The 3 ingredients of an effective marketing message

It’s always fun to watch someone who’s at the pinnacle of their field in action.

In a former lifetime, Mark Penn was the CEO of Burson-Marsteller as well as pollster and political strategist for the Clintons and Tony Blair. He now serves as head of Strategic and Special Projects at Microsoft. A few of us at Bing had the chance to pick his brain on ways to talk about our social search features.

In chatting with Mark, it became clear that the most powerful kind of marketing message meets 3 successive criteria:

1. It’s true to the product. This is ground zero, the basis of your credibility and the long-term relationship you establish with consumers. As obvious as it sounds, you’d be surprised how easy it is to paint with an aspirational brush as opposed to one that accurately represents your product today.

Yes, marketing’s job is to romance, and this isn’t meant to put all of the burden on the product team. But the reality is that the former can only go so far if the fundamental value prop isn’t solving for a real pain point or user need.

This is actually where product design can borrow from marketing’s playbook. At Amazon, the first step in the product development process is to write a consumer-facing press release as opposed to a detailed spec. Not only is this a much more efficient and cost-effective means of concept iteration, if you’re struggling to come up with a concise, “Oprah-speak” way of communicating the end user benefits, it’s probably a sign that the feature isn’t very compelling.

2. It resonates on an emotional level with your target audience. Your messaging should highlight how your product meets a basic human need or desire: to be appreciated, to feel safe, to relax, to learn, to make sense of information, to express ourselves, to perform our jobs to the fullest, etc.

3. It stands for something larger than the product itself. The best kind of brand marketing operates at this level. Think of the way that Coke invokes simple pleasures; Nike conveys an indomitable spirit; and Apple exemplifies beautiful, intuitive design. These metaphors increase the “spreadability” of your message and help it to transcend any one particular campaign or product launch into something more enduring.

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