The 3 Components of an Effective Marketing Message

In my 10+ years of working as a marketer, I’ve been at the intersection of marketing and communications for just about every type of organization: B2C, B2B, professional services, and nonprofit. And through all those experiences, I’ve come to understand that crafting a strong, effective marketing message requires three key components. You have to know:

  1. What do we want people to believe, know, or do?

So let’s talk about that first step. Organizations invest in marketing because they are trying to get people to believe, know, or do something, but what that something is varies. For example, it could be buy my product (i.e. Everlane), try my service (i.e. Postmates), or change how you think about achieving a goal (i.e. Lyft). In the case of nonprofits, you might be half focused on fundraising (i.e. support my cause) and half on changing your behavior (i.e. reduce your carbon footprint).

To our credit, marketers generally do this well — we know how we want folks to act.

Just make sure you’re very clear on what you want them to believe, know or do overall from a corporate marketing perspective and more granularly at the outset of each campaign, product or feature launch, and at each stage of the marketing funnel.

The second step, however, often isn’t given enough time or attention: What information supports our message? What do I mean by information? Some of the biggest sources of value here are research and customer stories.

There are two types of research. The first is existing research from reputable sources like Harvard Business Review, organizational psychologists like Adam Grant, studies produced by universities, etc. Make sure they have academic rigor to them — we, unfortunately, live in the age of Fake News.

The second type is research you conduct on your own. Think about the data that’s proprietary to you and how you can tell a story with it. In general, people care about what their customers think and what their peers are doing.

Here are two examples that will shine a light on both types of research:

  • Unique industry data: A client of mine offers a SaaS platform that helps startups manage equity — i.e., who owns what shares. This gives them insight into startup ownership around the world, which allows them to think about all the ways that aggregate, anonymized data has value for customers. For example, they discovered that there was a pretty big gender gap in startup equity. So they published a report on it which garnered a ton of press for them, and earned them the right to tell their product story — how managing equity in a centralized place enables companies to do better and distribute equity more fairly than they have in the past.

Customer stories are another great resource for supporting your marketing message. Sharing testimonials and stories that bring your brand promise to life is one of the best, most authentic ways to support your message. For example: SurveyMonkey research found that 63% of consumers think marketers are selling them things they don’t need, and more than 80% of consumers find a customer testimonial to be more trustworthy than what the company says.

And, let’s be honest, I always read the testimonials and reviews before giving a company my money. Don’t you? This is a learned behavior us marketers have seemingly all grown accustomed to.

Alright, now we know what we want people to believe, know, or do. We’ve collected research and customer stories that support our message. So the final step is: how do we get this information to the right audience?

Let’s talk about audience-driven channel selection — because you should never make and distribute anything without a distribution strategy. That’s how we end up with content for content’s sake (which I like to refer to as littering the internet with garbage).

To bring this whole concept to life, I’ll share an example from one of the most successful campaigns we ran during my time at Lean In called, “Together Women Can,” which earned hundreds of millions of impressions in digital and earned media. Here’s what it looked like:

Step 1: What do we want people to believe, know or do?

The big idea behind Together Women Can was that we wanted to dispel the myth that the biggest enemy to an ambitious woman in a professional setting was another ambitious woman. We called it, “the myth of the catty woman.” We wanted people to know it isn’t true, and we wanted to encourage women to continue actively supporting and promoting one another at work

Step 2: What information supports our message?

First, we used existing research showing that women often create more opportunities for other women:

  • One study on the S&P 1500 showed that compared with male chief executives, when a woman was made CEO, other women had a better chance of making it to senior management.

Both of these examples provided excellent support for our message. Next, we added primary research we did with McKinsey & Company every year called “Women in the Workplace,” which is the largest study of it’s kind pulling together pipeline data and employee attitudes about gender in the workplace from hundreds of U.S. employers.

Because we were trying to change people’s perceptions about a touchy topic, the research component was critical here.

Step 3: How do we get this information to the right audience?

Where could we find the women we were trying to reach? Well for starters, we knew they followed their favorite celebrities online. So we started collecting celebrity stories about women supporting women. We teamed up with the incredible team at MAKERS (an AOL property focused on women) working with Senior Producer Elizabeth Bohnel. Next, we flew around the country filming with celebs talking about the women who support them throughout their careers. Here’s a snippet of the results:

  • Selena Gomez (then, the most followed woman on Instagram) spoke about the incredible women who worked behind the scenes on her team.

Next, we took these stories turned them into individual videos for each celebrity and distributed them on our social channels, on MAKERS’ social channels, and on each of the women’s social channels. Selena’s video about her team was viewed 16M times.

All of these touches pointed back to the Lean In site, which featured the research to support our message. And if the videos were the glossy, whipped cream that caught everyone’s eye, the research provided the sustenance we needed to really create change. At the end of the day, this campaign earned Lean In tons of press, from Hollywood media like People to business publications and mass media outlets like the New York Times.

Next time you sit down with your team to roll out a new product, service, idea, or desired behavior, make a little checklist. Are you agreed on what you want people to believe, know or do? What information supports your message? Do you have a plan for getting it to the right audience? Smart marketing works, and it works most effectively when your message is clear, supported by research, and targeted to the right audience.



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