differentiate content - How to tell if ongoing messages differ enough to be impactful in seconds?

“How to tell if ongoing messages differ enough to be impactful in seconds?”

Do your ongoing messages differ enough to be impactful in seconds?

This question about differentiated marketing messages is one of the Top 100 questions on content marketing. It comes from a marketer at nonprofit Be the Match. 

Marketing messages have many jobs to do

Among many jobs, the 3 most important jobs for your Message Map to do are:

Win people’s attention by telling them what’s in it for them in your main message or home base. Why do you need one home base? Because audiences absorb only one main message at a time. 

Give people reasons to believe your home base, by backing it up with 3 positive points. Reasons to believe must fit your audience’s worldview, so they find your message compelling.

Differentiate your message from others. Differentiation usually appears in proof points – 3 points that support each positive point. 

To put the relationship of message elements in perspective, here’s the anatomy of a 2-minute Message Map. It shows the relationship of your home base, positive points, and proof points.

Template for 2 minute message map
Use this template to create a 2-minute Message Map.

Marketers are often tempted to elevate their differentiation to the positive-point or home- base level. 

Here’s a rule of thumb: If your benefit is the first of its kind in the world and life-changing for your audience, put it in the home base. If your benefit reflects incremental progress (cheaper, faster, better than before), it more likely belongs in positive points. 

Why? Because messages have 3 jobs to do, in a certain order: tell people what’s in it for them, establish believability, and say why it’s different. 

Hook your audience’s attention, then differentiate 

When your home base and positive points land quickly – in the first 7 seconds or 23 words – you pave the way to telling how you’re different from others. 

Here’s an example – a Message Map from Sir Richard Branson’s first Virgin Hotel, which opened in Chicago in 2015. 

The Virgin Chicago Hotel is a great example because it shows how Richard Branson disrupts markets as he enters a new category.

message map for the virgin chicago hotel
A very differentiated message helped launch the Virgin Chicago Hotel successfully.

Note: the home base and positive points are statements that many hotels can make.

But at launch time everything in the highlighted proof points was absolutely unique to Virgin. The hotel launched with a highly differentiating message.

My favorite proof point is that Virgin was the first hotel in Chicago to offer free Wi-Fi, at a time when competitors were causing guest discontent by charging $10 or $20 a day. 

Make your differentiation into news

To dramatize its Wi-Fi differentiation, the Virgin Hotel created a “Free the Wi-Fi” van to broadcast free Wi-Fi at competing hotels. Each day, the van pulled up in front of a top Chicago hotel to offer free Wi-Fi from Virgin, as this Chicago Business Journal story reports.

In front of competing hotels, Virgin rolled out a provocative welcome mat like this one, in Virgin’s cheeky brand voice: “I heard the Wi-Fi is so fast you can watch movies before they’re even finished shooting.”

How to tell if ongoing messages differ enough to be impactful in seconds?
Virgin Chicago Hotel dared guests from competing hotels to come try Virgin’s fast Wi-Fi.

Soon, many hotel chains started to offer free Wi-Fi to members of their loyalty programs. Virgin responded by making Wi-Fi in the public areas of its hotels free. 

Virgin differentiated with transparent pricing. As Branson said, “There won’t be hidden charges, and you won’t get charged $10 for a chocolate bar you know you can buy at a store for $2.”

Six years after launch, Virgin Chicago Hotel continues to:

  • Use a single “yes” button on the hotel phone, instead of all the confusing buttons you find on most hotel phones. 
  • Deliver printouts to your room when you email a document to yes@virgin.com.
  • Place double doors between the bedroom and the dressing area so you can snooze while your partner takes a Zoom call in the next room. 

Yes, differentiation really matters – for Virgin and for every brand. 

The Virgin Hotel message and story shows how dramatic differentiation starts out. But, over time, any differentiated position can erode as competitors copy it. 

That’s why keeping a brand differentiated is a never-ending job for marketers. 

Say what makes you different, just not too soon

Establish differentiation in your message as soon as you can. Usually, that’s after people see how they’ll benefit and why they should believe you. 

Remember, differentiation matters only after: 

• People see benefits for themselves. 

• People believe you.

“How can we tell ongoing messages – that differ enough to be impactful, in seconds?” is one of the Top 100 Questions on content marketing. Here are the answers. 

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