When you market complex products, it’s tempting to address customers with multiple messages. You may want to deliver 3 or 5 or 7 main messages on your website and in your content marketing.
Here’s the catch: multiple messages just don’t work. That’s because your audience can only process one message at a time.
Communicating more than one message at a time requires too much mental effort from customers. It almost guarantees your messages will be forgotten quickly.
I can think of only one marketer that defied the one-main-message limitation with success: Miller Lite. Decades ago, when the brand was introduced, two people argued its merits in TV commercials: “Tastes great.” “Less filling.” In effect, Lite created a binary-sun type of message.
Maybe someone else has succeeded with a twin message too. But I don’t recall them.
Two messages are one too many. That’s why it’s important to focus, deliver one message at a time, and persist until your message breaks through to customers.
In customers’ daily lives, the clatter and clutter of marketing messages is huge. People get bombarded by 1,500 to 30,000 messages a day, says the Business Marketing Association.
To maximize your odds of success amidst that onslaught, focus on one main message, supported by no more than 3 or 4 points, says Dr. Carmen Simon in The A,B,Cs of Memorable Presentations on SlideShare.
Simon says audiences remember best when you present one single most important message, which I call your “home base.” Then support that message with 3 or 4 positive points – no more, as you see in the basic anatomy of a Message Map below.
To succeed, your message must attract attention now, be remembered and be acted on in the future. Improve your odds of success by conveying a message today (at Point A), then repeating the same exact message when your customer reaches the decision point (Point B).
Making your message simple helps customers bridge the time gap between Point A and Point B.
Keeping your message consistent over time adds crucial credibility. Consistent messages can earn a place in your customers’ brains, specifically their “place cells.” What’s important is that, unlike short-term memory, place cells never run out of capacity.
Consistent messages are stored in people’s place cells. But inconsistent messages never make it in there.
That’s why we structure marketing messages as we do on 1-Page Message Maps. We start with one main message, the home base, supported by 3 positive points.
We design an initial message as an elevator speech you can deliver quickly. Your 7-second elevator speech gives you the makings of email subject lines, Tweets, headlines and more.
Starting with 7 seconds of customers’ attention, you can work your way up to 2 minutes, 5 minutes, 20 minutes or more.
Structure your message as one main message supported by 3 positive points. Why is 3 a magic number?
Why are there 3 Wise Men, 3 Little Pigs and 3 Blind Mice? Because 3 Wise Men can teach us a lesson about storytelling.
- Great communicators tell stories using patterns of three. As Pope Francis says, “First of all I will talk about three things: one, two, three, like old-timer Jesuits used to do.” Three points pique natural human curiosity and intrigue people. Time has 3 aspects: the past, present and future. Stories have 3 parts: a beginning, a middle and an end.
- Three events form a pattern. When I worked as a newspaper reporter, we spent lots of time trying to detect patterns and trends. To us, a trend equaled 3 events. We learned to quickly connect the dots of 3 related events, so we could be the first to break a story on a new trend. Two points were just a coincidence, too little to reflect a trend.
- We live in a 3-dimensional world. In the physical world, a triangle is a strong shape, which is why you see so many triangles in truss bridges and other structures. A strong marketing message is like a table with 3 legs – structurally sound, with the minimum number of legs to hold it upright.
When you have more than 3 or 4 points to support your main message, make the tough choices. Select the top 3 points that support your main message and subordinate the others.
It’s easier to do this triage when you look at your marketing message through the eyes of your customers. Just choose the points your audience finds most relevant, which you can see in your data.
To ensure that you have 3 points to support your main message, create a 1-Page Message Map.
Remember, 3 things make your marketing message stronger:
- Keep your initial message short and simple. Deliver it in as little as 7 seconds, 23 words or less.
- Create one main message, your home base. Support it with 3 positive points.
- To maximize message effectiveness, deliver the message to customers now at Point A. Repeat the same exact message at Point B, the customer’s moment of choice, to evoke the desired behavior.
That’s how your marketing message can become more powerful than ever before, by using the magic of 3s.
How to create your own message map is one topic we’ll discuss in my ANA workshop, Fast-Forward Your Content Marketing, April 12 in Chicago.
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.
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