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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.

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This is all said with one important caveat: The meta-analysis did not find any evidence of significant differences in appeal between comparative and non-comparative messages, which suggests that merely drawing a comparison with competition is not enough.

When using a comparative claim, it is most effective to benchmark against the category. Benchmarking against one’s own brand can be a sign of weakness, and targeting a single competitive brand can be detrimental as consumers may like that brand and feel offended, dislike it and feel indifferent, or not know it and feel alienated. Therefore, a stronger message is conveyed to consumers with “12 hours of nonstop waterproof protection” versus “Protects you from the sun for two times longer than Brand X.”

Articulate: A Message Checklist

The SKIM meta-analysis findings also revealed that every message must meet certain standards for style and tonality in order to succeed. While adhering to the message checklist below might not guarantee that a message is successful, it will ensure the claim does not fall short because of weak articulation. In essence, these are the best practices for avoiding common pitfalls.

Does the message clearly articulate the following values?

  • Positive—Offer something positive instead of avoiding something negative.
  • Respectful—Know your audience; don’t inadvertently be condescending or presumptuous.
  • Clear—Use simple, unambiguous language to ensure the message is understood.
  • Coherent—Connect the dots; are the benefits and reasons to believe related to each other?
  • Fluid—Create sentences that flow naturally and do not sound contrived.
  • Jargon-free—Use words and terms that are meaningful and known to your target audience.

Deliver: Consider the Message Environment

Messages should be evaluated with consideration for the competitive landscape. Winning messages are most effective when they are designed to work in the real world.

First, benchmark new messages against current messages. Include current messages in the testing process; it’s the next best thing to a benchmark. If you don’t include current messages, it’s impossible to know if the new “winner” is as good as the old winner.

Second, consider the decision-making and product ecosystem. Is there a single decision-maker or are there multiple influencers involved in the decision? Does the product reside in a highly competitive landscape, like the beauty aisle of a store? Is it a product that is bought repeatedly or often alongside other products? Does it cater to impulse buyers, or is the product part of a series of interrelated line extensions of a successful product? Take into account the influence of all these factors before choosing a winning message.

Third, find out exactly what makes the message a winner and what makes others losers. From a research perspective, this can be achieved using a clickable claims tool that asks respondents to highlight positive and negative parts of the winning and losing messages. The resulting information can provide valuable insight for creative and brand teams.

Fourth, context can make or break a well-worded message. Test the messages in various delivery environments (e.g., print, Web and packaging). Sometimes a message that seems compelling as words on a page will fall short in the context of the overall graphics or packaging. Test the message within a graphical context using a tool that allows respondents to identify what it is about the message that makes it the winner, as well as what is negative. The cliché, “You only have one chance to make a good first impression,” is true for every visual representation of a product.

Powerful messages are a critical part of successful product marketing. The insights and recommendations derived from SKIM’s meta-analysis reinforce that fact and provide an additional level of certainty for successful message development.

Case Study: Illuminating Sunscreen Claims

In a case study about packaging communication of sunscreen claims, 16 marketing statements were ranked by attendees at InnoCos USA 2012, a conference that brings together senior executives from the beauty industry to discuss key issues on front-end innovation, new product development and high-growth markets.