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No More Clever: Clear and Concise Marketing Messages

Marketing Messages

No More Clever — Clear and Concise Marketing Messages

In order to grow and expand, businesses must craft and tailor their unique marketing messages to meet the needs of the market. Here are ways to optimnize them.

One of the best insights into modern marketing comes from Hamlet.

That might seem obvious to you, or completely ridiculous, depending on how much you like Shakespeare. Either way, that play included advice that everyone considering their company’s marketing messages should still listen to:

“Brevity is the soul of wit.”

In Hamlet, the line is played for laughs. Polonius says it and then rambles on and on until the Queen cuts him off, humiliating Polonius.

The importance of being concise and coming right out with your selling point has only grown since then. Polonius ended up getting killed for it. Follow his example in your marketing, and your business will end up just like him.

Ogilvy on Simplicity: Use One Big Idea

David Ogilvy, known as the Father of Advertising, was one of the best print marketers of his generation. He created all of his most successful campaigns by focusing on the One Big Idea.

According to Ogilvy, the best marketing messages come from big ideas that follow four key questions:

  • Did it make me gasp when I first saw it?
  • Is it unique?
  • Does it fit the marketing strategy to perfection?
  • Could it run for 30 years?

That last question is key: once you have that one big idea, you can keep repeating variations of that campaign until it stops producing.

But a big idea does not mean a complex or necessarily a clever one. In fact, placing a premium on complexity can actually draw focus away from the main goal, which should be driving sales or increasing business.

In Ogilvy on Advertising, Ogilvy used print ad agencies of his era as an example. In the years he looked at, 36 of the 81 agencies who won Clio Awards for innovation and excellence in advertising either went out of business or lost the account.

These ads just did not drive sales, partly because they drew too much attention to themselves rather than placing focus on the product. As Ogilvy pointed out, consumers left saying “what a clever ad” rather than “I never knew that before. I must try that product.” The focus should always be on informing customers about the product.

Marketing Messages
Less is more when it comes to marketing.

Simple Marketing Messages Stick Better

Chip and Dan Heath studied what makes ideas stick in people’s heads and so hang around over time in Made to Stick. Their first key principle of stickiness is Simplicity.

Simple ideas stick better, and simple messages are core and compact, like proverbs. If you want your marketing messages to stick, you need to strive for clarity: stripping a message down to its core selling point by removing unnecessary parts, or even important points that just aren’t the most important.

It’s about prioritization (picking what you would say if you could only say one thing) not about dumbing down the message. This can be difficult because the more you know about a subject, the more nuances you can recognize in it. When you become an expert, everything seems like a key point, and it can be hard to remember what it was like to know nothing.

Creating sticky messages requires putting yourself back in the shoes of your customer. They are not experts, so you cannot present complex selling points that only an expert would recognize and be interested in. Of course, before you can think like your customer, you need to define your target market as specifically as possible.

Online Messages Must Be Brief

For Ogilvy, the problem was stopping readers. When looking through newspapers or magazines, most readers would breeze past the advertisements. To draw their attention, Ogilvy focused on the simplest part of the ad: the headline.

In his own research, Ogilvy found that five times as many people read headlines as the body copy. To draw readers in, he had to mention the biggest benefit right up front. Readers would not take the time to decipher complex or tricky headlines. Likewise, “blind” headlines, or ones that do not make any sense if you don’t read the body, would not work either: most readers never make it to the body copy.

If you’re trying to draw attention online, especially on social media, you need to operate even faster. In Everybody Writes, Ann Handley lays out length guidelines for various types of content:

  • 12 words for each line of text, and only 3 to 4 lines for each paragraph
  • About three minutes for a YouTube video
  • Only 100 to 140 characters for a Facebook post
  • 120 to 130 characters for a tweet
  • Fewer than 70 characters for any headline

The problem is bounce rate, or how fast visitors will leave a website they are on. The average reader spends about 15 seconds on a given website. That’s how long you have to capture their attention. With so little time, you cannot afford to bury the key positioning for your product beneath an overdone marketing message.

Marketing Messages
Clear & Concise wins the day

MAYA and Creating Variations on a Theme

Even if your audience reads your entire message, there is a cost to breaking the mold completely with your marketing. Consumers like novelty, but only within certain limits.

Raymond Loewy, one of the fathers of industrial design, called this principle MAYA: most advanced yet acceptable. People want a product that feels new, but that they can understand right away. He suggested you make familiar products seem surprising, and surprising products seem more familiar.

(Shakespeare actually followed this advice. Maybe his most famous play, Romeo and Juliet, was basically a remake of a much, much earlier story, Pyramus and Thisbe by the Roman poet Ovid.)

The same principle applies to advertisements. In “The Fundamental Templates of Quality Ads,” a famous article in Marketing Science, researchers looked into what common characteristics quality ads all seem to share. They found that most successful ads, even the ones that seem most creative, create a balance between surprise and regularity.

In other words, the best marketing messages attract attention while still making it obvious what the message is advertising. They do this by adding surprising twists to common templates. All consumers recognize these key templates, so they can interpret the ad, but the twists spark their interest. The ads are advanced yet acceptable.

A Single Message, Delivered Consistently

Delivering the right marketing messages to your customers is all about setting up that big idea so that it is clear, concise, and comes to them through all the right channels. Consistency is key, across your social media feeds, company website, print ads, and any brick-and-mortar experience.

Bringing all that together can be tough, especially for a small business owner. Check out some of our local marketing services to see how we can help you, or browse some of our past projects to see how we’ve already helped other small business owners.

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