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Building better messages: Simplicity, clarity and the “power of three”

Jason Williams, Director of Client Service for DMG Communication, has more than 20 years experience helping companies launch new products and get more value from their existing products. Messaging is a huge piece of the marketing puzzle that often gets minimized due to time, budget or just lack of customer insights. In this article, Jason explores how DMG helps customers improve their messages.

Q: What new dynamics do you have to consider when developing a message?

A: I think the first thing is to remember that sales people, technical teams and customers are people! They don’t think about “product A” all day every day like many of us marketers do. Many have more and more demands on their time, and they’re getting inundated with messages. From their phone, tablet and desktop, they’re receiving a tidal wave of texts, emails, ads and headlines. Recent data says that the average attention span is eight seconds! Also, we constantly hear that customers have very limited time for sales reps. There’s a theme here: ”I have less time, I get more messages, and I have a limited attention span.” So, as marketers, we really have to be thoughtful about giving our target audience the right message size (in addition to finding the right vehicle for the message) to get their attention and move them to the interest phase. In addition, we need to do more homework around what messages resonate with customers. Often, there’s too little pre-work to understand the customer mindset, and too little post-work to test our message options and figure out what elements work – or don’t work.

Q: How do you know you need to make a change to your message?

A: Do you have messages that are working? And, how do you know? First indication of message effectiveness is with your own marketing, sales and technical people. Can they quickly and consistently recite your messages? If not, I can guarantee your customers can’t do it either. There are some simple message recall tests you can do internally and externally, but a simple internal request will likely tell you everything you need to know about whether people are effectively receiving your messages or not. Next step – take a good look at your competitive landscape. Are your messages unique? Do they focus on your biggest competitive differentiators? As a marketer, you can quickly assess whether you’ve got something special or if you’re just like everybody else. In the end, we need to figure out the answers to a couple of simple questions:

  1. Do people know our message (internally and externally)? And, do they all say it consistently?
  2. Is our message unique?
  3. Is our message helping us get our customers to the next step of the selling process?

Q: How do you recommend getting started on message development?

A: It all needs to start with clear marketing objectives and strategies. Our messages need to ladder back up to our strategies, so we can see the link between what we need to do and what we’re saying.

From there, we would start with a message inventory around the product (what are the messages we’ve said, or are saying today), as well as working through a customer journey to truly understand where we have opportunities to interact with our customers. Ultimately, we’d like to figure out where, when and how they like to receive messages as they seek out products that can help them.

Q:  From there, how do you make messages simpler and more effective?

As we get into message development, we have some fundamentals that we use to help us keep things simple, while tapping into some tried and true devices that have been effective over time, when it comes to message development and retention.

The first is the “power of three.” For hundreds of years, story-tellers, teachers and leaders have used the “power of three” to get people to more easily learn and remember their messages. We know so many of them without even thinking much about it.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”

“Location, Location, Location”

“Blood sweat and tears”

“Stop, drop and roll”

“Of the people, by the people, for the people”

The list goes on and on, and that’s without mentioning the three pigs, three blind mice or three bears! People remember messages in groups of threes, not groups of seven or twelve. So, what are your three messages? Amazingly, many companies can’t or won’t get their story into three simple messages, so through a process we use, we work to prioritize, simplify and measure (see, there are three of them) our messages to build internal and customer alignment.

The “power of three” exercise establishes the framework for our next fundamental — the  “3/30” message platform. It’s designed to answer two key question:

  • What do you say about your product in three seconds?

In other words, what’s your headline that gets me to click on the story? If you can’t tell a customer your story in three seconds, why should he or she give you 30 minutes?

  • What do you say about your product in 30 seconds?

Your three-second headline must have worked. Now they want to know a little more. What do you say? This is where the “power of three” message comes in! These fundamentals may seem basic and simplistic (good fundamentals often do), but we’re often surprised how well they work.

  1. How can you quickly test your messages before rolling them out — without breaking the budget?

Having been on the “client side” before, I understand the challenges of any type of market research. Time and budgets can often limit our ability to test things, so we often rush them out the door. While perhaps not perfect, I think we can always design a practical approach to check our messaging. Sales reps, technical folks, other marketers and a few customers we know can often give us confidence, or provide a disaster check without breaking the bank or delaying our launch timeline.  With a little more time, there are lots of options out there. Many market research firms offer “quick tests” and media partners are getting more and more  innovative with their testing products.

Check out our recent DMG case study to see our messaging fundamentals in action.