essaging is an essential element of marketing, sales and communications, no matter what your business is. Think of messaging as the written and verbal story you want your brand to tell. It’s a consistent framework of words and phrases that resonates with your audience and inspires them to engage with you.
Messaging in action
- Sales materials: attract and convert prospects into customers, build company-wide elevator pitch
- Marketing assets: Website, social media, company collateral
- Company mission/vision, and ongoing executive communications: Rally the troops around where you are going and why
- Change communications: Help employees and existing customers understand and embrace change
- Customer communications: Reiterate value proposition, increase engagement, inspire action and referrals
Successful executives value the power of words — and understand the importance of having a solid messaging framework. Yet companies of all sizes and maturity often struggle with getting messaging right.
Let’s break down the key components of effective, engaging messaging. In the next column, we will focus on how to build a messaging plan.
For the purposes of this column, we will focus on messaging for marketing and sales communications, rather than employee or customer communications. But know the concepts remain the same, with different audiences at play. Because we work with a number of financial advisors looking to articulate their messaging, I will use them as examples of these components in action.
1. Centered on audience:
For marketing and sales communications, it is critical the customer is at the heart of everything you say. A story is most engaging when a person can relate to, or see themselves as the leading character.
With this mindset, if you are telling a story about your business, your customer is your main character (not you as the business). Let them be the hero of their own destiny — rather than your company swooping in to help.
To accomplish this, you must stop thinking about what you want to communicate, and instead reframe the story from the audience’s perspective. Focus on what they care about, their challenges, goals and desired outcomes. What you do or how you do it doesn’t matter. People care about the outcome you can provide for them, rather the list of services you offer.
A business owner may be tempted to write, “I’m a financial advisor who cares about clients, and can help you with your long-term financial planning needs.” What he should really be saying is “You deserve to be listened to — not pitched to. At _____ firm, we personalize wealth management to your unique story. So get treated like a human, get a clear plan and know your wealth is in caring and competent hands.”
Just like building a successful product or service, effective messaging must have a defined target audience or niche. There’s a saying marketers often quote: “If you’re talking to everyone, you’re talking to no one.”
Messaging is a way you can focus on your audience’s unique needs, and is most powerful when you narrow it down to the ideal clients you are best at serving.
For our company, we love to hire journalists for this very reason because they understand the importance of an audience and how that impacts how a story is positioned, the words you use, etc.
One of the main objections or hesitations we hear before kicking off a messaging project with clients in financial services is how many ways can you say “you can trust us, peace of mind that you are in the right hands.” That’s exactly where targeted messaging comes into play. Who are you trying to earn as a new client? What is unique to them that you can build into your messaging? What are they really looking for? Why do they come to you?
Let’s say we have a financial advisor in Tampa who is really good at partnering with technology professionals and helping them navigate deferred comp plans or restricted stock units (RSUs). Capture that in your messaging. Industry-specific wording will give you instant credibility.
Next, think about the types of words and phrases that speak to your ideal customer. What would motivate them to learn more? What do they really care about? What keeps them up at night, or is a complete pain for them?
The goal is to effectively motivate, inspire, persuade and engage your audience by harnessing the power of language to evoke feelings. Speak to the emotions, the personal. People take action based on emotion; they validate their decisions with logic.
Once you know their biggest pain points, position those so your prospect is nodding their head, thinking to themselves, “Ah, yes, they get it!”
- “We understand how frustrating it can be to be sold to.”
- “As a busy professional with a lot of demands on your time, we understand it can be stressful to manage your multiple investment accounts in your ‘spare time.’
- “How do you truly ensure that your financial future is as successful as your career?”
- “Stop feeling stuck in a never-ending cycle of pitches that don’t fit your needs.”
4. Clear and concise:
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of messaging is making it easy to understand. We are often so into the weeds of what we do and so passionate about how we are different, we have a hard time of simplifying it for others.
You want your audience to quickly understand what it is you are trying to convey. While it’s important to differentiate, try not to get too fancy with word choice, as this can put you at risk of overcomplicating what you strive to communicate.
Tapping into an outsider perspective (speaking to someone who doesn’t work in the business) can go a long way to making sure your points are easy to understand. When I worked for Bloomberg News, my editor used to tell me, “explain this concisely like you would to a grandmother with a limited attention span.”
Messaging acts as a company-wide filter to help align different departments and channels across the firm. Once you have a framework in place, it serves as the foundation for your firm’s marketing materials (brochures, website, social, etc.) as well as sales templates.
Perhaps more importantly, a solid messaging framework gives your team members the right ammo to convey your value proposition through storytelling and one-liners they can rely on.