How to achieve the right size, structure and resonance
How can you be sure that your business message gets through to customers and fits them just right?
Many dangers lurk within the wrong message. Customers may find a marketing message:
- Too long or too short
- Hard to remember
- Too predictable or too irrelevant.
To start, consider your customers’ context. They’re bombarded with 1,500 to 30,000 marketing messages each day, says the Association of National Advertisers (ANA).
Swimming in a sea of competing messages, many people try to tune out everything. They’ve become habituated to any marketing message.
Precious few messages manage to break through. How do these breakthrough messages differ?
Breakthrough messages deliver three things:
- The right size
- The right structure
- The right resonance.
1. Breakthrough messages are the right size.
Too often, companies try to tell customers way way too much information. They lead with a classic data dump, consisting of dozens of PowerPoint slides.
The problem with data dumps is: when you tell customers too much, they don’t get it and they don’t remember it.
Doing a data dump is like sending an e–mail file that’s too big.
I speak from personal experience. When I sent a file that was too big, my e-mail provider spit it back with a message: “Your message wasn’t delivered to anyone because it’s too large. The limit is 100MB. Your message is 145MB.”
Wouldn’t it be great it customers gave you such direct and honest feedback about your message? The problem is, unlike Microsoft Outlook, they don’t.
Instead, they don’t answer your emails or return your calls.
How can you ensure that your message is the right length for your audience to absorb? Start with the insight that people have a limited attention span of just 8.25 seconds.
Why are attention spans so short? Because we’ve been conditioned that way by media:
- The average length of a shot in a movie has shrunk dramatically – to less than 4 seconds today, from 10 seconds in the 1930s and 1940s.
- The most-shared Tweets are only 71 to 100 characters.
- The ideal Facebook post is even shorter: 40 characters or less.
- A study of New York Times quotes by Ann Wylie found the most common length of a quote in a news story is only 7 words.
“It’s getting very difficult to keep people focused. It is getting brutal,” notes neuroscientist Dr. Carmen Simon.
Make sure your content is the right size. Don’t make customers spit it back at you. For the ideal word counts for posts in social media, see this infographic.
Hook your audience with a marketing message you can clearly, confidently, consistently deliver in as little as 7 seconds. To get the job done, create a 1-PageTM Message Map.
2. Breakthrough messages use the right structure.
Message structure makes a huge difference. To get customers to recall your message:
- Make your most important point consistently and repeatedly: it’s the home base of your Message Map.
- Support your home base message with 3 or 4 positive points, no more.
Why is it so important to stick with a consistent home base?
Consistent messages earn a place in people’s brains, specifically in their “place cells.” Unlike short-term memory, place cells never run out of capacity.
So brains store consistent messages in place cells. But inconsistent messages never stand a chance of getting in there. To break through to place cells, you must have the discipline to stay on message always.
Support your home base with no more than 3 or 4 positive points. Why? More than 4 points turn into clutter. Five points are just too much for anyone to remember.
A 1-PageTM Message Map helps you ensure that your message is well-structured. It helps you recall your home base, and 3 or 4 positive points to support it.
3. Breakthrough messages resonate with audiences – and surprise them.
Does your message need to be relevant to the audience?
Yes, but that’s just table stakes, as Ardath Albee observes. To break through, your message not only needs to be relevant, but it also must resonate with customers.
In other words, your message needs to view the world through the eyes of customers. It must appeal to customers’ self-interest by answering the question: What’s in it for me? WIIFM?
One way to assure a resonant message is to completely avoid the predictable corporate story line. How can you tell if your message has become predictable?
If your PowerPoint presentation tells customers these 3 things – what you need, who we are and why we’re right for you – then it’s just like everyone else’s. Completely forgettable.
What’s more, customers won’t understand what job you can do for them or why they should hire you now.
That means your PowerPoint will fade into the wallpaper. It hasn’t got a chance to be remembered.
Take a fresh approach. Lead with an unexpected message about your customers’ unconsidered business needs.
Unconsidered needs add urgency and uniqueness to your message, and make it stand out from others in the eyes of customers. In fact, this one trick increases the uniqueness of your message by 50%, says Tim Riesterer.
Compared with other types of messages, the unconsidered need message is by far the most thought-provoking message you can deliver to customers. This one idea will make your sales and marketing message far more effective.
Tell a provocative story about unconsidered needs that leads naturally to your solution. Make your customer message all about that.
It’s crucial to bridge your customer’s unconsidered need back to your solution. “If you tell the customer something surprising but don’t have a way to resolve it, you’re just a jerk,” Riesterer says.
While marketers often look at competitors as their biggest threat, “the true competitor is the status quo,” Riesterer observes. A whopping 60% of B2B sales opportunities lead to no purchase decision. Instead, the status quo prevails.
That’s why it’s crucial for marketing and sales to sell against the status quo – the easiest choice, that of taking no action.
Sellers who make the sale are usually those who helped customers understand why they need to make a change, Riesterer notes.
Specifically, show customers:
- Why the status quo is untenable
- What are the hidden sources of friction, costs and penalties
- How much those disadvantages will grow in the future.
As Riesterer says, “74% of executives buy from the seller who helps them see the need to change. Create a ‘why change?’ discussion.”
Make your story unpredictable.
As you expand your message beyond 7 seconds to 2 minutes, 5 minutes or 20 minutes, it becomes increasing difficult to hold audiences’ attention.
To avoid audience habituation, vary the stimuli, advises Dr. Simon. As you tell your story, change the stimulus back and forth between these two columns of stimuli.
Here’s an infographic on how to change the stimulus to keep your audience tuned in longer:
To create your breakthrough message, bring your audience:
- The right-sized message
- The right message structure
- A story about their unconsidered needs
- Varied, unexpected executions.
That’s how you can make your message so powerful, it breaks through to customers.
As a marketing change agent, I consult with clients, lead content marketing workshops for the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and write the weekly Simplify Marketing blog.
With experience from Fortune 500 companies such as AT&T, RR Donnelley and Tellabs, I've been named:
- Content Marketer of the Year by the Content Marketing Institute.
- Best Marketer by BtoB magazine.
- A B-to-B CMO to watch by Fierce CMO.