Sunday, November 14, 2004

The Magic's in Your Message

In today’s over-communicated society, getting your message through to the right people is becoming more and more challenging every day. For this reason, perfecting the message itself is paramount to maximizing each communication. The right message at the right time to the right audience can help to speed market education, shorten sales cycles, and increase brand recognition. Conversely, the wrong message at the wrong time to the wrong audience will do just the opposite.

So how do you know you have the right message for the right audience at the right time? The key is to focus on these three fundamental questions:
  1. To whom are you talking?
  2. What is their buying behavior?
  3. What do you say to them?

The answers to these questions are often more difficult than they appear. Why? Because the world does not stay still very long. Buyer preferences and motivations change. Sales and delivery channels change. And competitors change.

1. To Whom Are You Talking?
Although most companies have a general understanding of their target audience, purchasing decisions can range from the simple to the complex. If your product or service is an “impulse buy,” then you can often try to be all things to all people. If your product or service is expensive or requires some degree of education to help potential customers appreciate the value, you are in the complex arena.

In a complex purchase, a single person rarely makes the purchasing decision. Often, there are many influencers to whom the decision-maker turns for input. For instance, if it’s a technology purchase, the decision-maker may gather input from their IT staff. For purchases over certain dollar amounts, decisions might be significantly influenced by executive, operational and financial people.

The key is that your messaging must address the pains and drivers of the decision maker as well as the influencers.

2. What is Their Buying Behavior?
To help identify the buying behavior of your potential customers, I use an amazing tool called the Marketing Maturity Matrix™ created by Patrick Perugini, principal of the Maccel Group. This model is particularly powerful in a business-to-business market where most purchase decisions are complex. The Market Maturity Matrix breaks customers into four categories: First Adopters, Market Innovators, Market Movers, and Late Adopters. The following are their buying behaviors:

First Adopters
Looking for market advantage
Looking for discontinuous innovations
Financially aggressive
Risk prone
Use innovation to gain business or individual recognition
Buy directly from the manufacturer
Influenced by peers and industry visionaries
Want information and education
Want to share the vision
Emotional purchase

Market Innovators
Looking for competitive advantage (lead the industry)
Moderately aggressive financially
Risk acceptant
Use products and services as changes agents for business
Purchase direct or from specialty resellers with domain expertise in market segment or business function
Looking for product and services applications unique to their business or market
Influenced by industry organizations and analysts
Want personalized service and addition
Conditional or competitive purchase

Market Movers
Looking for competitive parity (keep pace with the industry)
Looking for complete solutions
Financially conservative
Risk averse
Use products and services to improving existing operations or processes
Purchase through channels or direct
Influenced by market trends, trade organizations, and analysts
Want competitive selection and comparison
Operational purchase

Late Adopters
Looking for market parity
Look for mature, turnkey, or embedded products or solutions
Financially very conservative
Risk avoidant
Use new products to replace outdated or existing products
Purchase through mass channels
Influenced by channel, brand recognition, perceived value, and availability

Once you’ve identified what category your potential customers are in, it is important to craft your messaging to address all the issues they face in making a purchasing decision, as described above.

3. What Do You Say to Them?
The first two questions – to whom are you talking and what is their buying behavior – are part of the “science of marketing.” What you say to them is more of an art. There is an old saying, “You can give a man a scalpel, but it does not make him a surgeon.” In messaging, an analogous saying would be, “Your can give a man a dictionary, but it does not make him a writer.”

At the same time, even if you’re not the most creative writer, the following tips will put you on the right path to effective messaging.

Avoid the common mistakes in messaging:

  • Failure to sell
  • Lack of clarity
  • Over importance/arrogance
  • Negativism
  • Forgetting the audience
  • Irrelevant facts

Follow the guidelines of good messaging:

  • Be concise
  • Focus on benefits
  • Directly addresses the customer pain
  • Stay consistent within “type”

What do I mean by “type”? To simplify the messaging process, I have defined seven types of messaging. They are:

Technology Leadership (even for non-technology products)
Concepts: most sophisticated, feature-rich, advanced, leading edge
Example – Sleep Number® Bed: “The benefits of air technology in the first air chamber mattress proved that air was a superior medium for providing full body comfort and support.”

Market Leadership
Concepts: first in the market, largest market share, high-acceptance level.
Example – Cisco Systems: “The worldwide leader in networking for the Internet.”

Application and Use
Concepts: what it does, simplicity, ease-of-use, flexible
Example – Digex: “Managing business on the Internet.”

Pricing and Delivery
Concepts: low price, high value, faster time to market
Example – United States Postal Service Global Delivery Service: “With some of the most affordable shipping choices in the business, we go to the ends of the earth to help you manage your overseas delivery budget.”

Wishes, Dreams, Ambitions
Concepts: Being able to do something you never could before; greater efficiency, do your job better
Example – Engage: “Want to turn prospects into customers?”

Comfort, Ease, Convenience
Concepts: Ease of use, set it and forget it, make your life easier
Example: -- IRS e-file: “So easy, no wonder tax professionals love it.”

Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt
Concepts: not ready for unexpected, what-if scenarios
Example – Digital Island: “Ten thousand investors just clicked the “buy” button all at once. Can your site handle it?”

How do you decide which type of messaging to use? In general, none is any better than the other. Your decision needs to be based on what your potential customers care the most about – to what type of messaging will they respond based on their pains and drivers.

Once you’ve decided on the type of messaging you’re going to use, it is important to be consistent within that type across all your communications.

Magic Words
Good messaging makes use of marketing’s magic words. The most controversial is the word, “free.” Although you’re in business to make money, there are elements of your products or services that may be perceived as free offerings (i.e., free assessment, free support for 60 days, free cell phone with 1 year service contract). Other magic words include:

  • New
  • Proven
  • Guaranteed
  • Trustworthy
  • Secure
  • Automatic
  • Sale

Just as there are magic words in marketing, there are also dangerous words. One of these is the word, “revolution.” Unless your product and service is truly a discontinuous innovation (i.e., the first VCR, the first microwave oven, the first notebook computer), people tend to shy away from revolutions; instead, they gravitate toward “evolutions.” Other dangerous words include:

  • Obligation
  • Complex
  • Failure
  • Wrong

In addition, an over-dependence on buzzwords can be dangerous in your messaging. We once came across this messaging that not only relied on buzzwords, but also suffered from “blah, blah, blah syndrome”:

“Our mission is to automate business processes inside and outside the firewall by providing an asynchronous messaging layer with automatic queuing built on open standards which provides guaranteed reliable and completely flexible, dynamic, scalable distributed processing with built-in security all centrally managed ensuring complete connectivity between front office, back office, eCommerce, custom, legacy and mainframe systems. In real time over the Internet.”

If your messaging begins to sound like a laundry list of buzzwords, you’re headed down the wrong path.

Putting It All Together
Now that you have identified to whom your talking, what their buying behavior is, and what you say to them (taking messaging types and marketing’s magic words into consideration), you can build your messaging. The best companies put together a messaging framework that becomes their “bible” for all communications. The beauty of the messaging framework is that it can be shared with your outsource vendors, such as public relations firms or advertising agencies, to help ensure that your messages to your target audiences are communicated consistently.

The key elements of a messaging framework include:

  • Corporate information: Company background, position in market, competitive advantage
  • Internal messaging: Vision statement, mission statement, positioning statement
  • External messaging: “Elevator pitch”; 25-, 50-, and 100-word descriptions of products and services; why-to-buys; supporting messages; supporting materials such as awards, customer testimonials, articles)

When your messaging is right, you’ll know it. In the words of Engage, the magic of the right messaging is that it can turn “prospects into customers.”

About the Author
Jeff Wiss is founder of Jeff Wiss Companies. As a 20-year marketing veteran, he has successfully launched new companies and re-positioned existing companies in both consumer and business-to-business markets. Jeff’s expertise in the areas of company and product positioning, messaging, branding, and launch strategies has been recognized and utilized among some of the most successful companies worldwide.

You can contact me at 303-494-0682 or Or visit my web site at


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