I'm not talking about creating beautiful or creative prose. I'm not talking about using shocking or provocative messaging just for its own sake. What I'm talking about is using words to craft an offer having the most deliberate impact on the people you most want to influence.
It is commonplace for marketers to spend a lot of time focussing on the visual design or the details of a campaign or piece of creative. Messaging, on the other hand, can often be an afterthought, bolted on at the end.
Many clients are happy for anyone to handle the messaging. I’ve seen technical specialists, junior marketers or relatives of the business owner sit down and write the words that are going to be used to support an entire campaign. Decisions for the ‘right’ copy often come down to readability and personal preference.
This is the wrong approach.
Words, and the message they convey, are the most important part of any campaign and should be tackled at the start. In the end, it’s the promise in the words that matter to prospects. It’s about how the words speak to them.
As marketers, we tend to get too close to our products or services. We sometimes overestimate their importance to the lives of our prospects. We need to remember people don’t care about our brands; they care about themselves. For this reason, you must craft your words deliberately. You must use words, so they have the maximum impact and speak most clearly to the lives of your prospects. Your words don’t have to sound pretty. They do have to mean something valuable, and they do need to inspire action.
Features have their place in your copy. They are an excellent way of giving specifics detailing what your offering is or what it does. Too many marketers, however, fall into the trap of thinking the features themselves are where the value of their product or service resides. In some cases, this is true, but most often it is not.
A campaign focussed on a list of features will leave prospects with the tough job of trying to figure out exactly what a series of features would mean for them in their actual lives. Most of the time, your prospects are not experts in your offering. They are trying to choose between several similar options with differences they do not fully understand, and they are often time-poor.
This is where benefits come in. Benefits tell your prospects exactly what’s in it for them. You want to tell a story showing exactly where the value exists for someone who uses your product or service. When benefits are beautifully explained, prospects no longer need to do the hard work of translating features into something useful for them; you’ve already done this work for them.
It’s time for a slightly absurd example. Imagine your company is selling the incredible ability for people to make ice cubes at home using a tray they place in their freezer. Your brief needs to generate interest in this ‘unique’ offering. If you were to go down the features path, you might describe your offering this way:
Make amazing ice cubes from home!
But with just a little bit of extra work, you could answer the following question: What does an ice cube really mean to someone in terms of benefits, not just features? We use a Features versus Benefits Grid (visit here to download this template) to work through the features versus benefits of any product or service. Here is a sample of how you might fill the grid out for ice cube trays.
When you see something as simple as an ice cube tray broken down this way, it becomes clear benefits are much more valuable than features. But as with so many things in life, the obvious is often the first thing that goes out the window when the pressure is on.
Of course, the power of benefits doesn’t mean you should completely ignore features. They are still a key part of any campaign, as they provide prospects with raw facts, which ultimately help them make a decision. While benefits get people emotionally engaged, features give them the rational facts they need to justify their decision.
Here’s another tip: go beyond only focussing on what the prospect will get in the present. If you can take things one step further and describe the benefits they will enjoy in the future, then you can show them how your product or service will change their life.
When you get it right, this future focus will help your prospects gain a deeper emotional connection with your offering. Capturing the way you change people’s lives will turbocharge your campaign in ways no single feature ever could.
In his book Scientific Advertising, published in the 1930s, Claude C. Hopkins addressed the importance of specificity. He pointed out how ineffective ads were when they included language like ‘best in the world’ or ‘lowest price in existence’. Today, many companies seem to have forgotten about the importance of specificity. Most marketers are not brave enough to be specific.
This is a time for courage. Don’t water down your message. Don’t to play it safe and speak to a ‘wide range’ of people. In the end, you’re not really speaking to anyone.
If you don’t have a message which inspires prospects to act, you fail. It’s as simple as that.
This can be scary. If your words are to have meaning, you are forced to take a clear position and stand for something. Once you produce that headline, you have chosen a specific direction. Now you must stand behind it. So, you’ll need to have some courage. It’s better to resonate deeply with a smaller segment of the market than have little impact overall. Choose your lane and craft specific words for it.
Going to market without a compelling offer is all too often a fatal mistake. The offer is the way you wrap up your product or service in a nice package. It’s how you make what you’re promoting irresistible to your perfect prospects.
Unless you have a very well-known product or service, it is highly unlikely simply stating the name of your brand in a campaign will be enough to get people to buy what you’re selling. And unless your product or service is a commodity where price is the only real decision factor, then simply publishing your price is unlikely to drive sales. Still, so many campaigns focus only on brand and price.
You need to craft a compelling offer that makes your prospects want to take that next step. There are many ways to do this. Here are some of the most effective:
The best way to craft your offer is to build out a list describing how each of these elements might work for your product or service. Then, based on what you know about your personas and your product or service, develop an appropriate offer strategy. You might use one of the elements mentioned in the list above, or you might use a combination.
You might be uncertain about which elements will work best for your product or service. My advice is to experiment with the ideas you think are most likely to work. You should also look at the reasons existing customers already buy from you. If you’re not sure, then speak to a sample of these people. Existing customers can provide valuable insights into effective future offers. Learn what is most likely to change behaviour and go from there.
You will face obstacles when it comes to messaging and offer creation. The first is a lack of acceptance by other stakeholders within your company. The more specific you get in your messaging, the fewer people you will reach. The more compelling you attempt to make your offer, the more likely it is to impact on other parts of the business. Others might not like this. But remember, you need to be the leader in communicating the value of what you do and why you do it.
Show them the results of two campaigns—one that went broad and one that was more targeted, one with a certain offer and one without. After running competing ads for a sufficient period of time, lay out the difference in performance. Be ready to show others why you approach your messaging and offer the way you do.
You may also run into legal obstacles when you are crafting your message. In some industries, you have to be careful about making a specific promise or advertising a specific result. This is especially true in the health, insurance, finance and legal fields.
Several of our clients have head offices located offshore. Each time we run a new campaign, all the creative copy must be sent to the head office for approval. In some cases, the head office wants to strip out everything that is most specific and valuable. This can be frustrating and significantly impact the performance of campaigns. Be aware of the real-world limitations you are likely to face and learn to work cleverly within them.
All the obstacles you face in this area can be summed up by a simple reality: messaging and offer development is hard. It will likely take many iterations before you really understand the wording, themes and specific offers that trigger the most valuable behaviour.
If I could tell you to improve in only one area as a marketer, I would tell you to improve in your ability to create effective messaging and compelling offers. This is not intended as a complete guide. I would encourage you to focus on improving your skills in this critical area. Your efforts will pay off.
Remember, if you do everything perfectly in your campaigns, but get your messaging or offers wrong, you will certainly underperform and quite possibly fail. This is a hard truth to swallow. So be brave. Think very carefully about what you need to say to have the most impact on your prospects’ behaviour. And then say it.
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