Let’s face it. When teams sit down to write messaging without a plan, it shows in the results. The message meanders formlessly as value statements, features, and differentiators occur to the team.
Starting with a plan makes all the difference. To help you get started, we’ve created this 30-point checklist with some of the most important ingredients for a clear and persuasive message.
Use this list to evaluate your current brand message or inspire your next one.
- Audience / Serendipity – Buyers evaluate your brand with a quick toe-dip. If they don’t immediately get a clue that your solution is meant just for them, they bolt. The most important job of your photos and headlines is to help your buyer confirm they are in the right place and that there’s a reason for them to pay attention.
- Empathy – Most buyers are looking for a solution to a problem. They don’t always understand your solution, but they know their challenges intimately. Start there. Open with empathy. First, bring the story to your customer’s world—then lead them into your world.
- Complexity – Business leaders suffer from “Curse of Knowledge Bias.” We know our businesses so well that it’s hard to separate common sense from domain expertise. But not every offering is complex. For instance, if you sell cookies, you may get away with assuming that your audience understands your product. For the rest of us, clarity is vital.
- Clarity – Arguably, the most essential thing your message can do is provide clarity to your buyer. How can you create clarity quickly when your solution is complex? Make it clear what problem your offering solves. The problem may also be complex, but your customer already understands it!
- Status Quo – Without your solution, what would your buyer do? Would they try to work it out on their own? Would they put off taking any action at all? Would they work with a competitor? In other words—what are you truly competing with? It might be inaction! Talk about your customer’s status quo and the pain it causes them. That pain is their old plan. Your solution is their new plan.
- Brand Affinity – Showing customers that you share the same values as them, or even better—attaching your brand to a revolution they imagine themselves to be involved in—is powerful. And if you are a ubiquitous brand selling an easy-to-understand product or service, brand affinity may even be a top priority. For everyone else, clarity is your top priority.
- Allure / Curiosity – Good writing inspires curiosity, rather than immediately answering every question. Research shows that humans are naturally optimistic. Leave something to the imagination, and people tend to imagine an idyllic outcome. But allure flies in the face of clarity, right? It doesn’t have to. Open with empathy. Be clear about the customer’s problem, but don’t immediately share your solution. Inspire curiosity. Users will continue reading because they want to see how the story resolves the problem.
- Emotional Engagement – People are 22x times more likely to remember a fact if it is wrapped in a story (Stanford’s Graduate School of Business), and brain scans show that consumers primarily use emotions to evaluate brands, rather than facts and features. Emotional engagement seems to be effective even when it is off-topic. So you can engage customers in a story about a caveman to sell insurance. Sure, that can work. But engage your customer in a story about their challenges, and you will accomplish much more (see 1-7 above). Open with empathy!
- What’s Your Why? – Why does your business exist? The answer is often that the founder of your business has been in the shoes of your customers, felt their pain, and was driven to do something about it. If so, talk about that. That story is a great use of the “About” page of your website. But make sure your buyers can see themselves in the story.
- Competitive Differentiation – Are you selling a unique solution with little or no direct competition? If so, your message should be about the fundamental problem you can solve for your customer. Are you trying to stand out in a red ocean of competitors selling very similar solutions? Your story might be about a secondary problem. For instance, GEICO sells insurance, but their story is about secondary problems (“15 minutes can save you 15% or more”). Note: Even in a crowded marketplace, be mindful of whether buyers universally understand your offering. If not, you may still want to focus on the fundamental problem. Especially if you are a B2B, consider this related question: Are you mostly competing against other brands, or are you primarily competing against inaction? Tune your message accordingly.
- A Trend Toward Action – Let buyers know if there is a trend toward positive action. If you sell widgets, sharing that “8 million people bought widgets last month” is a great way to persuade your buyer, regardless of your company’s share of that market. A rising tide lifts all boats. Buyers ultimately make most decisions by unconsciously posing this internal question: “What does a person like me typically do in a situation like this?” Tell them.
- Size Up The Problem – Help buyers understand how significant their problem is by sharing an industry statistic (“Industry X loses a billion dollars each year to fraud.”). Caution—if your metric implies that most people or businesses are not doing anything to solve the problem, you’ve given your buyer an out. Remember their internal question: “What does a person like me typically do in a situation like this?” Never tell them that most people like them do nothing. They will follow suit. If you size up the problem, make sure you also show a trend toward positive action. For more on this, see Metrics in your Brand Story.
- Plan – Your buyers are wondering what they will need to give up and go through to start working with you. Help ease their concerns. Sell an incomparable plan. Show buyers how easy it is to start working with you. Share your plan to solve their problems. A plan tells customers that you understand their problems and have developed a process by which they will overcome those problems. Example: “Our mobile app notices when you arrive at your driving destination, alerts you to nearby parking spots as they open up, and directs you to an available spot with voice guidance.” A plan is clear and impactful. A list of features (GPS tracking. Alerts. Voice Guidance.) requires that buyers figure out how those features come together to solve their problems.
- The Final Straw – Every buyer has one thing in common—they’ve reached a crossroads. Whatever problem they’ve been wrestling with, they can’t take it anymore. If they have searched for you, it is because they are ready for a change. Learn from your customers. Is there a shared “final straw” that brought many of them to you? If so, make that final straw part of your brand message. It will jump off the page for them.
- Barriers to Entry – Many buyers have a second thing in common—they have never bought your product or service before. Why? What friction can you remove for them? What jugular objection can you resolve in your message that makes them feel safe taking that next step?
- Features – For most sellers, a list of features invites comparison shopping. When you sell a list of features, you are appealing to maximizers who will relentlessly compare their options before making a purchase. That means slower sales cycles, but worst still—maximizers tend to be dissatisfied with their purchases. If you’re dependent on positive reviews, this isn’t the audience you want to target. Instead, appeal to satisficers. Satisficers want to solve a problem, but they are mindful of the opportunity cost of comparing every offering on the market. They’ll buy the first product they find that solves their problem for a fair price, and they tend to be happy with the purchase. Instead of listing features, open with empathy, and share a succinct plan for solving the customer’s problem. Here’s an exception: If you offer features that customers frequently search for on the web, consider including those features on your website for SEO purposes.
- Ease of Use – The best thing we’ve seen any business do to help customers believe they offer great ease-of-use is to craft a succinct 3 to 7 step plan. Crafting that plan helps you brainstorm the most delightful customer experience your company can reasonably deliver.
- Takeaway – A week after reading your message, a buyer is likely to remember one thing about your brand. What do you want that to be? Decide for them. Emphasize this one takeaway with your photos, headlines, plan, and testimonials. Repeat it in as many different ways as you can think so they can’t help but memorize it.
- Value / ROI – ROI can rarely be attributed to a single factor (your product or service), but if your customers are collectively seeing an impressive ROI, and you can quantify it, that’s fantastic. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. If you don’t, focus on authority and social proof.
- Authority – Most people are looking for a safe purchase, and they will even pay extra for something that seems like a sure-thing solution. Show you are a safe bet by sharing how many years you’ve been in business, how many customers you’ve served, a retention metric, or a performance metric.
- Social Proof – The best way to make buyers feel safe is by providing social proof. Give them evidence (even anecdotal evidence) that many other buyers have chosen to trust your brand. Even saying “most customers do X” inspires customers to do X. And concrete metrics like “4 out of 5 dentists recommend X” go even further to help customers decide.
- Call to Action – No matter how persuasive your message is, if buyers don’t know what to do next, you’re in danger of losing them. For any brand message, carefully consider what you want your buyers to do next. And then, in the message, ask them to do that.
- Toe-Dip – Often, “buy now” is way too big of a leap. Consider what toe-dip you can offer your customers to nudge them from awareness to consideration and ultimately to a decision. The toe-dip could be a how-to guide (like this one) or a free consultation. It might be a free trial or newsletter signup. Whatever the toe-dip is, make sure you are following through with these leads to convert them to paying customers when they are ready!
- What’s at Stake? – Consider the type of needs your offering resolves: physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging, esteem, self-actualization, or several of these? As you call your buyer to action, give them one last reminder of what they have to gain or lose if they don’t take action.
- Loss Aversion – It feels better to tell buyers what they have to gain vs what they have to lose. The research on this is clear. People are twice as likely to take action to avoid a loss as they are to achieve gain.
- Decision Reflexes – Thousands of decision reflexes (aka behavioral biases) help guide consumer decisions. Your message’s content and structure should be informed by decision research for maximum impact (and to avoid costly errors). See our white papers on how to guide customers with decision reflexes and create engaging and persuasive messages using research-backed structures.
- Personality / Archetype – Does your brand have a personality? Your brand might be an Innocent, Everyman, Hero, Outlaw, Explorer, Creator, Ruler, Magician, Lover, Caregiver, Jester, or Sage. Archetypes help codify a brand’s personality and are sometimes as recognizable as color schemes, fonts, and logos.
- Grammar – Spelling and punctuation aren’t necessarily going to help you close sales. But clarity will. An example of a common error we see in brand messages is a long sentence with so many subjects and actions that it’s hard to tell which subject is doing each action. When you find a sentence that refers to multiple subjects, always look for ways to create a greater number of simpler sentences. Consider using a tool, like Grammarly, that flags common errors for you.
- Duration – If you can keep a buyer reading for 30 seconds, they are likely to continue reading for 2 minutes or more (Nielsen Norman Group). More reading time increases the chances of conversions. Keep buyers reading by generating curiosity and following a proven storytelling structure.
- Structure – Holy smokes. How are you supposed to smash 30 considerations into a succinct brand message with clean language that progressively engages and persuades users? There’s a time-tested structure that brings all of these considerations into harmony: Customer > Market > Offering > Business > Action. This structure is informed by storytelling, decision science, and user experience research. And if you execute it right, you’ll also answer customer’s internal questions in the most persuasive order.
At Bruck Marketing, we’re experts at extracting the information we need to write clear, persuasive brand messages. We consider the entire list above and discover everything we need to learn about your business in a tightly planned interactive session we call The BrandLab Messaging+ Workshop.
Schedule a free consultation today.