Marketing is primarily about communicating. It's using words, images, sounds, and ideas to inform and influence your target customers. To make the most of your marketing budget and to ensure maximum results, you need to choose what you communicate carefully. Well-crafted marketing messages form the foundation of your communications.
Besides communicating with customers, good marketing messages help your company achieve the following objectives:
- Differentiation. Marketing messages show how your company or products differ from the competition.
- Shaping of perception. People are bombarded by thousands of marketing messages a day. Clear, consistent marketing messages help shape their image of you.
- Consistency. Whether in person or in print, it's important to have every employee and marketing material describe your company and its services or products in the same way.
- Focus. Strong marketing messages help you focus your communications so that you're not tempted to veer away from your strategy.
- Increased sales. Your marketing messages must influence customers and persuade them to choose your product or service over the competition.
Developing marketing messages is a creative process that brings together everything you know about your product or service, your customers, and your competitors. Using this information, you should define the following critical components of your message:
- Features and benefits
- Customer profile
- Unique selling proposition (USP)
- Your marketing message
The tools you need include market research, competitive analyses, product information, and industry reports.
What makes good marketing messages? Successful messages have the following characteristics: Customer-focused. They should answer the customer's "What's in it for me?" questions.
Solution-oriented. Customers buy products and services to solve a problem or need. For example, house cleaners do more than vacuum floors and clean bathrooms. They save the customer's time so that she can focus on other activities.
Emotional. Marketing messages tap into customer needs by appealing to feelings. While a home alarm system deters burglars, its emotional value lies in making the occupants feel safe and worry-free.
Concise. You have minimal time to make an impression on customers, so you must focus on one main message in any given marketing communication.
Above all, your marketing messages must support your marketing goals and company mission.
A Developing Messages
When you develop your product's (or service's) marketing messages, you must consider what the product does, why customers buy it, and how it differs from the competition. These three elements-product, customer, and competition-join together to form your company's unique selling proposition (USP). Once you've defined your USP, which is similar to a mission statement, you can develop supporting marketing messages for use in brochures, print advertisements, press releases, and more.
The easiest place to begin is with your product. Use the Features and Benefits worksheet provided here to describe your product's features and benefits. In addition to tangible features, consider including services, performance, quality, style, and company personnel. As you complete this worksheet, remember the difference between features and benefits. A feature describes what your product does. A benefit explains why the feature is important. Sample features and benefits include the following (formatted as Feature/Benefit):
- Cup holders/Never spill coffee or soda again, even on tight curves
- Antilock brakes/Stay safe in slippery situations
- 300,000 mile warranty/Don't worry about maintenance
C Customer Profile
Without knowing your customers, it's hard to develop strong marketing messages. Like most companies, you'll probably be surprised to learn what customers value most about your product. Because their needs are different from yours, customers usually pick something other than the newest or "coolest" feature as their favorite. This is important to remember as you prioritize your top features and benefits. Ask customers to rank them for you.
Take advantage of every customer interaction to learn more about the needs and problems that drive purchase decisions. Use surveys, trade shows, sales calls, satisfaction reports, focus groups, and more to build your customer profile.
The third messaging component is the competition. Understanding how you relate to the competition helps you explain how your product is different and why it's better. Ultimately, competitive positioning helps your customers make purchase decisions.
For this step, gather all competitive marketing materials you can find. Clip ads, review press releases and published articles, visit your competitors' Web sites, look at brochures, analyze their packaging, and scout their locations. Buy something from a competitor, or ask your friends to use their services to get a true customer experience.
Next, determine your positioning. Positioning defines the market niche you focus on relative to the competition. Sometimes, positioning is as simple as saying "Best-selling minivan" or "The world's favorite airline." However, leading the market isn't the only position available. You can position your company based on customer service, pricing, quality, delivery, innovation, style, and so on.
One way to determine positioning is to choose two qualities or benefits that are common to several companies in your industry. Draw a graph with two intersecting lines. The vertical line represents the first quality; the horizontal line represents the second quality. Then, plot your competitors along the graph to see who occupies certain positions and where there are competitive opportunities.
For example, a new hair salon wants to target working women. The owner knows that price is not important to the target customers. In fact, customers perceive higher prices as higher quality and service. What matters are flexible hours so women can get their hair cut after work. The owner draws a graph with prices along the vertical axis and hours along the horizontal. By plotting her competitors along the graph, she sees that the high-end salons work only during office hours while the less expensive salons stay open late. The owner sees an opportunity to provide high-cost, high-quality services with appointment hours after 5 PM.
After reviewing product capabilities, customer needs, and competitive positioning, you should have a strong sense about which features and benefits are most important to your customers.
F Unique Selling Proposition
The unique selling proposition (USP) describes the benefits your product provides to specific customers. Like a mission statement, it takes a lot of information and synthesizes it into one or two sentences that convey the essence of your marketing messages.
USPs often take the form of "For [customers], [product name] is the [product type] that [top benefit]"-for example, "For working professionals living in Marysville, Buddy's Dog Care is the dog walking service that provides loving care and playful activities for dogs left alone during the day."
Because of its awkward construction, the USP is generally created for internal purposes, but you will still use it to write key marketing messages, tag lines, ad headlines, and more.
G Your Marketing Message
Finally, take your USP, customer profile, positioning, and product benefits and write four or five supporting marketing messages. Use these statements to illustrate the USP or highlight areas of secondary importance. Keep marketing messages benefit-oriented, and use individual features and benefits to support each marketing message.
After you've compiled your key marketing messages, you can use them in the following ways:
- Create a tag line
- Develop a logo
- Write an ad headline
- Prepare sales presentations
Once you've created your messages, test and evaluate them. Ask colleagues and customers for feedback. You should also ask yourself the following questions about your USP and message
Are they easy to remember?
- Are they unique?
- Are they true?
- Are they believable?
- Are they distinctive?
- Are they timeless?
- Are they relevant?
- Are they applicable?
IDENTIFYING YOUR UNIQUE SELLING PROPOSITION (USP)
What sets your products and services apart from the rest? For each product and service: Is it quality? Price? Convenience? Style? Professionalism? Ask the same questions about your store, restaurant, or office. Gathering this information is the basis for determining your unique selling proposition (USP).
Your aim is to develop an image or perception in the marketplace that you offer something special. Your neighborhood convenience store has a unique selling proposition: You can get a loaf of bread or a jar of mayonnaise at odd hours without getting in your car. Look at competing businesses and ask what's special about them? Can those insights help you position and define your business? Every business has something special to recommend it.
What's your claim?
A Setting Your Products Apart
Here are some examples of ways companies set their products apart from the competition.
B New and Improved
Matthew's Teak Cleaner took a messy, dangerous process and simplified it. Lotus took spreadsheets for microcomputers a step further than the competition and dominated the market for business software.
Think that L'Eggs profit comes from a superior stocking? Think again.
BIC grabbed the ballpoint pen market with their 19-cent pen. On the other hand, lack of courage in pricing is a major weakness for small business. Be very careful: Small businesses cannot afford to compete on price. If you do compete on price, aim to be the most expensive, not the least expensive.
E Advertising and Promotion
What really is the difference between McDonald's and Burger King? Better yet, think of Frank Perdue and his chickens. Chicken is chicken is chicken-until Frank Perdue changed our perceptions of a commodity and differentiated his product from everyone else's through advertising and promotion. You pay more for a Perdue chicken, too.
Retail stores all over the world are being hurt by direct marketing. It's the fastest growing retail segment. Land's End, L.L. Bean, Spiegel's, Victoria's Secret, and hundreds of other merchants let you shop at home and will quickly deliver their products to your door.
Look at direct marketing again. Or check out your local 7-11 Store. Even banks are beginning to be open at more convenient hours due to the press of competition. A bank that opens Saturday morning has a big advantage over a bank that doesn't. A bank with many automatic teller machines (ATMs) scattered around their market area offers more than one that doesn't provide such access.
H Follow-up Service
After-sale efforts are strong product/service differentiators. Wherever you live, Sears will service your washing machine. Today. That's a deliberate policy-and sharply contrasts with discount stores. Both after-sale service and price chopping are valid marketing strategies. But Sears makes more money in the long run by stressing service, not price. A medical practice that routinely involves its patients in their own health care by sending reminders will lose fewer customers than one that saves money by not keeping in touch.