One of my gripes with the “marketers marketing the power of marketing” genre is that it tends to focus on the mechanics of marketing—channels or tactics. You know the ones I’m talking about:
As a whole, these posts make it appear that great marketing is all about channels and tactics—in other words, the mechanics of marketing. When in reality, all great marketing is rooted in matching relevant messaging to your audience.
Today I’m going to share some of the best resources that have shaped my thinking on messaging. This side of marketing is harder to talk about because it is much, much more specific to each unique business. But getting your message right is dramatically more impactful than optimizing mechanics. I hope these materials end up being as useful to you as they were to me.
We recently hired a Web Strategy Lead at dbt Labs (shoutout to the fabulous Emily Mermell!) who has a ton of experience with the Storybrand framework. This was a new one for me and I’m really enjoying the process and the book.
It’s a simple framework that forces you to make your customer the hero of your story. It’s a great tool to disrupt the entrenched ways of thinking about your value proposition, and reimagine it completely through the lens of your customer.
While April Dunford’s book has become a must-read for product marketers, I believe it’s one that literally any marketer will benefit from. It’s essentially a demand creation handbook that walks through:
Emily Kramer defined a useful marketing metaphor, boiling the marketing system down to two parts: the fuel and the engine.
The engine is how we stitch the customer journey together across all available channels. Engines aren’t wildly different from one company to the next—the mechanics of an SEO strategy, conversion rate optimization, paid media, or webinar setup will look fairly similar regardless of the product or industry.
The fuel is what you use to create and capture demand and can include case studies, blog posts, and other content forms. Good fuel comes from deeply understanding your customer, the challenges they face, and the reality they live in.
Jamie Catherine Barnett helped clarify my own thinking on this topic. She says it simply: “Programs are all mechanics and execution.” They matter, but most marketers are already good at these things and it’s easy to find tons of information about how to run marketing programs well. The “swing factors” are Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), message, and the offer. In other words—the fuel that Emily Kramer describes.
“Defining your ICP is the most valuable thing you can do. Every last minute you spend to hone your understanding of your customer is worth it. Yet, do we spend the required time to understand what makes an opportunity right? Right for us? Right now? Right under these circumstances? We don’t.
Instead, we seem to trade off getting the right opportunities in our funnel for getting lots of opportunities in there. That’s the wrong way of thinking, and if we could just agree—between sales and marketing, the revenue and exec teams, and execs and the board—to focus on, measure, and reward quality over quantity, we’d be SO. MUCH. BETTER. OFF.”
This is one of my all-time favorite posts on messaging. Dave Kellogg simplifies all messaging work down to one very simple question: Are you messaging value or differentiation?
In this piece, he uses Cambell’s “Soup is Good Food” campaign as an example of value messaging in a cold market, and Southwest’s “Bags Fly Free” ad as an example of differentiation messaging in a hot market.
“Soup is Good Food” answers the question “why buy one (at all)?” while Bags Fly Free answers the question “why buy mine?” Soup is Good Food markets the category while Bags Fly Free markets one vendor’s product/service within it. In short, Soup is Good Food is about value. Bags Fly Free is about differentiation,” Dave says.
And here is how to apply this to your demand strategy:
“The simple fact is that some situations call for messaging value and others call for messaging differentiation. Somewhat perversely, the hotter your market, the less you need to message around value. The cooler your market, the less you need to message around differentiation. Why? Hot markets definitionally have lots of buyers. Those buyers already understand the value of the category and are trying to figure out which product to buy within it. That’s why in hot markets you need a strong differentiation message,” Dave continues.
It doesn’t matter how many visitors come to your blog or how good your content distribution strategy is—if you are messaging differentiation before customers understand value, you are killing your demand creation. If you’re messaging value when customers are asking about differentiation—you’re responding to a question your customers didn’t ask.
Kelly Watkins is the brain behind Slack’s “where work happens” tagline. In this episode, she talks through the process of how they arrived at this message and the magic moment when it fell into place. Kelly’s process is deeply rooted in customer understanding, as well as a broader understanding of the cultural stew that the customer is immersed in.
While mechanics can (and should!) always be tweaked, optimized, and incrementally improved—communicating the right messaging to the right person can dramatically accelerate your marketing machine. I hope I’ve convinced you that good messaging is truly the hardest and most rewarding problem in marketing.
This is far from being a comprehensive list on one of the most fun topics in marketing, but it will get you thinking about the topic. If you have resources you’ve used to help you get better at messaging, I would love to hear them (and promise to share them back with the Superpath community).