Have you noticed how briefly and compellingly the best online brands are describing themselves these days? Facebook, Zynga, Toggl, Evernote — visit their sites and you’ll be greeted with concise statements that should be an inspiration to you as you develop your own messaging.
Try this: how do you respond when a potential customer or even just an acquaintance asks, “what do you do?” If you find it difficult to answer this question succinctly, it could be an indication that your messaging needs work. The problem comes most to the fore when you’re trying to develop the words for your website homepage, including your website titles. Clear messaging is vital for all your marketing, but nowhere moreso than for your online marketing.
Messaging isn’t just for marketers. If you are in senior management at your company, it’s core to your mission. Miller Mattson correctly describes messaging as “a key part of your company’s marketing infrastructure.” Messaging is simply a concise and memorable description of the value you bring to customers: it should be worded carefully and in such a way that listeners instantly grasp what benefits they’ll see from working with you, and ideally they should feel inspired to get in touch with you.
That’s a lot to ask for a few sentences, but your messaging can have long, short, and very short (think Twitter-length) versions. The shortest versions are ideal for your website, while longer ones will come in useful in everything from HR advertisements to tender documents. Remember, this is core, descriptive information that should serve you online, in print or even in person when speaking to targets, so it’s well worth investing the time to get it right…and it will take some time.
Here are four things to keep in mind as you develop your messaging:
1. Take the customer’s perspective
What is your company really good at? There’s no one more qualified to answer this question than your existing, loyal customers. Interview them to understand why they chose you over the competition, how they see you as different from other providers in the market, and the competencies you offer that they cherish most. The answers customers give you might surprise you, and may differ significantly from what you thought your key strengths were. This primary research will allow you to take the customer’s perspective, letting you make the best start on your messaging development.
A great example of customer-focussed messaging is the text on the homepage of Toggl.com, an online time tracker popular with freelancers and consultants. Toggl.com simply states, “Insanely simple time tracking. Toggl kills timesheets.” That’s messaging that makes it clear the people behind Toggl understand the frustration its potential customers have probably experienced in using other solutions.
2. What are the actual words customers use to describe you?
There’s a well-worn anecdote about a customer who wanted to buy a jumper on an e-commerce website which didn’t use the word “jumper”. This is a perfect example of a messaging quandary in microcosm. Think of how many different words people use to describe that item of clothing – gansy, jumper, pullover, sweater… there are probably others. You must always ask yourself whether you are using your customers’ own words to describe your company and your products. If you’re selling “unified communications services” but your target buyers are actually googling for “videoconferencing”, your messaging must take account of that. Tools like Google’s free Keyword Research Tool can be helpful, but there’s really no substitute for directly interviewing your own customers.
3. Have you properly localised your content for international markets?
Native speakers and in-country experts will be invaluable as you create foreign-language versions of your online marketing materials for overseas locations – a cute YouTube video that works for the German market may fall flat in Asia. If you can’t find a reliable resource locally to advise you on suitable localised content, Ireland’s diaspora can be helpful: use LinkedIn.com to source Irish marketing experts working abroad, either freelance or as part of agencies, who can help quality-check the communications you intend to roll out in international markets.
4. What devices are customers using to read your website?
There’s no point in developing great messaging if your target market can’t access it. You may have heard about the need for websites to offer “responsive design,” which simply means that your website effortlessly reformats itself to be easily read on a mobile phone, tablet or other non-PC device. Research from Accenture shows 77% of internet users in Ireland are using a mobile device, such as a tablet, to access the web. This trend isn’t unique to Ireland: other key international markets such as Brazil, South Africa and Russia also favour mobile internet access. Speak to your web developer to ensure visibility and usability of your website on mobile devices; website development tools like WordPress offer a number of responsive themes for developing a web presence.
A final thought about developing your messaging: remember that the rise of social media has changed the marketing landscape, and target customers now demand clear, jargon-free descriptions of what your company does. Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels of Separation is probably one of the best books about the need to ‘keep it real’ in marketing. As Joel notes, fluffy marketing speak doesn’t cut it today. Customers expect that your company will speak in a real voice, not least because they just can’t spare the time to figure out what your densely-worded marketing materials mean; they’ll simply find themselves drawn to a more plain-speaking competitor.
Sheila Averbuch is a former business journalist and managing director for the content services agency ENNClick .