Your first challenge in a fractured world: getting the message right.

Posted by: Steve Gardner, Tom Nelson
Thu 02 Sep 2010 04:09 p.m.

Tags: 3Cs, company, consumer, context, expertise, gardner nelson, message

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It has never been harder to be a marketer than it is today. 70 hours a week isn’t enough to push and pull all the communications buttons, levers, and switches at your disposal. And with so many experts in so many disciplines proclaiming that theirs is the path that will guarantee the future of your brand, who should you listen to first?

Probably none of them. Because the real key to your success isn’t in your choice of communication mechanisms, but in what you choose to say.

In this world, success goes to the marketer whose message is most clearly and positively etched in their consumer’s mind. And because these prospects are almost guaranteed to experience your message before they experience your product or service, we would argue that what you say is even more important than what you sell.

In fact, we’ll go on a limb and say that the really serious marketing successes happen when products are tweaked to leverage the most powerful message, not when potentially powerful messages have been endlessly tinkered to fit the product. (This is why Chevy has a Corvette, Coors has a cold can, and Sarah Palin has a talk show.)

How do you create a powerful message?

We believe every powerful brand message meets three essential criteria.

1. It must be meaningful to your target customer. ("15 minutes could save you 15 percent on car insurance.")

2. It must be different in the context in which you compete – in your immediate context, differentiating you from your competition, and in the broader context, leveraging the power of changing societal attitudes and beliefs. ("Pepsi. Choice of a Generation.")

3. It must be true to your company, grounded in the capabilities of your products and services actually offer, and aligned with your corporate culture and values. ("We run the tightest ship in the shipping business.")

To understand your Consumer:

> We "research the research"
> Immerse ourselves in secondary research sources
> Determine if there are core brand equities we can leverage in the new positioning.
> Often recommend original research. We use a range of qualitative, ethnographic, and quantitative research techniques to get beneath the surface of what consumers think and feel about the category and our client’s brand, often inventing techniques that get to the heart of the client’s business problem.

To understand your Context:

> We study the societal issues affecting your industry
> Analyze major trends influencing your market
> Identify the requirements for category leadership
> Develop a thorough understanding of the competition

To understand your Company:

> We interview management, employees who deal directly with the customer, thought leaders...
> Review all company published annual reports, websites, sales material, other customer communication...
> Synthesize news articles, analyst reports, and third-party coverage

Is any one factor more important than the other two? Exploring the interplay among the context, the company, and the consumer inevitably triggers positioning insights that, in turn, lead to the development of a unique brand promise that your brand can make to consumers. Once the core brand promise is established, you can execute it in the most appropriate way. (And don’t just think PR or mobile, think product development.)

It sounds simple enough that anybody could do it, and we reluctantly admit, that’s true. With enough practice, anybody can bake a cake.

But your odds for success are greatly increased when:

1. You choose partners who put your message before their discipline.

2. You work with people who have the mental bandwidth and the real-world experience to solve your problems.

3. The process is designed so that every constituency – every line of business, every customer segment, every level of the client organization – is represented and heard.

In large, complex organizations, it is impossible to overstate how important it is to build willing consensus internally before any brand promise can be successfully taken externally. Our process is designed to gain both the right answer, and the necessary buy-in along the way.

There’s more, of course. We’d love the opportunity to show you some of the results that this seemingly simple process has achieved for our clients. Message is where the money is. And before you obsess with your many choices of how, when, and where to deliver your message, we urge you to make sure you’ve got something powerful to deliver.

(PS: We are not so stupid as to suggest that these messages are always expressed in words. Other tools at your disposal include color, sound, music, design, smell, taste, temperature, availability, and cost.)