s worth checking out.
7. Use Lively Words and Imagery that Evoke Emotion
When it comes to effective messaging, there’s no place for common descriptors like “nice” or “great”. Rather than rely on general and overused words that don’t tell the audience very much, reach for colourful terms that paint a vivid picture in a reader’s mind.
Consider this example from the Lumen5 homepage.
Imagine if the heading instead read: “Video maker built to improve your content strategy.” That’s a dull choice that does nothing to get a reader excited. What about a choice like: “Video maker built to streamline your content strategy?” Or choices like “boost”, “enhance”, or “overhaul”? These are all better than “improve”, but none invoke the vivid imagery of “supercharge”.
“In a snap” from the second sentence is another strong choice. In fact, it’s so effective that there’s no need for the weak adverb “easily”. If anything, it detracts from the sentence. All you need is: “Make videos for content marketing, thought leadership, and brand awareness in a snap.”
8. Show How Your Product Fits into Your Prospect’s Life
This is another old marketing tenet that remains as relevant as ever: Effective messaging gives your audience a tantalizing glimpse of how great their lives will be once your product is in it. Old infomercials loved to show how transformative the latest kitchen gadget could be—what was once nearly impossible to chop, shred, or grate can suddenly be transformed in seconds! Similarly, carmakers never miss an opportunity to show the active and adventurous lives that families lead now that they have a brand-new compact SUV sitting in the driveway.
Bench offers a great B2B example on its website.
A potential prospect is immediately shown what impact Bench’s solution will have on their life: They can forget about all those complicated and anxiety-inducing bookkeeping tasks and instead focus on the core objective of growing their business.
The messaging also emphasizes how hassle-free the experience will be. The prospect will never struggle to find answers or get someone on the phone—it’s almost like having their own in-house bookkeeper.
Know Your Audience
Crafting effective messaging can feel like a daunting exercise. And, indeed, it can take a lot of time and effort to get it just right. Making sure that your messaging consists of the elements mentioned above will certainly help, but if you still find that you’re getting stuck—or lack confidence in what you’ve created—ask yourself this: Do I know and understand my audience?
Effective messaging ultimately comes down to audience knowledge. If you know your audience, following the steps outlined above can be quite easy. However, if you don’t know your audience, it can seem almost impossible. How do you know what you need to communicate—what benefits you should highlight or how best to differentiate your product—if you don’t know what’s important to your audience? And how do you generate excitement or choose language and imagery that will resonate if you don’t know what makes your audience tick?
So, if you’re looking for a place to start when crafting marketing messages, start by getting to know your audience. Interview them, survey them, read what they post online—do whatever you can to gain a deeper understanding of your target market. Once you know exactly who you’re communicating with, you’ll find that the eight elements mentioned in this article are not only easy to craft and incorporate, but incredibly effective as well.