Online audiences are scatterbrained, and attention spans are spread thin. It’s more critical now than ever before to reach people with an impactful value proposition and strong messaging. But how do you know whether you’re developing the right pitches to journalists, creating the right content for your blog, and developing the right email copy?
If you’re struggling to find answers to this question, you’re not alone. It’s tough to know what your audiences want. Until you’ve validated an idea or brought a new campaign to market, you won’t know. What you can do, however, is take steps to refine your messaging, minimize uncertainty, and better understand your customers’ needs.
Whether you’re writing a blog post, pitching a story idea, or creating an infographic, here are 3 tactical ways to make your messaging more impactful.
- Interview your target audience
Get them on the phone, and ask a series of tailored, open-ended questions that speak to your marketing goals. The questions will be different for different groups, audiences, and marketing concepts. What’s most important is that you follow the right process in surfacing the information that you want to uncover. Here are some steps to help you get started:
- Launch this interviewing initiative as a structured mini-project within your company. As with any other project, this one should map to a specific marketing goal such as a media outreach initiative or set of blog posts that you might be creating. By defining your goal, you’ll know which company stakeholders to involve in your planning process. Make sure these individuals are looped into the initiatives, early.
- Host a brief, 30 minute briefing meeting for point-people on the project. Everyone on the team should help brainstorm a list of “learning milestones”: things that you want to learn from your phone calls. Learning milestones will be specific to your marketing campaign and include topics that audiences might want to see on your blog, information that journalists want to see in pitches, and ways to describe your company’s value proposition. By focusing on learning milestones rather than interview questions, you’ll position your team to have a conversation that is more conversational and less scripted in nature.
- Designate a point person to run project management and strategy. Figure out who will be conducting interviews.
- After the briefing meeting, your team’s point person should create a list of learning milestones. From there, create a ‘wish list’ of individuals to interview.
- Decide what and how you will be compensating these individuals for their time. You might offer a gift card, cash, or special offer.
- Reach out to customers with a short message, asking if they might have the time to be interviewed. Explain the context: you’re looking to learn about their needs and preferences. Schedule a 30 minute call, and give them a heads up that the calls will be recorded.
- Sometimes, interviewees ask to see ‘questions’ in advance. Feel free to meet this request by sending over a list of questions, adapted from your learning milestones. It’s a matter of personal preference if you want to
- Record your 30-minute conversation. Speak freely, and don’t worry about taking notes. Have the call transcribed, after the fact. Review your notes, compare conversations, and highlight patterns. Pay attention to the word choices that your target audience is using to describe your value proposition and company.
Known as qualitative research, this process is designed to surface new perspectives. Your goal is not to generate statistically significant or quantifiable insights: instead, you’re seeking to put yourself in the shoes of your target audience. It’s a process that creates empathy.
- Make continuous, iterative improvements
Marketing, content, and PR pros are natural perfectionists. You want to deliver impeccable messaging, with impeccable timing. But this perfection might also hold you back from releasing something into the wild: delays are potential missed opportunities. So how do you deliver a strong message without letting your perfection crush you?
Refer to a concept that engineers and product managers call “continuous deployment.” This practice refers to the technique of making small feature releases, slowly and steadily. To see a tangible example of continuous deployment, check out this conference talk from Etsy’s engineering lead, John Goulah: he describes his team’s approach to making 50+ releases a day.
So how does this idea apply to marketing? It’s simple: stop thinking of your marketing campaigns as launches, and instead, position your initiatives as slow and steady improvements. Here’s what this idea looks like in practice:
- You’re looking to get press coverage for your client or company, and you decide to email a handful of journalists.
- You identify a set of 50 and sent them a message.
- You gauge quality and quantity of responses: what went well and what didn’t? Why did certain journalists respond while others didn’t? You answer these questions.
- You make tweaks to your messaging and create a few concepts to A/B test with your original message and value proposition.
- You run this A/B test on a new set of media contacts.
- You repeat this process with every new batch of contacts.
By making small, continuous changes to your messaging, you’ll minimize the risk of creating something that flops. Through incremental changes, you’ll also generate bigger, more predictable wins. It takes time and patience, but it’s proven method that other types of teams are using. Being in marketing, you may be new to the continuous deployment game, but you’ll be in good company.
- Test your messaging in different formats
Are your campaigns falling flat? It may not be your messaging or even your value proposition that’s at fault. It could also be your design—the way that you’re presenting and sharing information.
Try testing different variations of your messaging: more copy, less copy, long email subject lines, shorter email subject lines, page design, layouts, subheadings, etc. You get the picture. Make sure that every test has a clear reason behind it. For instance, you could see whether journalists are responding to longer or shorter messages. Not sure how to get started? Here are some tips to help you focus:
- Look at a handful of your most successful and least successful marketing campaigns. See if there are any trends in the two groups. Figure out how to apply your lessons learned from your successes to your weaker initiatives.
- Consult with a designer, particularly someone who specializes in information, to come with some alternative ways of visualizing your information. Put these ideas to the test in your next campaign.
- Run a few different Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google Display ads to test click-through rates on different visual and message concepts. These won’t be designs or copy that you end up running through media outreach campaign or blog post, but you will get a sense for what resonates with your target audience. For more concrete direction with this idea, check out this conference talk with Anita Newton of Mighty Handle.
It’s your turn to weigh in. What are some of your biggest challenges? Answer this question in the comments section below, and I’ll respond. Fellow readers are welcome to weigh in too.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock/Marta Paniti