Tag Archives: Messaging

So . . . What’s Next? How To Avoid Dead Ends

Don’t Take Your Customer On A Journey To NowhereMarketing Dead Ends

Each element of your marketing/messaging should have a designated purpose. No exceptions.  Each should be moving the target (customer or influencer) through some element of your selling cycle. This sounds very obvious and nobody would think that their own marketing plans have “dead ends” embedded in them. Au contraire – these dead ends are fairly prevalent,  and it is not just “those other guys”.

Remember, marketing is all centered around driving behavior change. After someone has experienced your marketing activities, you expect them to do something differently. Buy something, call your toll free number, go to your web site, etc. You are expecting them to DO SOMETHING.  So . . . you have to make it easy for them to know what to do next.  Simple right?  The harsh reality is it is “so simple” that it is often overlooked.

Each marketing activity, large or small plays a role in advancing the target toward your ultimate goal. In other words – each component of your marketing mix has a role in guiding your target along the conversion path (changing their behavior in some way). Each activity the target is exposed to is one step on this journey. Every activity should prepare them for their next step in the process. Therefore it is critical you make sure it is clear what that next step is!  See my post on Customer Journey Mapping 

I have seen many instances in which firms dedicate web pages to “FYI content” with no clear indication as to what they should do next. Unfortunately this leads to a dead end – with the user left with a virtual instance of throwing their hands up in the air. In this case – the “what’s next” is likely to be leaving the site.  Although they may actually nod their head in agreement before clicking out of your site.

Examples of Dead Ends (Digital and Non-Digital)

Some additional real-life examples of not considering “what’s next” include:

  • Pages on the site with product information with no clear path to purchase
  • Printed literature pieces that describe products or services with no listed mechanism for the target to obtain additional information
  • Home pages dedicated to about us information with no easy path to the user to “learn more”
  • Just saw this one:  A printed listing of “Upcoming Events” with dates listed but no times or location listed.  There was a phone number.  It is a stretch to think people will make a phone call to get information that should have been clearly presented to them.

To avoid placing your valuable targets in limbo, always ask the question “When the target is done consuming/experiencing this activity, what’s next for them? If you have provided them with a clear path that they can easily navigate, fantastic. If you cannot answer that basic question, you have created a dead end in your customer journey.

Providing your targets with a clear next step is no guarantee they will take that step. However, not having it clearly defined guarantees a dead end for the target and poor results for your marketing efforts.

Bad Marketing 101: Mixed Messaging

Consistency – The Key to Proper Messaging

Sometimes advertisers seem more concerned with being clever than with being effective.  Unfortunately, sometimes those who develop ads and messaging are more focused on the flash rather than the substance.  Don’t get caught up in this with your marketing campaigns.  ATT U-Verse Ad - Bad messaging

Buyer behavior is affected by both overt and covert cues.  Basically, the mind is tuned in to all stimuli, and uses these various inputs to form an overall impression.  When these stimuli do not align, the mind is faced with cognitive dissonance.  A term used by psychologists.  It is a fancy way of saying confusion.

A current TV commercial is a prime example of confusing messaging.  It is for U-Verse high speed internet service.  The message they are trying to convey is “reliability”.  The setting is a family at home talking about their reliable internet service.  The problem with the messaging is all hell is breaking loose around the house.  Ceiling fans falling, faucets leaking, walls crumbling down.  All while the family members are giving their testimonials about reliability.  It is not a quantum leap for the mind to include U-Verse with the things breaking around the house.

Imagine if an investment firm (focused on trust, confidence) had as spokesperson a used car salesman, plaid coat and all.  Even if the messaging was well-scripted and funny, the observer probably would not want to trust their investments to the firm.  People naturally seek a more conservative, straight-laced figure that enhances their trust in the firm.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for humor in advertising.  It just should align with the overall theme of the messaging.  Beer ads are a good example.  Funny things happening are associated with having a beer and having a good time.  It works well for beer ads – not as a means of building consumer confidence.

Newsflash for ATT/U-verse:  Your main competition (Comcast/Xfinity) is directly challenging your reliability in ads.  Why would you even think about using household mishaps as a source of humor?  It is ridiculous.

When you are developing or approving messaging – as yourself one basic question:  Is the main theme of this messaging in alignment with my brand DNA?

If your messaging is not promoting your brand, it is demoting it.  And of course wasting time and money in the process.






The Art of Persuasion

Call to Action is the Anchor of Your Messaging

Call to Action

Whenever you are trying to change someone’s behavior, you are trying to persuade them.  Selling products, recruiting volunteers, direct marketing, advertisements, etc. are all examples of persuasive requests.  The classic persuasive request is divided into four main steps:

  1. Get the target’s Attention
  2. Develop their Interest
  3. Create a Desire
  4. Include a Call to Action

Keep this classic process in mind whenever you are trying to convince someone to do something.  It can be used universally.  Letters, e-mail marketing (especially important), literature, ads, conversations, etc.  Let’s walk through each step and explore the role each plays in the process.

It all starts with Attention.  This is your intro.   It can be your subject line in an e-mail, the headline of an ad, etc.  If you don’t have a good “attention getter” it is game over.  You need to quickly gain control of the target’s undivided attention.  You will commonly hear there are key buzzwords to include in the intro – words like “Now”, “Save” and “Free” .  This may be the case in general, but ideally you want something that “moves” the target.  Make it count – and make it enticing or the rest of your communication is irrelevant.

Next comes the Interest part.  Assuming you succeeded in getting the target’s attention, you have stay on your game with a good followup.  After the “wow” of getting their attention, you have to develop it with some specifics.  You want the target to think “I can do that”.  Give them a little flavor as to why this is a good thing for them.  Keep them moving through your communication.  If they are a “maybe” at this point, you are on track!

Here comes the crescendo – create their Desire.  Something compelling that makes them think, I WANT THAT, or even better I NEED THAT.  At this point the target has to picture themselves doing what you want them to do.  Think of:  “The Ultimate Driving Machine”, “Just Do It”, etc.  Another appeal:  A happy family enjoying themselves in a Disney World commercial really tugs at a parent’s heartstrings.

This is where it stops for many poorly-constructed communications.  Many good messages are left incomplete without the critical Call to Action.   Without the Call to Action, you have just done an FYI.  You did not CLOSE!  Your target will think to themselves “I’ll have to remember that”.  And then promptly forget it forever.  The Call to Action takes the fuel of desire you created and ignites it!  “Act Now! only three days left.”  “Save 50% on overstock – while supplies last”.

Crafting effective messages is definitely an art.  The more you do it, the better you will get at it.  This is a good starting point.  If you follow this classic formula, you are on your way to effective messaging.

Act Now!



Personas – Your “Blink” for Targeting

Segmenting your market into PersonasSeveral years ago Malcolm Gladwell wrote the book Blink, which is an excellent discussion of the importance of gut instinct in business decisions.  Blink suggests that over years of experience gathering, the human mind is far more informed than we generally acknowledge.   It is very effective when it comes to making quick decisions.   The book provides numerous examples of how the mind succeeds at fast, informed, and eerily reliable decisions.  This “Blink” concept can be used to build personas for your market segments.

For those who are not familiar with personas, here is the definition from Wikipedia.

Personas are fictional characters created to represent the different user types within a targeted demographic.

A while back I discussed the importance of understanding the Bell Curve and marketing planning.  In a basic sense, think of personas as building a fictional character for each of these segments.  Each persona will have a different bell curve each personal characteristic.  For example, let’s say your pertinent characteristics that define your persona’s are:  Age, Income Level, and Family Status.  You then use these characteristics to define your personas.  For example:

Andy:  Age 26, earns $65,000 annually, single.

Susan:  Age 37, earns $125,000 annually, married with three children.

Phillip:  Age 69, retired (income comes from investments), adult children self-sufficient.

The messaging you deploy to each of these personas is quite different.  Let’s assume you are a financial advisor.  Your approach to messaging differs significantly for each persona.  You have to market to each persona’s needs and desires.  To over-simplify things, your basic approach will resemble:

Andy:  Many years of your career ahead, get started saving now.  Take more risks now since you have less responsibilities.

Susan:  Focus on children, appropriate insurance level, college planning for each child, long-term wealth planning.

Phillip:  Stability is top priority.  Safety, income, and estate planning will be hot buttons.

Personas are a great starting point for building your messaging.  It gives you the 30,000 foot view.  You then have to refine the messaging of course.  As you tweak the messaging, you have to remember the “genius” formula that I frequently refer to.  Test, measure, refine, retest, retest.

Personas are a great way to start the planning process.  Consider making personas a starting point for your overall marketing strategy.  If you use them enough you will start thinking of them as real people.  If this happens, you are on your way to improving your marketing!

Marketing to the Bell Curve

While having an extensive statistical background is not a pre-requisite to being a good marketer, it is essential that all marketers have a firm grasp on the importance of the “Bell Curve” in virtually all marketing efforts.  Also known as the Normal Distribution, in a nutshell the bell curve is what it looks like when you graph a group of data points for a “normal” sample of data.  Bell-CurveWhether it is weight, income, IQ, fitness level, etc. data unvaryingly falls into a “normal” distribution when it is plotted.  It has a lot of datapoints around the middle (the average) and outliers at both the high and low extremes.  Please see the image at the right.

The implication for marketers is understanding the segments of the bell curve, and using these segments to your advantage as you orchestrate your marketing efforts.  The quick message is that you can’t market to everyone – as you move across the curve from one end to the other needs change dramatically.  It is always better to market to as specific of a segment of the group, as opposed to the group as a whole.  It is just like target marketing.  You must select who comprises your market segment (portion of the bell curve).

An example will help illustrate this.  Let’s explore the implications of the bell curve for a characteristic mentioned above; fitness level.  On the far left side of the curve, these are the “least fit” people around.  They would have to improve their fitness level significantly in order to even be considered “average”.  On the far right, are the “extreme fitness enthusiasts”.  Everyone else is somewhere closer to the middle – the “mean” or average.  Knowing this, let’s assume we are challenged with marketing a specific service – fitness club membership.  Let’s also assume we have access to proper demographics, and we can target individuals in various fitness level buckets with targeted campaigns.

Marketing to the very far left end  of the bell curve (the most unfit segment) will of course require different messaging than other segments.  For this group, appeals are probably centered on “strive for change” and “you can fit in – members are not all hard bodies”, “Free personal training to get you started” etc.  At the other extreme – the messaging is quite different.  These people have discipline established, and according to our data are already fit.  These are the hard bodies that intimidate their counterparts at the other end of the curve.  Successful appeals to this segment will likely be in messaging such as “Are your abs beach-worthy?  We can help.”  “Your competition is already training for race season.  Will you be ready?”.  This is of course if you decide to market to this group at all.  Perhaps your research shows that they are not viable candidates to join, maybe they are already doing their own thing.  There is no substitute for good research.

Defining how you market to the extremes will help guide you with your messaging across the entirety of your segments.  This of course will only give you some initial targeting ideas.  Critical of course is to do your due testing due diligence.  Ideate, test, measure, refine, re-ideate (not even sure ideate is a real word – so likely re-ideate is not, but you get the idea.)

Quick Takeaway:  Messaging is for market segments, not entire markets.



Avoid “Chest-Thump” Marketing

Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) male beating chest in threat display, endangered, central Africa

Have you ever been to a zoo and visited the primate area?  One of the activities that the males engage in is the ritual of chest thumping.  In addition to trying to impress the females, they do this as a territorial thing.  It basically means “Hey look at me – I am big and strong.  I am in charge here”.

I recently received an unsolicited e-mail that engages in what I call “chest-thump marketing”.  A portion of the e-mail is below – with areas blurred to avoid exposing the “marketing primate” who sent it.

Chest Thump Image

While this person attempted to personalize the message the format of the e-mail is terrible and worse yet is the message.  It is all about I, I , and I.  What about the person reading the message, are they part of this communication or is this a diatribe?

Here is a marketing secret to keep in mind – FOCUS ON THE CUSTOMER!  (just kidding about the secret part).  Of course you must focus on the customer;  their challenges, what keeps them up at night, and of course their opportunities.  Frankly, they don’t really care much about you specifically – unless you have something for them.

I had a technical writing class in college – perhaps the absolute best class I ever had.  The professor took our letters/messaging, and then underlined the occurrences of “you” in the document, and circled the “I’s”.  It is astonishing how often we use the word I in communications with customers.  This has stuck with me ever since.  It is also a very common practice to do it in literature, on web sites, etc.  Except the term “We” is used instead of “I”.

Consider starting communications/literature with something like this as an opening message:

“Have you experienced budget challenges at your firm as a result of the economic downturn?  Are you seeking an effective means of achieving cost reductions without compromising service or quality to your customers?”  

Notice how in these two sentences, the attention is focused on the customer completely.  In fact these sentences have worked in you/your 4 times without a single I/We.  Also, by stating a situation that is likely affecting them (downturn) we have started getting them to do some virtual head-nodding.  To take it up another notch, we could do some homework on the target of the communication and mention something that specifically relates to them.  This will also help with engagement.  It shows the customer we care enough about them to do some up-front research instead of blindly sending mass vanilla messages.

Whether it is the opening sentences in a letter or the home page on your Web site, be aware of the concept of chest-thumping.  Engaging the customer has absolutely nothing to do with your firm or your capabilities – but they have extreme interest in how your firm or capabilities can benefit them.  Make the customer the core of your communications and you will be on your way to better messaging.

Don’t be a primate!  Focus on the customer – especially in communications.




Five Things To Make Your Ads “Super”

Coke Ad - Classic 1979
Classic 1979 Coke Commercial Featuring Mean Joe Greene

It is Super Bowl Sunday – and later this afternoon millions of television viewers will be “entertained” by the best commercials companies and ad firms can come up with.  The stakes are high – this year CBS is charging $4 million for a 30 second spot.  Not a good time for a “swing and a miss” yet some commercials nail it, while others leave you scratching your head.

What makes some commercials better than others?  Like most good marketing, it starts with the basics. Here I list five “must haves” for any commercial, advertisement, direct marketing piece, etc.

  1. Know your audience – and market to them.  Yes – this is Marketing 101 – but it is amazing how many people fail in this very fundamental step.  
  2. Establish your goal – before you worry about messaging.   Are you trying to secure immediate purchase (pizza delivery) or initiate the first step in a long conversion process (buying a car, choosing an investment firm).  Pizza spot can be brief (are you hungry, call now) and be done in 15 seconds.  You don’t need detailed info about all of the reasons to buy this pizza.  A financial firm trying that would run the risk of alienating the
  3. You need to be aware of the reach as well as the limitations of  the vehicle you choose.  A classic failure in my book is GoDaddy.com and the Danica Patrick Super Bowl Ads.  Super Bowl has about as diverse of an audience as you can possibly have, from grade schoolers to  nursing home residents.  Those on either end of this spectrum along with most in the middle are not likely in the market to reserve domain names.  My advice to be more effective would be to stick with AdWords and get e-mail lists from Wired, Inc., etc.  Probably a much better use of the marketing dollars.
  4. Humor is GREAT – if it is memorable.  How many times have you remembered the theme of an ad (I remember herding cats from a few years back) funny but now memorable.  I have no idea who ran that ad – and I suspect nobody else does either.
  5. Know and understand the concept of repetition.  Having something good that people see 10 times is far preferable than something fantastic that they see once.  This pretty much eliminates the long term impact of Super Bowl ads, unless they are just the kickoff (pun totally intended) of a whole campaign.  It is just the way the mind works folks – most people’s decision process is just that – a process that requires “chipping away” rather than blunt force.

Enjoy the game today, especially the commercials.  If you don’t remember the companies, that’s OK – it is not your fault, it is some uninformed marketing gurus somewhere that are more interested in winning awards than they are in influencing behavior.

Discover Card Campaign – Brilliant Commercials


discover - customer54discover - Agent54am impressed with the current Discover television commercials where the message is “We treat you like you’d treat you“. You can view one of the commercials here.

The series of commercials is particularly effective for 2 reasons:

  1. They are stressing the importance of relating to the caller/customer
  2. They target an emotional hot button we all have – frustrations with calling large companies for help with some kind of issue. Face it – we all dread it. We are typically faced with recorded prompts, off-sre operators who sometimes present a language challenge, bouncing from person to person, etc.

Discover lowers our anxiety and fears by presenting the call in experience as one that will be comfortable, easy, and will be with a person who is so much like you it could be your long lost sibling!

The lessons here are:

  • Choose a customer pain point
  • Provide a “clear path” solution to that pain point (no ambiguity)
  • Make it memorable, with humor if possible

Discover nails it on all fronts. It makes me want to sign up for a Discover card!