by Michael Cannon
In business marketing, messaging is a summary answer to the prospective customer’s primary and secondary buying questions – the key points that must be communicated to convince a person to engage and buy. Messaging is integrated into content via copywriting and the creative process and integrated into sales conversations by way of the communicator.
Persuasive messaging is the most effective messaging you can create as measured by its ability to persuade the most people to buy from you. (Learn about the different categories and types of messaging, or learn about the difference between persuasive messaging and a value proposition.)
Messaging is thus the foundation on which all of your sales and marketing efforts rest. Sadly, most companies do not differentiate messaging from content, are unclear as to how to define which messaging is required for greater market success, and lack a methodology for creating and deploying it. The results are billions of dollars wasted annually on ineffective marketing content – and the loss of billions more in lower revenue, higher sales costs, and missed bonuses.
There is over a decade of 3rd-party research to support this perspective, and it is summarized into the following Customer Communications Index:
Less than 50% of your marketing and sales communications are relevant to your customers
Less than 30% of your marketing content is relevant to your customer-facing teams
Here is your chance to break from the pack and enhance your competitive advantage. Use these Top Ten Principles to help you create more persuasive messaging and deploy more influential customer communications – content and sales conversations – that will enable your team to create and win more opportunities.
1. Target the Buyer By Audience Type and Buyer Role. There are numerous audience types to consider, such as Customer, Channel Partner, Sales (Inside, Outside, Channel), Market Research Analyst, and Financial Analyst/Investor. There are also buyer roles such as User, Technical, Economic, Line-of-Business Manager, and Executive. You must target your messaging to your buyer by audience, and potentially by role too, so that the messaging resonates with each buyer or stakeholder’s interests and perspective.
The rule of thumb to use when deciding if you need to segment your audience messaging by buyer role is: Does that buyer segment have a similar set of business challenges and is the solution to those challenges also similar? If the answer is “no” to either of the questions, and if the buyer segment is critical to your success, then you must have messaging for each buyer segment. Or, accept that the messaging to that buyer segment will be less effective in persuading them to buy. It’s your choice.
2. Identify and Persuasively Answer the Audience’s Primary Buying Questions. The buying questions for each audience are fundamentally different. For example, Customers are asking, “Why should I buy your solution rather than a competitive alternative?” Channel Partners are asking, “Why should I distribute your product or service?” Sales is asking, “Why should I spend time selling your product or service?” This is why you must identify and then persuasively answer each audience’s specific questions. A great way to determine the effectiveness of your current messaging is by identifying your audience’s primary buying questions and then evaluating how persuasively your content (collateral, sales training, and sales tools) answers these questions. Is it really good enough to win an order? More about this here.
3. Target Specific Market Segments or Sales Opportunities. Messaging that straddles all industries and/or markets is typically so high-level that it is not very persuasive. You can increase your messaging effectiveness by honing the messaging down to a specific set of prioritized customer segments (in marketing terms), or sales opportunities/plays (in sales department terms).
A market segment is a cross-referencing group of people that has a similar set of business challenges and where the solution to those challenges is also similar. Segments can be vertical by industry, and horizontal across industries/markets by job tasks or department and even specific geographies.
4. Enable the Technology Adoption Life Cycle (TALC) and Sales Cycle. In the early phases of the TALC — Early Market, Bowling Alley, and Tornado — the most important customer buying question is “Why should I change from the status quo to a new solution?” The answer to this question is called persuasive opportunity-creation messaging, and it has little to do with your company, per se. The primary goal of persuasive opportunity-creation messaging is to create market demand for the product or service category by stating a compelling reason to change, convincing buyers that there is great value — Business Case — to be gained by changing from their current solution to a new or better solution.
In the late-market phase of the life cycle — Main Street — when market demand is more established, the most important customer question then shifts to “Why should I buy this new solution from your company instead of your competitors?” The answer to this question is called persuasive competitive messaging, and it must provide clear competitive differentiation of your company and offering. The primary goal of competitive persuasive messaging is to create orders for your company, convincing buyers that your offering is their best choice.
The sales cycle has distinct phases that follow the customer buying behavior in the TALC. For example, let’s say you’re selling a product in the early phases of the TALC. At the beginning of the sales cycle, the primary customer buying question to answer is “Why should I meet with you?” Once you have a meeting, the next phase in the sales cycle is answering ““Why should I change from the status quo to a new solution?” The final phase of the sales cycle is then answering “Why should I buy this new solution from your company instead of your competitors?” Great persuasive messaging must effectively answer and enable each phase in both the Technology Adoption Life Cycle and sales cycle. (Learn more about aligning messaging with the TALC.)
5. Make the Right Comparison. A lot of messaging does not manifest this comparative principle. When you are developing persuasive opportunity-creation messaging, it’s not about the value of your solution. It’s about the value of the difference between your solution and the customer’s current solution. The reference point for comparison is the customer’s current solution.
On the other hand, when you’re developing persuasive competitive messaging, it’s not about the value of your solution. It’s about the value of the difference between your solution and the competitors’ solutions. Here, the reference point for comparison changes to the competitors’ solutions.
Only the difference, or delta, has real value to the customer, and the bigger the delta, the more likely you are to create a business opportunity and get the business. The underlying assumption is that if you can clearly communicate how your product can help prospective customers solve their problems or reach their objectives better than their current solution and/or better than the competition, then you should win the business.
6. Use Strong Comparative Language. In order to help the buyer see the difference between the old way and the new way or the difference between your solution and the competitor’s solution, use comparative adjectives such as more, easier, faster, less, reduce, increase, etc., in your messaging.
Numerous neurology studies (used as the basis for Neuromarketing) have proven that the old brain is the true decision maker, and that the best way to communicate to the old brain is to present it with clear comparisons between opposites such as black and white, best and worst, fastest and slowest. That’s why great persuasive competitive messaging must include superlative adjectives such as most, easiest, fastest, least, greatest, only, etc., where appropriate, to create the highest level of comparison possible.
Another strategy to provide greater comparative contrast is to quantify the difference. For example, you can change “reduces costs” to “reduces costs by 15%” and “unmatched performance” to “3x better performance” to create crisp contrast that is easily understood by the old brain.
7. Define Clear Capability Advantages. This derivative of the “Make the Right Comparison” principle is used mostly for competitive messaging. Most companies’ competitive messaging is a list of the company capabilities and product features. While these capabilities and features are fine for descriptive company or product messaging, they’re not effective when you need to create highly persuasive messaging.
This is because a capability or feature by itself has little real value to the customer. Only the difference between your capability and the competitor’s capability has value. The greater your capability advantage and the clearer you can communicate that advantage, the more likely it is that your company will win the deal.
The best way to communicate your capability advantage is to summarize the difference and then provide the capability comparison — for example, “Best Service: 4-hour mean time to repair versus 5.5-hour mean time to repair” and “3x Better Performance: 300 rev per second versus 100 rev per second”.
8. Communicate Value in the Customer’s Context. Having clear capability advantages is necessary but not sufficient. What’s missing is the “so what?”: What does this capability advantage mean to the customer? The best way to communicate the value of your capability advantages is to put it in the context of the business problems you can solve better than the current solution or competition and the business value you can deliver, over and above the current solution or competition.
For example, a petroleum company is in the market for a new drilling rig. One of your capability advantages is “3x Better Performance: 300 rev per second versus 100 rev per second”. The business problem solved for the customer is that your rig will drill 22% faster than the competition’s. The value to the customer is that you can reduce the customer’s overall drilling cost by 11% or by $560M.
9. Incorporate Lots of Proof Points. Most buyers do not immediately believe your messaging claims. So, the more evidence or proof points you offer to support your claims, the more credible your claims, and the more your buyers will believe you. The best proof points are customer testimonials, case studies, etc. The second-best proof points are independent third-party organizations such as market research firms (Gartner, Forrester, etc.), standards boards (ISO, IEEE, etc.), and trade associations (Chamber of Commerce, American Management Association, etc.). The next-best proof points are a demonstration or proof-of-concept implementation, followed by support data such as an ROI summary, charts, graphs, etc.
Your proof points must also provide direct support for your messaging. You must provide proof that your capability advantages are true, that you can solve the customer’s problems better, and that you deliver greater business value.
10. Make the Customer the Hero. A lot of messaging repeatedly uses the company’s name, and pronouns such as we, us, and our. It is written from the perspective of what the company or product does, or can do. Buyers do not care about your company or products; they care about themselves. So, stop making your company/product the hero of the story. Instead, turn your customers into heroes by rephrasing the messaging to use pronouns such as customers, you, and your as much as possible.
When you create your messaging with the customer as the hero of the story, the impact of your messaging increases dramatically. You also enable prospects to more easily visualize themselves using your company/product as a tool to become a hero in their company.
The more of these principles your messaging incorporates, the more effective it is. Moreover, since messaging is “the fuel” on which all your marketing and sales engines run, it will also have a big impact on the effectiveness of all your marketing and sales investments. Typical results from companies that implement great persuasive messaging include:
- An increase in sales leads and sales pipeline growth of 10% to 20%
- An increase in win rates of 15% to 30%
- An increase in market share of 5% to 10%
- A reduction in the amount of time Marketing spends supporting Sales by 40% to 50%
Better messaging means better results. It’s truly a silver bullet to help you increase market success and gain a more sustainable competitive advantage.
Resources to Implement the Most Influential Customer Communications