Too often, companies dive into creating a brand-new website—or other major marketing initiative—without having any kind of strategy, plan, or goal in place to help guide them. As a result, the messaging, targeting, and brand voice are all over the place.
Ultimately, the website or major marketing effort doesn't do what the business hoped: It's not a golden ticket... It's not a direct path to strategic results.
But there is a true golden ticket of marketing: the right messaging.
With the right messaging, you can create effective, targeted communication that helps build lasting relationships with current customers and allows you to reach ideal customers in larger numbers.
This article will guide you through the basics of messaging, including how to create key messages and a value proposition, build a messaging framework, and choose between horizontal and vertical messaging.
With that strategic foundation, you will be able to improve the effectiveness of not only your website but also your marketing as a whole.
(Editor's note: This article is adapted from the book Stop Random Acts of Marketing.)
Key Messages and Value Proposition
The right messaging starts by identifying your key messages and creating a value proposition. Key messages are the core pieces of information you want your customers to remember, and a value proposition is a statement unique to your company that tells customers what your business offers.
The most important thing to remember when working on key messages and a value proposition is to focus on the information that your customers are going to care about. It doesn't matter what you think is important; all that matters is what your customers think is important.
While I was working at CenterBeam, an IT managed service provider, we thought answering the help-desk phones in less than 60 seconds was critical, and we used that as one of our key messaging points. But we discovered, through research, that our customers didn't care about that. They wanted us to be able to resolve their problem when we did answer the phone, even if it took a little longer to make contact. So we changed our messaging to include what our customers wanted—level-two engineers who could solve problems. And that was what set us apart from our competitors.
To find out what customers really wanted, we hired an outside company to survey customers. Another option is to interview customers on your own to find out what really matters to them. Start with just 10 or so customers, and then expand if you need additional information.
Next, look at your sales history to identify your strengths and your main opportunities for growth. Also look at your competitors, and establish how you can position yourself against them. Which strengths make you different?
Use all of that information to construct a clear, concise statement of the things that matter to your target market. That's is your value proposition. Then choose your key messages, which should support your value proposition and convey the most important information you want your customers to know. I recommend having three key messages.
Once you have your value proposition and key messages, you should work on completing a messaging framework.
A messaging framework is a guide for all your messaging. A Google search of "messaging templates" will bring up several options and examples that you can use. I recommend using a framework that includes the following elements:
- Target segment: who your target audience is, including the job titles of your primary target and subtargets
- Positioning statement: a statement that clearly defines the position you want to take in the marketplace (similar to a value proposition, but more specific and targeted, with an emphasis on competitive differentiation)
- Key messages: the main information you want customers to remember
- Proof points (one for each key message): facts that give credibility and believability to your key messages, like testimonials, proven results for previous customers, and industry awards
- Value proposition: a general statement about what your business offers
- Copy blocks: 25-, 50-, and 100-word descriptions of your organization and services
With those elements well defined, you will have a strong foundation for your messaging framework.
Horizontal or Vertical Messaging
After creating a messaging framework, it's time to discuss whom to share that messaging with: Specifically, are you going for horizontal or vertical messaging, or both?
You need to consider how specific you want to get. Do you speak globally to the industry? This is known as horizontal messaging. Or do you target certain demographics or industries? This is segment, or vertical, messaging.
If there's not much variation in your target audience, then horizontal messaging can work well. If your target customers have different needs or desires, though, vertical messaging will likely be more effective.
For instance, at CenterBeam we sold outsourced IT services to many different kinds of companies. Although we were selling the same service, we emphasized different features according to the industry of the prospect we were targeting. When we were selling to healthcare companies, we'd explain our security features and how we could help with HIPAA compliance. When we talked to nonprofits, we'd express that we understood the importance of their mission and that we were keen to support their sector, even offering their 12th month free as a way of giving back.
It will take some experimentation to learn what messaging works and what messaging doesn't. For example, one of our initial messages at CenterBeam was that our service worked remotely. We supported people all over the world, so a prospect didn't need to worry about our ability to support their clients in five separate locations. This was a great horizontal message about our ability to support remote users, but it didn't resonate with our target audiences because they weren't necessarily all over the world. The message positioned us as a global provider, and the prospects perceived we were too big for them. We were able to easily adjust the messaging for our audience.
Implement Your Messaging
With the right messaging in place, you can begin implementing it across the channels that are most relevant to your audience. That includes your website as well as email marketing campaigns, social media posts, and elsewhere.
With clear, consistent messaging across all channels of communication, your marketing will be more effective.
Whether your company is one or twenty years old, it's time to take a look at your messaging to ensure it's conveying the right information.