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Developing Messaging for Tech Marketers

This post provides a bit of applied behavioral science to help technologists who are asked or required to fill marketing roles in their organizations. A degree in electrical engineering or computer science probably didn't prepare you well for this role. This is a very short course that should help.

When developing strategic messaging, target-audience analysis precedes everything else. Guessing or assuming isn't necessary or desirable. The game is getting inside the heads of your prospective customers: What do they know? What are they interested in? What motivates them to take the action you desire? What do they think of your brand? What do they think of your competitors?

These aren't typically easy questions to answer. In fact, understanding motivation is elusive for nearly everyone in all kinds of management jobs. How do you motivate people to work, buy, vote, or behave responsibly? What's primarily essential is understanding the three principles of motivation. These are:

  • Everyone is motivated. There are reasons for what people do (or don't do).
  • People do things for their own reasons, not yours.
  • Forcing people to be motivated won't work. Motivation comes from within.

It may seem as if there isn't much hope for success, but incorporating these concepts from the outset can help you move in the right direction. To start, here are some questions you should ask yourself:

  • Put yourself in your customers' position. If you were the customer why would you want to pay attention?
  • Why would you be interested in reading what you send, post, advertise, or promote?
  • Would you be motivated to take any action?

Effectively analyzing motivation requires separating yourself from your message, product, company, organization, and even your own social standing. Disregard your objectives and whatever benefits your company may gain if your message has the desired effects. Ask others. What's best is asking people from your target audience.

With today's online survey tools like Survey Monkey, Zoomerang, Cvent, PollDaddy, SurveyGizmo, and many others, there's no reason any tech marketer can't begin learning what drives the target audience or “community's” interests. The power of analysis is at least two-fold. You may confirm your thoughts about what's interesting to prospects and customers, but you will almost undoubtedly acquire new insights about the people you're attempting to attract to your brand. Perhaps the most important thing you can discover is this: What do customers value?

After having discovered and examined customers' perceptions, continue by looking at how competitors describe themselves. The good news is that quite often your competitors are all using the same meaningless buzzwords and perhaps all claiming the same values such as “quality” or “ROI” or “lower total cost of ownership.” That's great! Because then the path is clear to create differentiation for your brand with values not claimed by your competitors.

Next, gather everyone with a stake in communications to discuss and agree on responses to the seven questions I believe marketing must answer. These are:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What business are you in?
  3. For whom? (Whom do you serve?)
  4. What need? (What are the special needs of the people you serve?)
  5. Against whom? (With whom are you competing?)
  6. What's different? (What attribute, important to customers, makes you different from those competitors?)
  7. So? What single, unique benefit does a customer derive from your products or services?

When the first session is over, gather the noted ideas and use them to develop a summary and recommended positioning statement. The summary should focus on contrasts and similarities among ideas. Finding and incorporating competitive messages to illustrate available positions and claims is also helpful. Craft one or two prospective positioning statements and a set of key messages (supporting statements) for consideration by the work group. Not more than three key messages are necessary. Put all of this together and distribute it shortly before a second session.

It is important that everyone see it before encountering each other again as a group. Hopefully, participants will come prepared with constructive ideas and intent on reaching agreement and closure. For more on creating a communications strategy, read my article, “The Positioning Statement: Why To Have One Before You Start Communicating.” I've successfully applied this with many tech brands and helped them become strategically aligned before they start communicating. The article also points out the necessary ways to follow through and assure that the strategy sticks.

18 comments on “Developing Messaging for Tech Marketers

  1. Anand
    October 3, 2011

    Guessing or assuming isn't necessary or desirable.

    @Ford, thanks for the post. Very informative. When you say guessing or assuming isn't necessary or desirable are you suggesting that there is no room for “instinct based decisions” ? How do you differentiate betweeng guessing and instinct based decisions ?

  2. Ford Kanzler
    October 3, 2011

    Anandvy – My point is that there's a far higher likelihood of getting your communications wrong when you guess or assume. Yes. there's some room for guess work and instinct. Perhaps more for applying commons sense and significant experience. This gets into putting yourself in the customers' position and thinking about how they feel and what they want.

    Suggest the difference between guessing and instinctual decisions are hopefully guessing is based on some rational thought. “Gut reactions” or purely subjective decisions may certainly be correct. However, as mentioned in the column, these days there's a variety of highly cost-effective ways of capturing and understanding customer/prospect values and perceptions than pulling ideas out of a hat or making assumptions. Particularly in the tech sector, with nearly everyone onlilne, its quite simple to at least “get as sense for” customer behavior and attitudes on nearly any subject, including brand and product preferences. Doing some research may happily prove what you've assumed to be accurate or what your “gut” told you was right. Having proof of that can make appropriate action more decisive and far less uncertain. It will also support your decision-making if asked by management.

    People's attitudes, preferences and what they value evolve over time. Sometimes in a very brief span. What was true once, with a certain brand (perhaps your last company) is very possibly not the case today in differing market circumstances. Knowing your market's values and attitudes is powerful.

  3. Ariella
    October 3, 2011

    Yes, there is so much data and tools for capturing the information you need to make better business decisions today, and analytics grow more sophisticated all the time.

  4. mfbertozzi
    October 4, 2011

    Ariella, it is good, one feedback I have collected for example from people is about time it takes to do it. On one hand is true, survey in general aims to improve final product/service for users, on the other hand sometimes survey requires several screens to fill. Preferences for example could be moved on automatic analytics tool, but what about privacy and their (possible) intrusive manner to work?

  5. FLYINGSCOT
    October 4, 2011

    Thanks for writing this informative article.  I am a firm believer in having some technical understanding of the target application.  This is best served by marketing folks who have the technical experience to know what they are talking about.  Not always strictly necessary but is sure helps.

  6. Ariella
    October 4, 2011

    @mfbertozzi, certainly, there are concerns for privacy, and that is what forced Onstar to recant its change to terms of service that said its default would be to keep people connected to collect their data even if they terminate their contracts. But sometimes people willingly surrender their privacy in order to give their views on surveys, particularly if the compnay makes it clear that they are keeping the information for their own use and will not sell it to others. 

  7. Ford Kanzler
    October 4, 2011

    All – Surveying and polling or any manner of sampling customer preferences or needs can be automated and annonomous. It can range from in-depth research such as focus groups to simple, targeted questionaires with a very few, key questions. Having worked on these kinds of projects, what's important going in is having a clear idea of what information you need to obtain. Keeping it simple and easy for respondants are essential. I'm sure most of you have answered or been asked to complete a survery and didn't want to spend much time doing it. Given that you're asking people for something means you need to respect their time. 10 questions is usually the upper limit. Far fewer is better, especially for automated, online questioning. There is often a direct correlation between the length of time it takes and the questionaire's completion rate. Testing questions beforehand can help assure you get to the desired information. Discovering information that affects your marketing program and effectively shapes your messaging is the payoff.

  8. Ariella
    October 4, 2011

    Those are good genereal rules for surveys, Ford. There are some exceptions, though. Customers are sometimes willing to spend more time answering questions, but you have to make it worthwhile for them. Vanguard sent me a survey a few months back. It was quite extensive, which the company acknowledged. That is why it offered a $25 Amazon gift card as a reward for completing the survey. I've also filled out a paper survey at the American Museum of Natural History, which also asked for idenitfying info. and an email address, but it came with a reward of a free entry plus one ticket -value of $24. Given that these were both organizations that I've already dealt with, I didn't mind the personal info obtained, and the compensation made it worth taking the time to answer the questions.

  9. Ford Kanzler
    October 4, 2011

    Areilla – Yes. You can pay respondants for more of their time. However, depending on how large a sample a marketer is working with, it can become rather expensive. Just offering a dollar can help substantially boost response rates. The focus of this column is about the ease and simplicity of surveying customer attitudes these days vs. just guessing about what's important in developing your communications campaign messages.

    Additionally, throwing rewards into the equation can slant the kinds of responses and the types of people who respond. For example offering an iPod, while appearing to be a valuable participation reward, can skew surevey results due to the characteristics of people who desire such an item. We're getting into an area where professional market research help becomes necessary to obtaining desired results. How and why research is conducted depends on a wide range of factors.

    My primary suggestion is that marketers keep their audience research simple and use quick, easy, Web-automated methods to uncover anwers to an essential question that provides them with the right information to communicate more effectively. Knowing rather than guessing.

    I've also employed surveys and polls to create new information about a market which, in turn becomes newsworthy enough to apply to the public relations program. This becomes a tactic for a thought leadership program by demonstrating a brand's intelligence to its market. Uncovering new information about market attitudes, trends or issues and applying it to outbound promotion, is a generally under-used PR strategy. Its been done in the consumer sector. It can work in B2B tech markets equally well. People are hungry for new information they can use. Developing fresh content, of interest to your market via research methods, is an exciting strategy that can clearly set a brand apart from its competitors.

  10. Piplzchoice
    October 4, 2011

    Survey is NOT a good tool for discovery of your customers motivation because you have to start with assumptions of what questions are important and how to ask them. Most surveys are asking questions that are important to people who design the surveys. There are better and more economical tools to do customer intelligence and survey is an excellent tool for validation of your discoveries.

    My company developed technology that can discover what is important to customers of most consumer electronic products within 24 hours, measure HOW important that is, and WHAT is delta between their expectations and experience. Here is an example

    Market Intelligence analysis

  11. Piplzchoice
    October 4, 2011

    We can also measure a messaging efficacy by analysis of words customers use to describe their experience with the product and comparing it to the marcom messages verbatim.

  12. Ford Kanzler
    October 4, 2011

    Piplz – Your methodology is likely well tuned for certain tasks. Naturally asking the right questions of customers is at the core of any attempt at market understanding.

    How would a tech marketer at a startup, a newly arrived or lesser-known B2B brand apply your tools? Could they discover comparative perceptions between two or more competing brands? What would it cost and how long would it take to capture and synthesize meaningful information for application to marketing communications efforts?

  13. Piplzchoice
    October 4, 2011

    Ford – we use Natutral Language Processing (NLP) and behavioral economics models to extract and to measure customer experience attributes or elements. The key is availability of content and many CE products that market to consumers have customer generated content available in a form of online customer reviews, company and public forums, internal customer support communications, etc. We do have a few B2B customers and we assist them in engaging their customers to generate meaningful content, but methodology of analysis is the same. A startup would experience the same problems with survey approach, however the analysis of content generated by consumers who purchsed products of competitors could be educational.

  14. Ford Kanzler
    October 4, 2011

    Piplz – As you likely know, EBN's readership is primarily focused on B2B electronics sales and purchasing in support of design and manufacturing of enterprise and consumer electronics systems. Certainly agree that “analysis of content generated by consumers who purchased products of competitors could be educational.”

    Suggest that “NLP and behavioral economics models to extract and to measure customer experience attributes or elements ” are only one of the ways at getting at the information necessary to help effectively drive a marketing communications effort. Speed and cost questions remain unanswered. These are critical to many B2B tech marketers where budgets for communications research are often very thin to non-existant. Thus my emphasis originally on simple, inexpensive tools to quickly get at customer perceptions rather than guessing. Your company's approach could undoubtedly provide some relevant insight for certain marketers iif it can be easily, quickly and very cost-effectively applied. Electronics OEM suppliers and many of their system manufacturing customers don't have a long history of investing heavily in customer or market research.

  15. Piplzchoice
    October 4, 2011

    Ford – There is no one approach or one tool that is available for anyone. The point I was trying to make is that a survey is not the best tool for discovery-there are better tools for that. I have tried to focus on methodology and approach however the budgetary limitations are important and even though there are “free” online survey tools available, I would recommend to consider their use very carefully in B2B environment. Here are the reasons.

    For those who invest their time and effort, or professional help, to craft meaningful questions for survey in B2B environment, I would suggest to consider qualitative techniques instead as they would likely to yield much better understanding of customer motivation than survey.

     

  16. mfbertozzi
    October 5, 2011

    Thanks Ariella, it is a wonderful analysis and I full agree with you. I believe the model could be general, even we need to apply some particular difference / customizations, depending on the country and local legal rules.

  17. Ariella
    October 5, 2011

    My husband told me about a company's attempt to gather data on its product in a very low tech fashion. At the place where he works, the coffee machines were now replaced by Tassimo ones. He said that representatives from Tassimo spent half the day there talking to each person who approached the machine (they did this on each floor occupied by his business with coffee machines). They offered to show them how it works and to explain why it takes longer to brew than the machine there previously. Their contention is the longer process yields better coffee. My husband's view, however, is that the longer process yields worse coffee with more time wasted. I'm wondering, though, if people would generally be more polite about the product when speaking with the reps than they would if writing things down without a person to react to their views.

  18. mfbertozzi
    October 6, 2011

    Well Ariella, thanks, it is nice. I am convinced for a few people much more professional is the poll and much less is the spontaneus way for replying. Sometimes basic tools as “doodle”, for example, could allow to be more realistic 😉

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