One of the main complaints I hear from new entrepreneurs and small business owners, is that the process of developing one’s marketing voice and messaging is never done: “I just launched a new website last year! Do I really need to refresh it? Can’t I just set it and forget it?”
Unfortunately, unlike your favorite countertop rotisserie appliance, your marketing messaging will need to evolve as your business and your market grows. Over time, as you add new services or products, expand into new markets, or discover new segments of potential customers, you’ll need to revisit your marketing messaging.
Not convinced yet? Here’s a handy checklist to help you determine if now is the time for a messaging refresh:
- Have you spent time and money on advertising campaigns and marketing strategies that aren’t as effective as you hoped?
- Do you answer the same questions to prospects and customers over and over again?
- Do you have a hard time articulating why someone should choose you over the competition?
- Do you waste time on low-quality leads?
- Do you want to attract new customers?
- Do you want to open up new markets?
- Do you want to increase traffic to your website?
- Do you want to increase onsite sales and conversions?
- Do you want to increase the quality of incoming leads?
- Do you want to reduce the risk of misspending or overspending on your marketing?
If you checked off any of these, now is a good time to fine tune your marketing voice and update your messaging. To help, here are four steps you can take to keep your marketing current and relevant:
Step 1: Challenge your assumptions
The autonomic nervous system administers a whole bunch of functions in our bodies so that we don’t have to control them consciously. These are functions we wouldn’t do well to forget, like lungs breathing, hearts beating, and stomachs digesting, so luckily, the autonomic nervous system provides a sort of autopilot to keep crucial bodily functions rolling along. For many small business owners, once the new website is launched or the new brochure is printed, it can be tempting to brush off your hands and say, “Well, that’s done. I’m glad I don’t have to think about that again.” Unfortunately, there’s no autonomic nervous system for marketing. Unless you have an agency or consultant who completely runs your marketing efforts for you, you’re going to have to bring marketing into your conscious mind regularly.
Once you make the decision to keep your marketing consciousness open, you’ll start to see how quickly things can change. What was fact when you redesigned your website can soon become a stale assumption. As your business evolves, your customer demographics can change, you may decide to expand into new territories, or even make forays into new vertical markets. Any of these shifts may require changes in your marketing to communicate most effectively with your audience. Why? Because, in all these cases, your audience has changed, and if your audience changes, you must adapt.
Hot Tip: If you want to know more about your customers, ask them!
Questionnaires, contests, and website forms are all effective ways of soliciting feedback from your audience. I generally advise against using survey popups that interrupt a website visitor as you could be getting in the way of a purchase or other type of conversion (they’re also just plain annoying). It would be like asking your date to rate their experience of the evening when you meet them at the door. Wait until after a visitor has made a purchase or submitted a contact form before asking for more information.
There is also risk in carrying on for too long making assumptions about your competitors. Whether you’re a services company or an online retailer, the market landscape can change quickly, and if you aren’t watching, you could be left in the dust. Keep an eye on your competition and regularly assess your own strengths and weaknesses in comparison. If the competition makes a shift, you may need to respond. And if you do, you’ll need to adjust your messaging.
Step 2: Update your value proposition
Just like regularly checking in with developments in your customer base and market landscape, revisiting your value proposition is a crucial part of retaining marketing relevance. Your value proposition is a statement that explains what you offer, for whom, the problem you solve, and why you’re a better choice than the competition. A relevant value proposition will help you position your company in the marketplace and continue to identify new potential customer types, as well as provide a good foundation for optimizing your website copy for online searchers (SEO). If anything about the who, the problem, or the competition changes, you’ll need to take a look at your value proposition and decide if it needs updating.
Step 3: Refine your voice
Your marketing voice can establish and maintain a deep emotional connection with your audience. A core pillar of your brand and identity, your marketing voice is the flavor of everything you communicate with your audience, from tone, to pacing, attitude, and status. As you can imagine, the more you know your audience the better, because using the wrong voice for your marketing communications could be confusing or even alienating to potential and current customers.
Take, for example, Nike. The Nike brand, one of the most influential sports and lifestyle brands in the world, is geared towards a young, active audience (as well as those of us who would still like to think of ourselves as young and active). The brand values individuality, freedom, innovation, and inspiration. The current Canadian incarnation of their website homepage reflects those values with terms like “cruise through summer,” “hang out in high-shine…metallics,” “weirdly original,” and “delicious new colourways.” All of these examples evoke a casual and active style. A style that inspires action over inaction, and individuality over homogeneity.
Step 4: Try a new writing style
Finally, if you want to freshen up your writing and give yourself a creative challenge, think about changing up your writing style. There are many styles and formats for writing marketing copy, so I’ll just focus on two contrasting styles for now: features and benefits, and solutions.
Features and benefits style
The features and benefits style of marketing writing is, quite simply, to discuss your product features and then the benefits to the customer of each of those features. It can go something like this:
“Introducing the ShovelWow!TM With a premium, titanium-alloy blade, ergonomically designed fiberglass handle, and FlexigrabberTM hand grips, the ShovelWow!TM cuts through dirt faster, reduces back pain, and is easy on the hands for hours on end.”
Talking about a product’s features and their benefits is a clear and logical approach. It’s an efficient way to get to the facts, and because of this, it makes comparisons between products quite easy for consumers. The overall message appeals to the needs of the customer, but the needs themselves may go unstated. This can be an efficient form of communication with people who already have some background knowledge (i.e., they already know they need a shovel). As a result, the features and benefits style may not always be as effective for motivating people who don’t know what they need, people who only know the problem and not the solution.
That brings us to the solution style. This format establishes the needs of the customer first, then expands the narrative to include the solution provided by the product. Here’s an example:
“Nine out of ten gardeners agree, moving dirt is hard work. While we might wish the dirt would move itself, sometimes you just need to shovel it. But who wants the back pain and sore hands that go with shoveling?
Well, worry no more! With the ShovelWowTM and our patented FlexigrabberTM technology, you can dig longer and put the joy back into your gardening.”
Some clear markers of the solutions writing style are the identification of the customer problem and an engaging story that the consumer can relate to. It’s a style of storytelling that appeals to the emotions, so part of the writer’s job is to steer away from overblown generalities and melodrama. This type of hyperbole can be seen in old, late night infomercials, where the brand would have us believe that the fuss, muss, and messy cleanup of using a traditional knife were a natural tragedy in comparison with the cleanliness and ease-of-use of the Veggie Chop-o-matic. That said, solution-based writing is customer-centric and can be a rich form of communication to people who feel the pain of a problem but don’t have a clue as to the solution.
So, there you have it, four steps to help you refresh your marketing messaging and stay relevant with your current and emerging customer base. Spring is a natural time to brush out the cobwebs, so I encourage you to flex your marketing muscles and challenge yourself by shifting your thinking and trying something new.