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The average customer receives hundreds, if not thousands, of messages every day. In every medium, from home to work and back again, companies are trying to sell something. So, if you think customers are waiting around waiting to hear what you have to say, think again. This is not a new problem. Even in 1997, when the web was nascent and Twitter, Facebook, and the iPhone were not yet born, consumers were overwhelmed:
Consumers today are surrounded by advertising. There are various estimates, but most range from hundreds to low thousands per day. David Shenk, in his book Data Smog, states that the average American encountered 560 daily advertising messages in 1971. By 1997, that number had increased to over 3000 per day. The average consumer today sees more ads in one day than his predecessor of fifty years ago.[i]
Given this glut of information, a successful marketing campaign needs to say something interesting, relevant, and meaningful. And, it needs to say it over and over again. Remember: frequency, consistency, and simplicity. Marketers refer to the collection of carefully chosen words and phrases that they use to describe their offering as a message platform. For a message platform to be convincing, each element should be concise and compelling. Keep in mind that the words and phrases in your message platform will be used by other members of your marketing team—from PR to advertising to the web team to social media—when they write about your product, whether for a launch, a campaign, or any other activity. The message platform is the master document on which a lot of other writing will be based. All communication should conform to the message platform.
There are many ways to format a message platform, and content may vary from company to company. Regardless of the specifics, however, a proper message platform should contain at least the following six elements:
- Buyer priorities and needs – This element summarizes your buyers’ top priorities or needs. Market segmentation and buyer profiles will yield this information, and it should be limited to the “short list” of what your buyers care most about. An acute knowledge of needs and priorities will help writers and other marketers better understand your buyers and the context in which they make decisions.
- Positioning statement – a positioning statement is a short statement that demonstrates the value of what you offer, how it differs from competing products and services, and how it has a meaningful impact on your audience. The positioning statement can cover an entire company, a product line, or an individual product.
- Key messages – Recall that the positioning statement is intended to help internal audiences understand your desired position in the marketplace. Obviously, however, you also need to convey this message to the external marketplace. To accomplish this task, marketers create key messages, which are short statements that phrase your product’s value in terms the buyer will understand.
- Proof points – Proof points are the supporting evidence that validate and give credibility to the key messages. Whereas key messages are complete sentences, proof points are bullets. Each key message should be supported by two to three proof points. Well-crafted proof points will make your messaging more powerful and help cut through the cynicism and inattentiveness toward marketing messages that “data smog” has fostered.
- Value proposition – The “value prop” is what—hopefully—your salespeople will be repeating every time they meet a new prospect. It describes what you have, the customers for whom it is intended, and what benefits they will gain from using it. Although this sounds straightforward, think of all the times a salesperson has tried to explain to you what he or she is selling. Five minutes into the monologue, you still have no idea what the product is or why you should buy it. Somewhere, a marketing person did not do his or her job of arming the field staff with a value proposition.
- Copy blocks – Copy blocks are fleshed-out messages, in full sentences, that can be dropped into marketing assets, whether direct mail, e-mail, advertising, or some other medium. The best practice is to provide short, medium, and long versions, usually twenty-five-, fifty-, and hundred-word blocks that describe your company and its offerings.
The figure below shows how all the pieces of the message platform fit together, starting with buyer priorities and needs on the more strategic end, and finishing with completed copy blocks that can be used as is on the delivery end.
Message platform components
A critical element of an effective message platform is differentiation. The most common reaction that customers—consumer or business—have to a sales pitch is to associate the product or service with something they already have. After they have done this, they want to know how your product is different from—and better than—the product they already use. This is where differentiation comes in. If the answer to this question is not in your positioning statement and key messages, and is not backed up with proof points, then you need to go back to the drawing board.
As you’ve probably concluded by now, testing the message platform is critical. It is imperative that you get feedback from people outside the group that developed the messaging to confirm that your messages are credible and differentiated and that your product’s value is clear. Depending on your resources and access to participants, testing can range from presenting the message to a few friendly customers, partners, and salespeople to showing draft messaging to industry analysts, trusted customers, and, in some cases, focus groups for feedback. There is really no right way to conduct testing. Whatever method you employ, however, you should follow a consistent format for presenting the messaging and collecting feedback. This strategy will ensure that you are getting the best possible input. As you collect feedback, keep a lookout for ideas on wording and insight into how buyers perceive your organization and what value they see in what you do. You can use this feedback to improve your messaging.
Finally, because the message platform is intended to be consumed by other marketing and sales personnel, a well-designed platform will contain variants of the key messages and value propositions—the copy blocks noted above. Because you need to achieve consistency of message, you should create short, medium, and long versions, and they should be easy to cut and paste from the documents. As the creator, you will benefit from these efforts when you are not asked to write a hundred words for every press release, award submission, and third-party website. And success? When you overhear a salesperson from across the country parroting your words to a nodding customer, you know you’ve got a winner.
[i] Cited in DMNews Magazine, December 22, 1997.