How to make your marketing message and communication work better

July 29, 2020 Stanley Ship

I’ve been thinking a lot about storytelling and copywriting lately.

These two can be categorized into communications under marketing.

With the amount of information that exists in the world today, coupled with the lack of resources a business (or individual) has, clear and effective communication is needed in every marketing initiative.

What I’m attempting to do in this piece is to be as clear and easy to follow as possible so that you can use it in your marketing copy.

I’ll also include best practices and good examples of businesses or companies that have applied good communication in their marketing campaigns.

Everything is “words,” even a picture.

If you google “what is a copy,” Wikipedia will tell you that it is written material. I’m not going to repeat whatever has been explained by other more credible sources regarding copywriting or communication.

I do, however, want to give it a different spin.

Without being too technical about it, copy (or to be more precise: communication), includes everything from writing, visual, audio, or mixed type of communication.

It’s not only what you say, but also what you don’t say.

Even a picture paints a thousand words. Or so they say.

If you take that into consideration, that means everything has flowed from words, type, or copy into the preferred communication.

Take a look at these examples, and you can agree with me that it has a message behind it. A certain kind of communication. It’s telling you something.

Yes, they’re all video. But that’s just the outcome and the completed piece of the whole. Read into it a bit and you’ll notice all the planning, scripting, setting up it took to produce a communication piece like that.

They’re a hybrid of written, visual, and auditory type of communication.

Of course, you can strictly stick to one type of communication for a piece. Take the example from basecamp’s website where it’s visually aesthetic, and the communication is clear. You know what action to take and the outcome that comes from it. It’s not confusing.

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I know, you’re probably telling me: “But these are all big companies and they have the money and resources to do so!”

Yes, but that doesn’t excuse you from crafting a better communication plan for your business.

Communication is part of marketing

To be more specific, marketing communication is a complex part of a brand’s marketing efforts.

So, in simple terms, communication is marketing.

And if marketing, then the most important first step has to be applied: understanding your customer.

Just talking about understanding your customer and doing continuous market research can be a whole blog site on its own.

Let’s assume we have a fair understanding of our customers. We’ll then go over the basics of how to improve your message and communication in your marketing.

To give you an outline, these are what we will cover:

        1. Define your character’s story
        2. Storytell their Problem
        3. Provide your Plan
        4. Call them to action

#1 The Main Character’s Story

You’re not the main character. Not in your customer’s story. They are.

You have a different role.

Your job now is to define your character’s story and see how you fit.

This first part will be the backbone of the other parts of your communication. That’s because if you don’t properly define and clarify what exactly is the character’s story, everything else you say will be irrelevant.

It won’t make sense to your character (customer).

I like questions and answer exercises, so this will be no different. Grab a piece of paper or in a new document, put your answer for the questions below.

Who is your character?

Try to elaborate and be specific. Not “a boy” or “a lady.”

Think about which group they belong to? What do they do as a job? How old are they? Is he/she married? How about children?

What do they like? What about their dream or desire? Which aspect of life is important to them (is it health, wealth, family, friends, etc.)?

I hope that’s enough prompt for you.

Follow this line of thought:

        1. Who are they?
        2. How old do you think they are?
        3. What do they do?
        4. What is important for them?
        5. Describe their typical day? (use your imagination, doesn’t have to be 100% real)
        6. What stage are they at in life?
        7. What do they struggle with in life in regards to how you can help?
        8. What is their desire in regards to what they can get from you?
        9. What are they afraid of the most in regard to what they lose out if they are not your customer?
        10. Give a name to this person you’re describing.

Have you got a picture of how this person looks like?

Different Personas

They all have a different story.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll call this character Mr. Tyson.

Is your character happy?

This question needs to be answered because you want to know whether you are making changes to your character’s life.

If your answer to this question is yes, then you need to think of how to communicate in a way that they believe you can make them happier.

If your answer to this question is no, then you need to think of how to communicate in a way that they believe you can make them happy.

Got it?

#2 The Main Character’s Main Problem

For your communication to reach and connect with your audience or customers, you need to talk about them and their problems.

It shows that you understand and care about them.

Most businesses focus on themselves. They talk about their product, their power, their principles.

They magnify themselves.

Not you. You talk about your customers.

Everyone is constantly battling their struggles and problems in life. These problems are the bad guys.

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Now, we’re going to find out the problems your customers are facing. Who is their villain? What keeps them awake at night.

In this step, you want to cover the problem in 3 angles:

        1. What is the problem?
        2. What feelings are caused by the problem? How does it make them feel?
        3. Why is it wrong in the first place?

On the same document that you created when writing your Main Character, continue answering the above 3 questions.

Mr. Tyson’s problem

Let’s take Mr. Tyson as our fictional example in this blog. Well, all your character is actually a fictional representation of the real customer anyway.

Say we are in the business of selling premium leather shoes. Made from the UK, one of its kind.

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Following up from the previous step of the main character’s story, Mr. Tyson is not happy with his current leather shoe.

The problem? The shoe doesn’t make him stand out enough and is very generic. Almost everyone wears the same kind of leather shoe. Mr. Tyson is just not really bothered about it. However, he is an executive in a company. A leader.

Battling with the need for respect and recognition by his subordinate. It’s time for a change!

Perhaps every day he’s wearing that same old leather shoe. Bought 4 years ago. He deserves better don’t you think? That old shoe is making him feel bland. (see how am I talking about how the problem makes him feel?)

So, to use the framework I presented.

        1. What is the problem? Old, generic, nothing-special leather shoe.
        2. What feelings are caused by the problem? The need for a new shoe because the old shoe brings no good feeling anymore, meaning, signs of boredom, not standing out, no boost in confidence that demands respect and recognition.
        3. Why is it wrong in the first place? Because people like Mr. Tyson (executive and an alpha in the society) should be getting the respect and uniqueness that makes him stand out.

The problem thought process

I understand that not every product is obviously solving a problem. The trick to this is taking the customer’s point of view.

The first angle of the problem is easy to peel. When answering “what is the problem,” think about these things:

        1. Having it and not having it. What is missing? 
        2. Special and usual. What is usual and generic?
        3. Old and new. What needs an upgrade?
        4. Cost and save. What is a cost?
        5. Good events and no good events. What is not happening?
        6. I can do and I cannot do. What cannot be done?
        7. Physical, spacial, tangible limitations. What is limited?
        8. All-okay and not-okay. What needs fixing? Includes everything from health to items.

There’s more but if asking “what is the problem” isn’t stirring up something in your mind, then try the above prompts.

The second angle of the problem is more internal. We’re looking to talk about how the problem is making the character feel.

You start with “because of this problem…”

For example, “because of this problem, Mr. Tyson walks into the office feeling no different at all. People don’t notice him, everything is the same. There’s a missing feeling of comfort and confidence especially when he’s out all day meeting people. It doesn’t give a fresh, new and proud vibe to him when he’s wearing it in the morning.”

Let me give you some prompts:

        1. How is it making them feel frustrated?
        2. Does it hurt their ego?
        3. Does the problem clash with one of their values or beliefs?
        4. Is it taking a toll on their self-belief?
        5. Is the problem causing them to judge themselves negatively?
        6. Are they self-inflicting pain, guilt, doubt, regret or any negative feelings?

The third angle is to express that you’re taking a side against the problem. Everyone knows that there are things that are “just wrong.” By using the third angle, we are also showing them that we understand.

Why is the problem so wrong? We’re taking a more philosophical approach when looking at the problem.

Here we are seeking to talk about the deeper meaning of the whole story.

Why is it wrong for Mr. Tyson to be wearing an old shoe that is making him feel that he’s nothing special? Because a one-of-a-kind leader like him deserves a one-of-a-kind shoe that stands out.

This will definitely elicit the “Yeah! that’s right!” response from your customers.

Let’s take Airbnb’s example.

        1. What is the problem? The need to look for a hotel but most are expensive.
        2. What feeling is it causing? Have to take the cheaper hotels that aren’t really comfortable and welcoming when going on holiday.
        3. Why is it wrong? Because everyone deserves a better stay wherever they go without paying high fees.

As a result, Airbnb’s product gave their customers the power to “fight” expensive hotels.

So, the philosophical problem here is expensive hotel vs affordable homestays.

Think about the problem and ask yourself:

        1. Why is it wrong?
        2. What is right, then?
        3. And what do they deserve?
        4. Basically, what are they fighting against?

Here’s a fun exercise for you, don’t worry, it’s easy.

What is the bigger part of the story for Apple’s product? What is so wrong for them that they are fighting against together with their loyal customers?

#3 The Main Character’s Guide

Remember, we discussed that we’re not the main character. So, what is our role?

The guide, helper, supporter. Like Yoda to Luke Skywalker.

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If we’re the guide, we should have the solution and the answers, right?

After finishing this article, I want you to promise me that you will never only talk about features and specifications.

Talk about your solution, benefits, and the plan.

What’s the plan to solve Mr. Tyson’s problem? A new, UK made, never before seen leather shoe. How does it solve his problem?

He can wear it for the whole day and never worry about any sore. People will stare and notice a difference once he walks into the office. Every morning, every time he puts it on is a new fresh feeling. Now, when he meets his clients, he walks tall, full of confidence. The best part is, it goes well with his suit.

Can you see how I packed it with benefits? I’m not bothered to mention what type of leather it’s made of, what’s the sole made of, and how thick is the cushion inside.

The Guide’s rule of thumb

Whatever makes your characters tick.

If you read closely, I didn’t say NEVER talk about features, processes, and specifications. I said NEVER ONLY talk about it.

Depending on your character, the way for your communication to appeal and connect to them will vary.

If you are in the business of supplying B2B products or services, you may want to make mention of the details and specifications of your product because that tells them that you know your stuff. You’re the expert.

But you don’t want to miss out on talking about the benefits and what does it mean to them.

But I can say that most B2C care less about the details of the product. They want to know what does it do for them. The moment you talk about the details and features, they’ll start comparing.

Apple doesn’t talk about how much space does their iPod has. At least, not prominently. Instead, they say 1 million songs in your pocket. Other brands talk about how much space does it come with.

Naturally, most people will think: “If I’m paying x for y space, I might as well get z.” It’s more suitable for B2B peeps to be as specific as possible because your clients will be buying rationally instead of emotionally like B2C products.

More on the difference of communication between B2B and B2C businesses in the future.

Talk like a guide

“Here’s the plan for you…”

“Here’s what’s in it for you…”

“This is what’s going to happen for you…”

Don’t talk about yourself and how you can help them in a way that takes the focus of the story away from the main character. The focus is on them, “you.”

It’s normal for us to start from the features of our product or services. It’s a habit formed by copying what most are doing.

Let’s go one step further. Follow this thought process:

        1. What is the feature? Okay, how does it benefit? Right, then what does it mean for them?
        2. What is the feature? Okay, how does it benefit? Then, how does it improve their life? Right, what’s one good change it will bring?

The first one is the feature-benefit-meaning formula.

The second one is the benefit-benefit-benefit formula.

Let’s look at our example with Mr. Tyson.

“Here’s the plan, the moment you put on these UK made leather shoes. You will know…” continue with the copy below:

        1. The leather type is Shell Cordovan. “… that it is special unlike regular leather (selling the benefit of being special). It means that you’re wearing a rare and unique leather shoe that people will take notice of.”
        2. The leather type is Shell Cordovan. “… that the leather makes the shoe age beautifully, the longer you wear it, the better it looks. It will also last for more than a decade with proper care. You don’t even have to worry about rain because of its water resistance.”

Now continue in the document and write down what you can do for them as the guide. Tell them what good you can do for them. Follow the formulas.

Sometimes, you may find yourself stuck at the notion of “I have too many, too different products. Should I use these formulas for the products?”

My answer:

    1. If you can group all your products that are not too different into a group and communicate about it as a whole, meaning you’re communicating your brand instead of just the products, do that.
    2. If not, for each of the product belonging in different categories, you’ll have to go through from step 1.

#4 The Main Character’s Call to Action

Now you’ve identified who’s the main character. You have also pointed out their problems and relate to them. Then, you also provided a plan, solution, or an answer to them.

Next, you’ll have to challenge them to take action. The transformation that needs to happen will start from this first step!

What many people don’t do here is to make their call to action unified and clear.

You want to be as simple and clear as possible.

That means you don’t give them 3, or even 2 choices.

Just one and only one.

We think that customers can read our minds and know what we want them to do. That’s not true. Think about your customers as a lazy and slow sloth.

You need to spell it out for them. You need to give them a push.

What do you want them to do?

Let’s follow some rules:

        1. Make your call-to-action (CTA) direct.
        2. Make use of “steps” and “what’s next”.
        3. You should “ask” more than 1 time.
        4. Your CTA should stand out and be in contrast to other elements in your material.

The first question to ask yourself is “okay now my customer is sold on my product/service, what’s immediately next for them?”

Is it to book a call? Maybe to purchase online? Or is it to send an application?

Every business has a sales process. You should know what’s the first step in that sales process and convert it into a CTA.

Here are some good examples:

        1. Buy Now!
        2. Call Now!
        3. Join Us Today!
        4. Apply Here Today!
        5. Register Now
        6. Get X for Y Now (As in “Get 2 For 5.99$ Now!”)
        7. Yes! I want to ___! (insert the key benefit of your product, i.e. “Yes! I want to lose weight!”)

Pretty simple right?

The next thing to note is an amplifier.

S.P.E.L.L out what’s next for them?

Don’t give them the next 10 detailed steps to take. You can put a simple 3-step process before the CTA so that they know it’s easy to get to their goals or eliminate their problem (which is their goal too).

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Ideally, you want to make sure that the benefit we talk about in step 3 is something that really matters to our customers. They actually want it. It is their “wants.”

That way, in this 3 (or 4) step process that we’re spelling it out for them, the last step is where they want to go (their goals).

The first step is the CTA.

Let me give you an example when we are going to get Mr. Tyson to order from us:

“There’s nothing difficult, really.

      1. Order through the form
      2. Our team will find the right size for you now
      3. Wait for it to be custom made & delivered
      4. Leave your old one at home and wear it out every day

Button: Order Now.”

Let’s assume this is in the shop with a cool kiosk for you to order.

Perhaps for this section, I’ll write another more detailed article. However, you can notice that the first step is the CTA, and the last step is their goal.

Everything else in between really depends on your after-purchase process. 

If you have a very long after-purchase process, break it down into 1 or 2 phases and then insert it as a step.

Here’s the thought process I use for different clients when I’m writing this for them:

      1. What’s next after the customer purchases
      2. What’s at the end when they get the product/service
      3. After the customer purchases, what are we going to do for them?
      4. After the customer purchases, what are they going through (or what will they experience?)

On the same document, put down your simple process that will lead them to purchase and write what is your CTA.

Put it all together

Now, you’ve gone through steps 1 to 4. You may be asking yourself, “how do I actually put all these things to use?

Good question!

Here it is.

Step 1 doesn’t need to be in your messaging because that’s just an exercise to form a foundation for the other steps. Remember? We have to first understand our customers.

First. In all your copy, check and see whether you have talked about the customer’s problem, wherever appropriate.

Especially in your product or services pages. This was done in step 2.

Second. You can check on all your pages, whether you have included more than just features and specifications.

If you haven’t well, put in those benefits and meaning.

Third. If you haven’t had clear steps to lead your customer to purchase, and you don’t have a clear CTA. Now’s the time to change that.

Conclusion

Communication is a big sub-topic in Marketing. All that I’ve covered in this piece is just a tiny part.

We haven’t talked about your brand messaging, your brand story, testimonials and transformation messages, etc.

But if you have implemented the above and make a change to a part of your message and copy for your business.

You’d be better than most businesses already.

Here’s what I intend to do in the future to follow up on this subject:

      • A more extensive piece on doing customer research to improve our understanding of our customers
      • Cover on more different aspects of your messaging to amplify and clarify your voice and message even further
      • The difference between B2C and B2B communication approach.
      • Different parts to improve your brand communications.

Stay tuned!

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Stanley Ship

I'm a Marketing Strategist and the founder of Renesis Group, which is a marketing agency. I help business owners grow brand presence and continuously get new customers by executing clear marketing strategies. If you're looking for possibilities and opportunities in growing your business, you definitely need a marketing strategy (and a good one).

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