No matter how simple your message is, you can make it even simpler.
First, create a draft Message Map.
Then apply Occam’s razor: Remove all unnecessary parts of the message, because the simplest explanation is probably the right one. Shave away every unnecessary word.
Look at your message through the eyes of customers. For each message element, ask 3 questions:
- Do customers need to know?
- Will customers understand?
- Will customers care?
Do customers need to know? Your customers care most about how your product or service will improve their life or business. Eliminate messaging that offers them no benefits.
For example, when I shop for a car, I need certain information. I look up Consumer Reports’ opinion on the car’s reliability. I research miles per gallon. I want certain features, such as a back-up camera and Bluetooth.
But there are many facts about the car I don’t need to know. These include which software the engineers designed it with, where the metal came from, and which railroad shipped it to the dealer.
Find out what your customers truly care about by listening closely to their questions. Strengthen your message by writing down all of your customers’ questions, in their words, and answer them in blogs and FAQs.
If your customers have never asked a particular question on a given topic, don’t volunteer information on that topic. It’s unnecessary.
Will customers understand? When it’s time to communicate your message, three barriers to understanding arise between you and customers.
1. Industry jargon. Jargon is the language that your industry and company speak internally, which may be meaningless to customers.
Be careful to use words that customers really use, not industry jargon.
Whenever possible, speak the language your customers actually speak. If you address non-native English speakers in English, use global English.
2. Acronyms. While auditing a website, I discovered 141 definitions of an acronym my client frequently uses. With that many definitions of the same acronym, it’s crucial to spell out exactly what you mean.
Check the meanings of acronyms at Acronym Finder.
If you must use an acronym, conform to AP style. Always state the meaning of the acronym on its first use, as in the following example: asynchronous transfer mode (ATM).
Whenever possible, avoid acronyms altogether.
3. The curse of knowledge. If you know everything about your topic, no doubt your customers know far less. When you find yourself forced to explain and re-explain facts and ideas that your customers don’t understand, chances are, you’re suffering from the curse of knowledge.
The curse of knowledge happens when what you know is so obvious that it’s hard to imagine someone who doesn’t know it. The curse makes it incredibly hard to explain your field, technology or product to outsiders, including customers.
To overcome the curse of knowledge, assume zero knowledge of the topic. Imagine you’re explaining something to your neighbor across the fence. Or to your mom. Or to a 6-year-old down the block.
Make your story that simple! “If you can’t explain it to a 6-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself,” Albert Einstein said.
Will customers care? At the end of the day, the most important test is whether your customer cares about your message. Say your message aloud, and then ask the question, “So what?”
If you can’t answer that question, your customers won’t care either. Eliminate all the elements in a message that can’t answer the question, “So what?”
Every important message addresses your audience’s perpetual question: what’s in it for me (WIIFM)? Show them how you can stop today’s pain. How tomorrow will be better. What the tangible and intangible benefits of a purchase will be.
Your audience loves simple messages. The simpler your message, the clearer the benefits are for customers.
Test your message these 3 ways before you roll it out 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.