Marketing your products and the three parts of a conversation…

Marketing is the voice for your products.  It’s the tool for creating conversation with everyone you need to talk to, from prospective customers to existing customers, partners, investors and everyone else.

Just like any conversation, there are things you should and shouldn’t do.  When talking to someone, you wouldn’t normally poke them in the eye, act like a crazy person or insult their intelligence. And generally it’s not wise to do that with your marketing either.

But as someone way smarter than me once pointed out, no matter where you are of what kind of conversation you are having, there are three frequently overlooked components.

1.    What you mean
2.    What you say
3.    What people actually hear

You’d be shocked at how utterly disconnected #3 can be from where you started.

For example (all inspired by personal experience)…

1.    You mean:  “Everyone needs to pull together and get this done”
2.    You say:  “The project’s behind.  We need to get back on track”
3.    They hear: “You’re not pulling your weight – I’m doing everything and YOU are slacking off”.

1.    You mean: “The product will ship sometime between May and June 2009”
2.    You say:  “The product will ship in Q2, 2009”
3.    They hear: “The product will ship in April, 2009”

1.    You mean: “This product will make your life way easier and do all kinds of things to simplify your life”
2.    You say: “Our extensive suite of Business Intelligence tools will provide insight into your KPIs (key performance indicators) and improve operational efficiency within your organization”
3.    They hear: “This tool is expensive and may or may not help your business”

What you mean to say is seemingly the easiest – you know you, right?  So when you start to craft a marketing message, think about what you are really trying to say and write it all down. For example:

We really believe this product is great for you and we want you to buy it.  It has a ton of features that will really make your life simpler and easier.

What you say is much trickier because at that point you are no longer talking to yourself.  When you’re talking to any kind of customer, they will have their own view of the world and a matching vocabulary.

For example, one of my clients makes a tool related to expense tracking.  In their messaging they talked about simplifying expense reports.  Seems obvious and intuitive, right?  However, their typical customer is the owner of a very small business.  That’s not someone who thinks about expense reports – for them it’s simply book-keeping.  Expense reports are really the domain of bigger companies.  The net result was that the typical customer read the messaging and heard “our tool is for bigger companies and you can’t afford it”.

Now the difference between “expense tracking” and “expense report” is extremely small.  But in the mind of the customer it’s the difference between “sounds good” and “not for me”.

Another company I recently talked to makes a financial modeling tool.  It’s pretty simple and of great value to their customers.  It quickly and easily shows strengths and weaknesses of the business while allowing for some simple “What if?” scenarios e.g. what if I hire one more admin, or one more partner.

The tool is promoted as a financial modeling tool for small medical practices.  Sounds good, except that most small medical practices probably don’t think they need financial modeling.  However, they’d probably get a much better response if they promoted it as a simple tool that provides feedback on employee and partner performance while making it easy to explore the cost and rewards of adding extra staff or partners.

So the next time you’re talking to a customer, partner or investor, take a moment to explore what you mean, what you say and what you think they’ll hear.  And it’s always good to ask them what they heard so you can check that you hit the mark…