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How to instill authenticity in your marketing message

How to instill authenticity in your marketing message Jeff Cannon

How many messages does an average person see these days? Depending on who you listen to, it can be anywhere from 600 to 5,000. Whether there is some factual basis for these numbers or whether they should be categorized as urban myths is up for grabs. However, between Twitter tweets and old fashioned newspaper ads, the fact that consumers are inundated with messages to the point of numbness has never rung truer. With a savvier consumer and a flood of brand messaging, you have an ever-narrowing window within which to get your message right if you want to truly connect with your customers. If you don't hit home on the first shot, you many never get another chance to turn a consumer into a customer, and a customer into a brand loyalist.

There's a famous saying, "If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter." Take this deeply to heart when you create a message for your customer. Don't use the same old line you used in the past. Don't tweak a print ad to make it fit online. Edit it. Revise it. Re-think it. Take the time to get it right. 

One size does not fit all. Forget that your brand manager loves the old tried and true jingle. Think about where your customer is at the specific point in time that you want to reach them and then put yourself in their mindset when they will see your message. Whether it is a tweet or an old-fashioned television commercial, make sure your message is one that will stop consumers in their tracks and make them take action. 

If you need to start fresh and write a new message, then do it. If you need to split your idea into two messages, then do it. But if you think one broad message will work across a variety of media and at different points in your customer's lives, then your ad is just time and money that could have been better spent elsewhere.

Start at the beginning with the two basic rules of effective advertising and make sure your message is a) simple and b) true. If you think this is easy, you may find it is actually harder than it seems, especially when you start trying to make it exciting, catchy, and actionable.

When you start to make a simple or true statement compelling, the concepts of "simple" and "true" quickly get lost on the way. Sales people want to add some glitz. Brand managers want to add value. The lawyers want to omit any hint of liability. Before you know it, your message is muddled to the point of being meaningless to the one person you were trying to reach. 

It is important to remember there is no grey area in today's marketplace; there is only black and white. Either your message is simple and true, or it is confusing and false. There is no "white lie." There are no "half-truths." There is no trying to fit one more thing into the message because your customer really cares about it.

Confused?  Read on and I will tell you the secret of how to do this. But before we go there, let's start at the beginning.

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1. Make it simple. Albert Einstein once said "make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler." Decades later and industries apart, that statement has never been more important for marketers. Here is why:

  • Simple messages are easier to understand and embed themselves in the psyche faster.

  • Simple messages are easier to remember and can be recalled for longer periods of time. 

  • Simple messages are easier to repeat and pass along, building a brand's buzz.

That means simple messages are more effective than complex messages. You can create a complex message that fits multiple ideas into one statement, but you risk confusing your customer.

You also risk losing the impact of your original message. What do we mean by simple? Go back to expository writing -- the foundation for almost every copywriter's craft -- where every paragraph focuses on just one idea, and every sentence supports that idea with one fact. Have a second idea, or a second product benefit? Write a second paragraph.

Take Winston cigarette's famous catchphrase: "Winston tastes good like a...?"  "Cigarette should." It has one simple idea and one simple message: taste. Yes, it was a simpler time, there were fewer regulations, and there was less ad clutter. But this is a simple message that has not run in the media for more than 40 years, yet has stayed strong in the minds of the consumer. It is also a lesson to learn from: one idea, one product benefit, one tag line, and one memorable brand.

2. Make sure it is true. In today's market if you're lying, you're dying. With so many news sources just itching to break the next big story, all it takes is the faintest wisp of a lie to send a celebrity, a politician, or a product into an abyss that they rarely recover from them. It is too easy for a blogger to turn a half-truth into a full lie, to take a comment out of context and turn a saint into a sinner. It is too easy to turn a network of friends into a movement that turns a small white lie into a glaring black smudge that can bring down a company. Toyota, are you listening?

So if you want to create a message for your product, just do it. But don't take the obvious shortcut and re-use an old ad or message. A newspaper ad is very different from a television commercial. A blog entry is very different from a tweet. Leverage your brand's positioning statement (i.e., Nike's "Just do it") as the basis for a new ad message, but do not re-purpose a bit of old ad copy to do so. It simply will not work for where your customer lives today. 

Keep your message simple and keep it true.  It will have a much better chance of resonating if you do.

If you are not sure how to do this, here are some hints:

  • Go back to the beginning and think about the core brand attribute that motivates your customers to buy your product.

  • Now think about your customer's mindset when they are actively shopping for your product.

  • Overlay the two, and that will indicate your point of differentiation, as well as the nature of your message.

  • Use only one point of differentiation for each message. 

  • If you have more than one point of differentiation, save it for another message; there will be another time and place to get it out.

  • If it is not the absolute truth, do not write it. 

  • If you find yourself hedging, bending, or tweaking your idea to fit what is popular, then it is not the truth.

  • If you find yourself using the word "also" or "et cetera," don't. That is the first step to bending the truth.

  • Do what the legitimate journalists do: Check your facts, then check them again. There is nothing more embarrassing than having to admit an error or omission later on.

  • Most important, while I know your loved one majored in English, hire a copy writer. Getting a degree in school is simply not the same as knowing how to craft the English language to say what you want it to say.

And the secret behind making the simple truth work? Be prepared to create more than one ad or post. The days of large campaigns that repeat the same message over and over again are, well, over. To really connect with your customers you need to create different messages that are refined for different points in your customer's lifecycle. 

Target your messages to reach them where they live, no matter where they are. It means refining your message to promote different product benefits at different times. This takes a bit more time and energy, but in the end, it will convert more consumers to customers, and more customers to brand loyalists -- and isn't that what we all want?

Jeff Cannon is president of Think Cannon LLC.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

After successfully growing TheCannonGroup into a $1MM agency, Jeff Cannon launched Think Cannon - a full service, integrated communications firm designed to leverage traditional strategies with digital applications to produce the maximum effect.

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to leave comments.

Commenter: M Aronson

2010, April 07

Clear and to the point. Simplicity always rules. I agree, however as you said, it's getting there that causes me the most contemplation!