Have you ever come to a website and, even after five minutes of diligent reading, didn’t have the slightest idea what the business was about? Probably. In fact, it would be more appropriate to ask “when was the last time” rather than “have you ever” because the way things are, it probably happened to you yesterday.
The web is riddled with websites that leave visitors with more questions than answers.
Does it mean their product or service is bad?
It’s more likely they dropped the ball on finding a clear messaging strategy which, consequently, lured their copywriting efforts into the murky waters of global ambiguity.
If this sounds like a problem your business is facing, tune in for this week’s episode of Ungated Marketing. Fernando Amaral interviews Diane Wiredu, the founder, conversion copywriter, and brand message strategist at Lion Words, about the art of clear messaging and its importance for creating copy that converts.
What is Messaging?
Before we delve deeper into the topic, it’s important to iron out the basics. In this case, it means clarifying what we talk about when we talk about messaging.
According to Diane, “business can’t exist without words.” So, in her playbook, “messaging, more importantly, brand messaging, is really the core of business growth, business development. Your messaging is how you communicate your unique promise through what's right. So it's just the core of who you are, what you do, and how you actually represent your company's identity, your values, your positioning, your promise, all of that important stuff about your product and how you express that to your customer.”
The Importance of Clarity
In theory, messaging doesn’t sound that difficult. After all, how hard could it be to describe the product that you yourself created?
Diane finds there is similar rhetoric making its way through the digital marketing landscape. Rhetoric that implies “messaging and copy is easy, but it isn't! If it was easy, we wouldn't have so many bad websites out there with messaging that's just terrible and all over the place. We wouldn't have this problem where you land on a website, and you have no idea what they do.”
Why is figuring out your message and copy so easily underestimated?
Diane has a theory: “What I see when I come in and work with the founders and tech team is that often, internally, you know your product inside out, but it's this case of being too close to the product that it's almost too much. It's the case of when you're inside the jar, you can't see the label, right? I've given this kind of phase a name, which I call the “founder funk.” I find that applies to marketers as well, CMOs and heads of marketing, where they're just in too deep. They're in the trenches, they know everything inside out.”
It’s the “knowing everything” that’s the problem because “clarity is really about stripping things away and it's about removing and that's the difficult part. It's really hard to do that for yourself and often, you need an external eye or someone to come in.” For an external advisor, it’s much easier to say what is not quite clear, what makes sense, and, most importantly, what can be left out for the sake of clarity.
Actually, an essential part of Diane’s work is working on “building core messaging pillars.” In other words, three to five core messages that will stick in people’s minds because “if you try to shove 20 messages down their throats [...] they're not gonna remember anything.”
Messaging Playbook for Best Conversion
Wouldn’t it be great to have a playbook that helps you get through the mess of what is or isn’t important when trying to justify your existence and value to potential customers? If there was one, what would it look like?
Diane’s favorite way to structure and present the messaging playbook to her clients is by creating a deck as it’s “something that is editable, accessible in a format that the team is actually going to use as they grow. Something that's easy to share so that everyone can really get on board.”
A crucial part of a messaging deck covers “who we are, your mission, potentially a vision, your values — if you want to touch on that sort of stuff as well.” That’s not quite all though; a good deck also keeps “your kind of positioning in the mind, your brand narrative or your story as well, both from a strategic perspective, but also the kind of customer-facing story.”
In terms of B2B, she also likes to include a value matrix that showcases “how do we relate our feature or a product or service back to the value that that delivers to our customers. So, the pain points that they're struggling with and actually giving you kind of a playbook of core messages.”
Who is it For?
Having a playbook is one thing; who is it for, though?
Diane advises approaching your messaging playbook the same way you would brand guidelines for designers. She explains: “You can't have ten different people across the company trying to talk about your value in different ways, and really that's what this playbook does. It gives you clarity on how to talk about what you do, clarity on your positioning, and then practical strategies for you to go and kind of implement that on a daily basis.”
In other words, the messaging playbook is for anyone within your company who is in a position to help your new and existing customers to understand your product, from leadership, through marketing and sales, to customer support.
Who Should be Involved?
The next question on your mind is probably who should be responsible for putting it all together. Naturally, the first thing that comes to mind is the marketing team; after all, copywriting is their turf.
However, Diane warns creating your messaging playbook shouldn’t be stuck on the departmental level. While the person leading the initiative on a day-to-day basis can be the marketing director or a CMO, or a product marketing lead, “the CEO or the founder has to be involved in the messaging strategy.”
Involving the founders or the CEO is key as “that person is going to champion the messaging within the company and really needs to approve and just be on board with the whole thing.
So, for me, number one is definitely the founder or a CEO, and then whoever that marketing leader is, whoever's going to be in charge of what that messaging strategy looks like.”
Mastering Strategic Messaging: Keys to Success
Once you have a general understanding of your messaging, the next item on the menu is the day-to-day strategic actions that will help you get your conversion copywriting on the right track.
One of the problems Diane sees a lot is marketers getting too wrapped up in their own world, thinking customers feel the same: “I think that one of the things that we just need to kind of get out of our heads as marketers is that our customers actually care about us as a company or the product that we're selling [...] sometimes it's quite easy to get caught up in this cycle that every single thing that we put out there, everyone's watching it. They're going to notice it. That's just not how it works. Your customer just wants to know ‘How can you help me? How can you help me solve this problem?’ And they dip into your marketing and they're gone.”
Rather than taking it as a detriment, Diane perceives it as an opportunity: “I think that that's a really positive thing because we don't have to get too precious about what we do. We don't have to get too precious about our messaging — the messages that we put out — and we can play a little bit more on brand and brand messaging. One of the key things, when you know that customers don't care, is that you can have a bit more fun.”
Every brand and product is trying to be memorable. However, many don’t go about it the right way. Many take the easy way out and check what their competitors are doing, what messages they are putting out. “They're doing a copy and paste, copycat messaging, and that's not the way to be memorable.” Though going to the “opposite end of the spectrum and have puns all over your homepage and be flashy and be clever,” isn’t the best way to go either.
So what is the right recipe for memorability?
Diane explains “that one of the best ways to be memorable is to really focus on your customer's needs, their pain points, their objections, knowing them inside and out, and curating and crafting messaging that really connects with them.”
In other words, you need to talk to your customers and understand their pains so when they come across your marketing assets; they feel a connection.
Nail Customer Interviews & Research
Customer research! Everyone knows how important it is. Very few actually do it.
Sad, but true.
To Diane, customer research is one of the pillars of her work, one without which everything would come crumbling down. Her research goal is always the same, and that is “to understand how your existing customers, or ideal customers, how they feel, and how they speak, how they think about your product and their entire journey, not really from the perspective of just improving your product or just validating a problem, which is often the way that it's approached for product marketing, but really asking.”
Qualitative customer insights give you a chance to hear how people talk about your product and the benefits they draw from it, which can be invaluable when trying to figure out your messaging and copy: “If you got on the phone with 10 of your customers and you say, ’Could you just describe in your own words, what does Landbot do? What does our product do?’ And you'll be surprised. They probably don't tell you, ‘Oh, you are a messaging solution for B2B.’ They're going to use their own words, and you're going to find out the way that potentially you've positioned your product maybe was slightly off, or maybe you're going to hear 9 out of 10 people use this really interesting word that you have just completely skipped over that you could start putting in your messaging and you could start rallying around.”
Hence, if you want your messaging and copywriting to strike the cord, you need to start building customer feedback and research into your messaging process and strategy.
Pass the 5-4-3 Test
Last but not least on the list of key actions to take on your journey to compelling conversion copywriting is Diane’s quite famous 5-4-3 test that lets you know if your messaging is doing its job correctly.
Diane explains: “The 5-4-3 method is really simple. When someone lands on your homepage, you've got 5 seconds [...] to hook and engage them before they kind of move on to somewhere else or a different page. And so within that 5 seconds, you should make the answers to 4 questions immediately obvious to your prospect and that is ‘What do you do? What's in it for me. Can I trust you? Can I trust what you say?’ and then ‘What action should I take?’”. Answering those 4 questions instantly “will immediately improve the three things that you need [...] and that is clarity, increasing trust, and also reducing friction.”
Mistakes that Cripple your Messaging Impact
Success hides not only in doing the right things but also in giving a wide berth to the most common mistakes. In the interview, Diane addresses several instances your message and copy can go off the rails.
Writing Copy Before Figuring Out Your Message
Despite the length to which brand message strategies are being discussed in the world of digital marketing, many businesses still commit the mistake of going for copy creation before they are clear about what they actually want to communicate.
Diane remembers: “When I got into conversion copywriting, and I was working with clients, with founders, marketing teams, and they'd come to me, and they'd say, ‘Hey, we need help with our copy. We need a new homepage. We need to rewrite our entire website.’ and I'd say, ‘Great! let's kick things off with research discovery.’” She would start to ask questions about customer fears, pains, struggles, brand mission and found most clients got stuck: “They didn't have answers to all of those foundational questions that any copywriter or anyone who's going to produce words for you or your marketing needs to know in order to create a successful copy.”
Going for Ocean Instead of the Puddle
Another common mistake for a lot of B2B companies is “going too big and too broad with who you're trying to speak to with your messaging.”
In Diane’s playbook, trying to serve everybody is pretty much unforgivable: “If I see the word, everyone on someone's homepage, I just zone out because you can't be for everyone. You absolutely cannot. And the reason I have such a bugbear with that is because if you're trying to market to everyone, how can you actually speak to me and connect with me about the problems that I have?”
Her philosophy lies in zooming in as much as possible. She refers to Seth Godin, “who said in This is Marketing [...] walk away from, the ocean and find yourself a swimming pool, right? And I think, ‘Seth, you’re almost there, but we need to go further, and you need to walk away from the swimming pool, and you need to find yourself a paddling pool or a puddle,’ you really need to go small and really go specific.”
Pick your audience carefully, and don’t be afraid to dedicate yourself to that niche. Speaking to the few always beats trying to speak to everyone.
Missing the Balance between Features vs. Benefits
Everyone in B2B SaaS marketing faced this dilemma. What is more important in your copy, highlighting features or benefits?
Diane is a fierce advocate of “it’s not features or benefits, it's features and benefits.”
Aiming for balance between the two is important because “people need to understand [that] if you just talk about the features of your product, that's where you start blending into this sea of sameness because you cannot differentiate on features anymore. At this point, your product is probably not that much better than anyone else's from a feature perspective from your competitors.” Even if you have a new feature that sets you apart, you only have a short period of time before others catch up.
On the other hand, going full-on benefits crazy with your copy is also not a winning strategy, because “when companies go way too far on benefits [...] you have no idea [what they do] and you have to go halfway down the home page to understand what is this tool?” People won’t care if you tell them they are going to sleep well at night if they can’t even understand why.
So, for Diane, “the best approach is to link those two together and actually make sure that you are talking about, ‘Okay, we have this feature, and that helps you do X, Y, Z, or you can achieve this benefit or this outcome by using this feature that we have,’ and really making sure that you relate [features and benefits] together.”
Nailing your brand messaging strategy and coming up with solid conversion copywriting isn’t an easy feat. However, hard doesn’t mean impossible, and a little focus and clarity can take you a long way.
If you wish to dive deeper into the topic and perhaps learn Diane’s interview research structure or the importance of localizing your brand message when crossing the linguistic barriers listen to the full episode below or tune it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts.