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Message Strength: Tips for Beautiful and Effective Product Messaging

By: Sourabh Sharma and Paul Janssen
Posted: November 26, 2012, from the December 2012 issue of GCI Magazine.

Effective messaging: You know it when you see it. It hits home. It resonates. And the proof is in the sales numbers. But before a claim can be launched into the real world, it falls on the beauty brand owner and marketer to anticipate what will resonate most with consumers.

A meta-analysis conducted by SKIM, a marketing research firm specializing in the CPG, health and beauty industries, examined more than 850 marketing messages in 16 categories—including personal care, cosmetics, food, home care and durables. The researchers uncovered both winners and losers in these categories. But even more importantly, they came to some valuable conclusions about the common characteristics of winning claims.

The researchers created 38 codes representing hypothetical drivers of message/claim appeal. They then coded all of the claims and identified the key success drivers. The inclusion of a broad range of interrelated categories provides a universally tested framework that can be applied across multiple product markets for developing winning messages. The result is a three-step process for developing winning messages:

Refine: Four Rules of Message Creation

SKIM’s meta-analysis found strong messages have four common characteristics.

1. Be specific. The more specific a message can be, the better. People like clarity—they want to know exactly what tangible benefits a product will deliver and, if possible, how much or how much more it will deliver than the competition.

Specificity can be achieved in different ways, but bottom line, you want to describe precisely what consumers will receive. So “Provides all-day protection against UVA and UVB” is a better claim/message than “Now our best protection against UVA and UVB.”

2. Put the key benefit(s) first. When there’s only a split second to capture attention, mention the key benefit of a product first. Messages that contain one or more benefits perform significantly better than others. And while it’s critical to have one benefit, it’s even better to showcase multiple benefits.

A powerful way to address multiple benefits is to offer a solution to a dilemma by combining two seemingly incompatible benefits into one appealing statement (e.g., effective and gentle). For an example, “Get a beautiful natural tan safely with our new and improved formula” offers a stronger message than “Our new and improved formula will give you a beautiful natural tan safely.”

3. Promise value. A prerequisite for successful messages is to promise value by communicating relevant and tangible statements. This is the essence of a winning claim and its defining point of difference. You also want to avoid fluffy, unsubstantiated statements. “For perfectly smooth skin” conveys the claim/message better than “Created for perfection.”

4. Set yourself apart. Every product is being measured against a set of alternatives. Depending on the competitive landscape, there may be an increased need for a differentiating value promise that sets a product apart by default.