Why is it so tough to write good messaging for our business?
I’ve got a unique perspective on messaging. As a formally trained graphic designer and a longtime UX designer, I am by no means a writer. I deal in shapes and impressions.
I was lucky enough throughout my career to often have talented writers to partner with. I can look at a piece of copywriting and know instantly if it works or doesn’t, but I never could come up with the words to fix it when it doesn’t.
Over the years, I’ve honed the ability to pinpoint why a particular message doesn’t work, and what needs to be done to fix it. That’s why what I do is messaging strategy.
I can’t write your words for you, but I can help you understand what you need to do to make your messaging sing.
And messaging that sings — that resonates in the hearts of your customers — is a vital part of anything you design for your business. Whether you’re creating a proposal to win funding, an event announcement to attract participants, or a website to attract customers, it’s the words that will convince your people to move forward with you.
As much as I love design, even I have to admit that design is just the framing that carries the messaging into the minds of your people.
So let’s talk about some practical tips to rock your messaging strategy.
There are three vital techniques that will help you create powerful messaging for your business:
The first is to understand who you’re writing to and write to them as if you’re sitting across the table talking to one person.
If we want our messaging to resonate in the hearts and minds of the people we’re writing to, we have to understand that messaging that is trying to appeal to everyone will actually appeal to no one.
The easiest way to get out of the habit of writing high level crap that appeals to no one is to imagine one single person who could be your ideal customer or funder or star volunteer. Imagine someone who actually exists in your network and picture yourself sitting there, over coffee, telling them what you want them to hear, in the way that you want them to hear it.
In my mind, I’m doing that right now. I’m gesturing wildly and making a funny face, too! Hopefully I don’t knock my coffee off the table. ;)
The second technique is to address the top-of-mind concerns that person has as they’re reading your messaging.
This is why we have to narrow our focus to one person. We have to be able to mentally step into the shoes of the person you’re writing for, and understand the objections, concerns, or roadblocks in their minds to what you’re trying to get them to do differently.
Then we have to architect our messaging with pillars that support our idea by addressing their topmost concerns or questions.
I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you’re writing a proposal for funding. You know funders in your industry get a lot of requests like yours. So you can step into her shoes and imagine that she’s thinking something like…
“Lady, I get 15 requests a day like this. Why should yours be the one I say yes to?”
In your pitch, you make sure to construct at least 3 good reasons why your request is different. You might even say something like, “You might be wondering why you should say yes to my proposal over the other 15 requests you heard today.”
When the funder hears this, if this is her topmost concern, you have now gotten her attention. She thinks, “Wow, it’s like this person really knows me! Maybe she is different…”
The third technique to creating messaging that resonates is to prototype and test your messaging before you invest in it.
You might be wondering, how will I know what their topmost concern is before I get into that meeting with them?
The secret to writing messaging that makes people feel like you’re reading their mind is to test it first on people like them!
So if you’re creating a proposal for funding managers, find someone in your network who happens to be a funding manager and run your messaging by her before your meeting with the big wigs.
If you’re creating a social media post to attract college-age volunteers, find some college-age people in your neighborhood coffee shop and ask them to spend a few minutes helping you with a project.
I go over the technique of prototyping, recruiting test participants, and testing your messaging in the companion post, How to prototype and test your messaging, in greater detail for you to study so you can pull it off on your own.
If you want more guidance, we have a messaging strategy workshop that covers all three of these techniques and walks you through testing with at least three different people.
By testing your messaging, you’re able to iterate on the fly and improve your messaging ideas before you invest any time, money, or energy publishing them out in the wild first.
These three techniques are simple to describe, but believe me, I know they can be a bit difficult to implement. This is not our natural, intuitive way of creating. We naturally want to spend way too much time perfecting our messaging before we put it out in the world, and we want it to appeal to as many people as possible. The resulting messaging we write is often difficult for most people to digest and understand, and it ends up falling flat.
Take these three techniques to heart and really experiment with them. See for yourself how to create messaging that makes people’s eyes light up, that makes them say, “Crap! I want that!” or “Yes! I’m in!”