Getting the Message Right

A winning message is one that has been tested to ensure its words and imagery click with the audience it is intended to impress. You could be eating humble pie if you don’t test your messaging first.

A winning message is one that has been tested to ensure its words and imagery click with the audience it is intended to impress. You could be eating humble pie if you don’t test your messaging first.

Organizations can be forced to eat humble pie when they don’t test their branding, key messages or product explanations to make sure their intended audience understands what they are trying to convey.

Staff brainstorming can produce clever ideas, but they aren’t strategic concepts unless tested to make sure they click with customers. Ditto for creative material that can sing to an internal audience, but fall flat with the people you are trying to convince.

Getting the message right is all about making sure you're using the right words, images and emotional content for the particular audience. The only way to have a degree of confidence you are right is to run it by a representative sample of people you seek to reach.

Smart organizations tap into their consumers or target audiences to identify and test messages that work. It takes nothing more than asking questions. In fact, most organizations already have tools that could be employed for effective marketing and communications efforts.

Use focus groups

Invite a small sample of people who fit the target audience to meet with you. Ask questions about the issue or product. Listen closely to the words they use and the concepts they describe. The language they use is the language you need to use to make them understand what you mean. It could be as simple as turning a familiar phrase.

Example: A health insurance client used focus groups to identify new messaging for promotional material. After changing brochures and ads to new consumer-furnished messages, sales increased by 6 percent.

Add a few open-ended questions to surveys

Provide respondents the opportunity to explain what they like, want or need. Ask how they talk about products and issues with their friends. Identify what is important. A note of caution, though: Be sure the survey sample matches the characteristics of the intended audience for the communication effort.

Example: A physician network used comments from an online survey to identify topics for newsletters, content for social media posts and ad themes. The rate of opens and clicks increased as content became more relevant.

Tap into social media

Creating conversations about the product or issue. Follow up with certain individuals to probe for additional information. Again, pay close attention to the words they use and how they approach your product, service or concept.

The key to effective messaging is making it relevant, informative and persuasive. Be sure what you say is important to the audience while providing meaningful information conveyed in words and imagery that resonates with them.

Tom Eiland is a CFM partner and the leader of the firm’s research practice. His work merges online research with client communications and engagement efforts, and he has a wide range of clients in the education, health care and transportation sectors. You can reach Tom at tome@cfmpdx.com.