By Dale Wolf
Your customers are moving targets. But one way to put them in ‘still frame’ is to look at their behaviors and define a message framework that goes up squarely against each cluster of behavior-types. As long as you are conversing against the customer’s behavior model, your content will achieve pin-point relevance.
Here’s the process I follow when developing a message framework:
Step 1 —
Action is to align on target audience needs and marketing objectives; the outcome is team consensus on measurable objectives. If you get Step 1 wrong, your goose is cooked. But achieving internal consensus is often like shadow boxing. Key managers for one reason or another have their own hidden agendas and agree in public but undermine the objectives as the process moves forward. The project leader must skillfully get all the cards on the table and motivate all stakeholders into consensus on measurable objectives for which they all take accountability.
Step 2 —
Analyze and score existing messages in current documents. This audit runs through existing brochures, presentations call center scripts, elevator speeches, etc., that are now put in front of customers. Underline each "core message" and chart them. Typically this will reveal that there is a wide variety of messages being sent to customers. It helps to see this in chart form, with numeric rankings to underscore the fact that there is no real message strategy. Everyone is doing their own thing and the brand equity is swirling down the drain.
Step 3 —
Gain buyer insights with 1-hour interviews using Rule of Ten to tell you when to stop gathering input. I prefer face-to-face interviews because this method tends to bring out the customer’s needs, wants and expectations in their own vocabulary. First identify the personality clusters that most impact your business success. Then listen to customers from each personality cluster and notice how they describe their needs, wants and expectations. Look especially for emotional words. This cuts through all the in-bred jargon most of us live with inside the company. The Rule of Ten says that once you see a pattern across 10 individuals, you have arrived at a consensus that will not get better even if you interview 100 more. I’m not a big numbers person. I like to keep it simple and over the years my Rule of Ten has proven reliable. The trick however is to look for patterns by personality behavior type. If you define messages by ten customers who are "best value" buyers then you should be looking on the flip side for "best price" buyers. Compare the messages that appeal to each.
Steps 4 and 5 —
Develop and then test message platforms for each behavior cluster that you believe will impact the measurable objectives. Use plain English with few if any adjectives, no jargon, no superlatives. First write up a clear and simple description of the business you are in, from the customer’s point of view. Next, describe how you uniquely bring value with this business … this is your Value Statement. Lastly, develop the Proof Statement to describe how you can validate to your customers that you can deliver on the promised value. This framework, developed for each personality cluster, becomes the acid test that you use to evaluate all creative executions. Stay focused on the value you deliver instead of the features and benefits. One other group to test against is your internal team, especially those who tend to be opinion leaders — you need to gain their consensus support or risk the liability that your message strategy will be undermined from the inside out.
Step 6 and 7 —
Turn your creative people lose. Have them execute creative across a variety of media: ads, direct mail, brochures, powerpoint presentations, call center scripts. Make sure the message is one that can be creatively powerful without wandering off into blind alleys. Then test by showing concept boards to your various personality clusters. Make sure that the targeted individuals can see both the creative impact and the underlying message.
Roll Up Your Sleeves
I did not promise this was easy work for it is not. But you will end up with a message framework that will guide success. If you don’t achieve the success based on your initial measurable objectives, you at least have very specific process steps that you can back up to and analyze. This leads to a message strategy that stays fresh, relevant and focused on business success.