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 Sunday, August 12, 2007




We strive for “successful” messaging in our marketing communications. Successful means two things. One, it’s connecting with (potential) customers. Two, it’s achieving a specific behavior needed to drive brand sales. A key to enjoying success is to offer a message that is relevant to the target. That’s the connection part. But it is not enough to merely be relevant. The message must also be meaningfully differentiated from the competition. This enables us to stimulate the desired customer behavior such as switching, penetration, increased frequency of usage, etc., particularly within the context of competitive offerings.

The choice for messaging is made in the development of the communication strategy. This needs to be a careful choice since the marketing communications will be built upon it. A poor choice provides a base of quicksand and the creative product will be sucked under by it. A so-called BIG Idea will go nowhere unless it supports a relevant and meaningfully differentiated message.

A review of current advertising from a host of sectors, categories and countries reveals a wide range of mistakes that marketers are making in their choice of strategic messaging. They are not being competitive. In other words, they are not being relevant and/or meaningfully differentiated in their messaging. We need to avoid some common mistakes and ensure we have something that will connect with our current and prospective customers and stimulate the behavior we seek before we begin creative development.




Here are some important points to consider when developing and choosing the strategic message for your brand:



1     Get beyond generic messaging – A common mistake is to offer a benefit “common” to the category. For example a message promising that a specific Rx drug product will lower blood sugar levels is what any sufferer of diabetes, or attending physician, expects BSL (blood sugar lowering) medications to do. It is generic. It is the cost of entry for the category. As such it is not unto itself going to drive preference of one product over another. It’s not competitive. The question, in this case, is not whether the specific compound is effective in lowering blood sugar levels but what specific advantage it provides the sufferer or prescriber versus alternative products within the same category.


2     Avoid “sameness” - go for meaningful differentiation - Ever notice how brands common to a category offer messaging that is common to each other? Start looking and marketing communications from specific categories. You’ll begin to notice “sameness” in the choice (or, perhaps, we should say non-choice) of strategic benefits offered in the messaging. To illustrate, many skin care products promise to reduce wrinkles, erase fine lines and reduce signs of aging. They all do the same things. They are indistinguishable. Indistinguishable that is until one brand promises in its messaging that it could help you to look 10-years younger.


3     Provide meaningful support for the message – This is where the reason-why comes in to help (prospective) customers believe that you can truly accomplish what you promise in your messaging and/or that your brand is meaningfully different than competitors. Imagine two toothpaste products make the same promise to consumers. Both promise to help make teeth their whitest. Sounds good doesn’t it? Perhaps, too good to be true. But this is about making a selection. Do you purchase the toothpaste and, if so, which one. Well, one backs its promise with the fact that it’s formulated with peroxide. The other product claims that its toothpaste is formulated with the same ingredient dentists use to whiten their patients’ teeth. We don’t know about you but we’d choose the latter product. Chances are you would too. Now, another word on this subject. Make sure that the reason-why support matches with the benefit. In other words, they need to be joined at the hip. Avoid support that does not link with the benefit promise of your messaging.


4   Stick with compelling messages - avoid handling objections – Many marketers talk themselves out of making the sale for their products. They have a potentially compelling message but hang around too long by raising and attempting to handle potential objections. We find this most frequently in sales aids developed by well-intentioned marketers. (They want to be thorough.)  All it takes is for a customer to disagree with just one of the objections or way it has been handled and it’s “sayonara” to the sale. (We’re just back from a program in Tokyo. Excuse us for showing off our newly developed vocabulary dear reader-san.) But even if it doesn’t result in killing the sale the inclusion of objections dilutes the focus of the messaging – the compelling strategic promise. What’s more it will undermine the ability to develop a really BIG idea to put it across to your customer target.


5     Get real – What are we saying here? Know and offer what is really relevant to the customer. Avoid over-promise. For one, it won’t be believed. For another, if it is believed it will fail to deliver. And, if it fails to deliver on the promise the product will fail to get the repeat purchasing it needs to be successful. We came across an ad for a denture adhesive that promises “freedom.” Perhaps, that could be freedom from the anxiety or embarrassment of having one’s dentures fall out at an inopportune time: such as at dinner in a restaurant with friends. That’s real. But this ad, which is visually intensive, shows people out on a beach with their arms and hands thrown-up to the sky. Nah, the dentures aren’t going to give one that kind of freedom!


6     Make choices and stick with them – Believe it or not here are the claims proffered in a DTC (Direct-to-Consumer) ad for a birth control device:

·         It’s simple

·         Safe

·         Less worry

·        Worry-free (hmm, this seems to contradict the previous claim)

·         Convenient

·         Hassle-free

·         99.9% effective

·         Makes your life simpler

·         Won’t cause significant weight gain

·         May also shorten, lighten, or even eliminate periods

·         Easily removed

·         Quick return to fertility

·         Works for up to 5-years

·         It doesn’t rely on your using it regularly and properly to be effective


WOW, that’s a lot of claims. (We count 14.) It’s more than the prospective customer can absorb. It would require work for the customer to wade through the ad to determine what is truly relevant and meaningfully differentiated from competitive modes of birth control. Customers don’t like to work. They will go onto something else. The marketer needs to make a choice regarding the messaging. The only way a strategically appropriate choice can be made in this case is to first make a strategic choice regarding the target. It cannot be for everyone. What target segment should this product pursue?


Successful messaging is about making choices. Choose to be relevant and meaningfully differentiated to connect with and win customers.


Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney

Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

reply to Mike: or

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