Our previous articles have focused on the various steps and tactics you can use to zero in on your most profitable prospects. We covered how to target prospects by gathering data and using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as part of a Quadrant Analysis. We also explained the process of identifying purchase decision makers and influencers, as well as the creation of personas to get inside your prospects’ heads. Finally, we mapped out the buyer’s journey and described maximum impact points to aid in the strategy of when and how to speak to your audience.
All of that work has led up to the messaging phase of marketing, which is where you finally start thinking about content. Messaging has changed tremendously in the last few decades. The “old school” approach (think the 70s and 80s) was all about push marketing. Companies’ messages were very generic and focused solely on the greatness of their products and services. This was partially due to necessity. A limited number of marketing channels meant messages needed to be broad to reach a mass audience.
The modern marketing landscape is vastly different due to the enormous number of marketing channels that have come about with the evolution of technology. However, many companies have failed to evolve with technology and are stuck in the old way of thinking. The days of the company monologue are OVER. Buyers have more power than ever, and that means messaging needs to start conversations — specifically one-on-one conversations with each persona. To be successful, you have to say the right things to the right people, listen to their feedback and revise your message until you make a connection.
Set the Standard
Creating effective messaging is more challenging than ever. There’s much more work involved because you’ve got to create different messages for each persona. Not only that, you have to ensure consistency in every aspect of your messaging. To remain consistent, it’s important to create a set of persona-specific messaging guidelines. This is a document or set of documents that clearly define how a message is to be crafted for each persona. The goal of these guidelines is to keep each of your experts (graphic designers, video producers, web developers, copywriters, etc.) on the same page and focused on the same end result — engaging prospects. Think of these guidelines like brand standards.
Effective messaging requires a thorough understanding of three guiding principles: Value Propositions, Unique Selling Propositions (USPs) and Keywords. The remainder of this article will detail value propositions. The other principles will be covered in-depth in upcoming posts as we cover the full scope of message creation.
Identifying Value Propositions
The first step in creating effective messaging is identifying value propositions. It’s a step that sometimes gets overlooked by companies that are too anxious to start setting themselves apart from the competition. A value proposition is a clearly defined promise of value a customer will receive from a product or service. A good value proposition can be read and understood in about five seconds, explains how the product or service is beneficial, and resonates with customers. What does a good value proposition look like? Quick Sprout identified a few:
The Importance of “Why?”
Value propositions are based on the question “Why?” For starters, why do your customers buy what you’re selling? It’s something you need to understand if you want to be able to have a conversation with them and get them to do business with your company. To get the answer, put yourself in the prospects’ shoes just like you did when creating personas.
To gain a deeper understanding of your prospects, use a practice called the “5 whys” created by Sakichi Toyoda originally used by Toyota Motors. The practice has impacted a variety of processes including Six Sigma. Here’s a basic example to demonstrate how the 5 whys work. [i]
Problem: The living room is dark
1st Why: Because the light bulbs are not working
2nd Why: Because the light bulbs are dead and burned out
3rd Why: Because the light bulbs are old and should have been replaced
4th Why: Because we didn’t know that they needed to be replaced
5th Why: Because we don’t have a way to track how old light bulbs are
In this example, the 5th Why identified the root cause of the problem. If there was a way to track how old the light bulbs were, the customer would have known they needed to be replaced before they burned out. By using the 5 whys, businesses can narrow down a broad problem to a specific cause, which in turn will make it easier to create messaging that will resonate.
To discover your prospects’ true value propositions, there must once again be collaboration between your marketing and sales teams. Apply the process to each of the personas you created and brainstorm using the 5 whys to discover why each one could use the product or service you offer. In some cases, your hypotheticals may reveal commonalities. But because every one of your targets is unique, it’s more likely that each persona will have a different value proposition.
A Value Proposition Example
Value propositions, as they apply to your personas, can vary greatly even though you may be looking at a hypothetical situation that compares individuals who work at the same company. That’s why messaging can’t be created based on broad generalities. Consider this example:
Let’s say your company sells plasma cutters. You may think the main value proposition of a plasma cutter is its ability to cut with pinpoint accuracy. That’s great, but is that what all of your personas will truly value? For these personas, probably not:
Job Title: CFO
Personal: Mid-30s, Single, Master’s degree
Major Goal: Save the company money
Value Proposition: Become a CFO rockstar
Job Title: Machinist
Personal: Mid-40s, Married with three children, Undergraduate degree
Major Goal: Work more efficiently
Value Proposition: Free up more time
In this example, cutting accuracy is not the reason either prospect would want to purchase your plasma cutter. Cheryl wants to be a standout in the company by providing savings that will increase the bottom line. Effective messaging for her would address how your cutter will make the shop more efficient, which will reduce wasted time and materials. Jeremy wants to be able to meet his quota faster so that he can reduce the amount of overtime he needs to work. Effective messaging for him would address how your cutter will allow him to do his job quicker.
Validating Value Propositions
If you’ve been following along with our articles, you know that you can’t set your value propositions in stone before testing your hypotheses. They need to be validated. How do you validate them? The same ways you validated your personas:
- Online, mail or phone surveys
- Consulting with current customers
- Consulting with non-customers
Present your value propositions and see if the people you’re consulting with confirm or refute your findings. This exercise will help you eliminate misjudgments, fine-tune your correct assumptions, and may even provide you with additional value propositions you hadn’t previously considered.
Discovering value propositions will give you a clearer understanding of what your prospects want out of a purchase. But at this point, you only know why they need a particular product or service. The next step is identifying Unique Selling Propositions (USPs), which are the aspects of YOUR specific products and services that make your company a better option than your competitors. Check back for our next post for the details…
[i] Rose, Robert. “How Asking “Why” Helps Us Get to Our Larger Story.” Content Marketing Institute. 16 Apr. 2012. Web.