A writer friend of mine quoted her high-school English teacher:
There are three poems in every poem. The poem the writer intends to write, the poem that ends up on paper, and the poem that the reader perceives.
Similarly, there are three messages in every marketing or sales communication. There is the message the seller intends to communicate, the message the seller actually communicates, and the message the customer perceives.
These three messages are often very different from each other. How do we close the gap between them, bringing together the message we intend to communicate and the message our customers actually perceive?
The answer lies in which message you create first. The natural tendency of marketing and sales is to focus first on the message we want to communicate. After deciding what message we want to transmit to our customers, we create that message and then hope that our customers interpret it in the right way. They usually don’t.
Marketing and sales communications are much more effective if we flip this process around and focus first on the message we want our customer to perceive. Before creating any marketing communication, or before having any persuasive conversation with a customer, envision the story that you want your customer to have in her mind. Capture this story in a series of “desired brand impressions,” i.e., a series of statements, in your customers’ voice, describing what you want them to believe.
Let’s look at an example:
Imagine you run an outdoor gear and sports equipment store, Outdoor Adventure, and you’ve just received your seasonal stock of winter camping gear. In past seasons, you’ve created a postcard and email campaign announcing the arrival of this merchandise, focusing your message on a list of prices and the newest technological advances in cold weather protection.
This time, you decide to focus first on the message you want your customers to perceive. You know that customers who are interested in winter camping gear care most about two things:
- Getting the most protection from the cold with the least bulky and heavy material.
- The expertise of your sales staff when it comes to choosing the right gear.
You write down a series of desired brand impressions you hope that your customers will have about Outdoor Adventure as the place to buy winter camping gear, focusing on these customer needs:
“I trust that Outdoor Adventure will have gear that will keep me warm without adding too much weight to my pack.”
“Choosing the right equipment for camping in cold weather is critical for both safety and comfort. I know I can rely on the guys at Outdoor Adventure to advise me on the best gear for my trip.”
“I’ve read about all the new materials used in winter camping gear, but it’s hard to know which is most effective. I’ll depend on Outdoor Adventure to help me sort it all out.”
“I’m not sure which pieces of my winter camping gear need to be replaced, and which are still state-of-the-art. I’ll check with the guys at Outdoor Adventure.”
“I’ll bet the guys at Outdoor Adventure can help me figure out how to stay warmer on this year’s trip and still carry less weight in my pack.”
With these desired brand impressions in mind, you are now able to re-create your postcard and email campaign, focusing the message on how your team will help customers stay warm during their winter camping while carrying the least amount of weight. Your message doesn’t say anything about price, and any information about technological advances is used only to support the key messages.
Moreover, you are now ready to create a sales training program for your staff that focuses on how they should act as advisors to customers, recommending the best cold weather protection for the least amount of bulk and weight. You teach them how to have fresh, spontaneous persuasive conversations in which they are able to share their expertise about winter camping with customers.
Now, take this example and translate it to your actual work. (Unless you actually do own an outdoor equipment store.) Are your current marketing and sales messages in sync with what you actually want customers to believe? Is there a gap between what you intend to communicate and what your customers believe after you communicate it?
This is a hard and fast, always-appropriate rule of marketing and sales communication: Don’t think about what you want to say until you have determined what you want your customers to believe after you say it. Work backwards, starting with the desired brand impressions you want your customers to have, and you will be much more likely to be the poet who writes only one poem.