What is the main idea behind your book, ‘Your Messaging Sucks: A groundbreaking approach to customer-centric messaging strategy’? How did you come to write it?
Like people, brands want to be heard. To be understood and valued. To be shown appreciation with purchases, loyalty, and reputation. After all the work on market research, product development, brand strategy, lead generation programs, and campaigns, it is still possible that no one is listening. No one wants you. You are left dumbfounded. It can be frustrating when prospects, consumers, or investors don’t get you. When your marketing efforts don’t connect with the people you believe need you, you can feel like you have failed. However, you didn’t fail; you just followed a marketing process that failed you.
The gap between what you think you are offering and what your audience believes you are offering creates a messaging problem. It is hard to recognize the fact that you have a messaging problem because it initially appears to be an implementation or execution issue. When prospects aren’t buying, it is often blamed on marketing not providing the right leads. If customers flock to a competitor for products that you offer, we point to the product development team (and marketing team). If new prospects abandon the sales process, we fiddle with the user experience. Then, when all else fails, we point to the individuals, departments, or agencies involved. Indeed, it is the stressed marketer, lazy salesperson, inept product developer, founder’s lack of vision, agencies that didn’t get you, or the uninformed consumer. We rarely work with the core problem: the way we create messaging is broken.
I came to write this book because, over 30 years, I have developed a methodology that flips the traditional strategy process. Design thinking, improv, media psychology, emotional consumer behavior, user experience design, and deep consumer insights help shift how we think about and deliver our products and services. I have often found that marketers, agency strategists, and entrepreneurs want to create great messaging, brand strategy, value proposition, and digital experience. Unfortunately, they lack formal training, education, programs, or a methodology that teaches them how to do this well. While there are many tools, they are often used in a way that only tells the brand story. And, once used, they really aren’t applied in the correct order or at the right time. I aim to train those who shape the brand experience with a process that will provide better results in customer engagement.
In what ways has your professional experience shaped the ideas shared in this book?
I have always approached marketing from the customer’s perspective. It comes from a lifetime of being an outsider and a career encompassing diverse roles. I learned the hard way – through surprising failures and unexpected successes that I didn’t always understand. As a CMO for five VC-backed tech start-ups, a digital agency leader, entrepreneur, academic, and pioneer in messaging, technology, and strategy, I specialized in the infancy, early stage, and pivot points of businesses when a new market needs to be found. In each role, my job was to uncover what the brand could be and connect it to customers who would love and value it.
Getting a brand to agree on what they truly are and finding customers who love them is not easy. It means giving up what the brand has often spent much time and energy believing in and telling the founders and marketers they are, rather than what customers want. Brands must know what the consumer thinks and feels before they buy: how the products and services connect on an emotional level – and the underlying habit that can trigger a connection. But no one teaches brand folks how to do it. And there usually remain differing views within the brand that interfere with its ability to engage with the right customers.
I have been fortunate (although it didn’t always feel that way) that my role has always been one that HAS to get the marketing strategy right very quickly. In a high-pressure, VC-back start-up, you need to fail fast and figure out exactly what you have and who wants it. And for the larger firms I consulted for, I have been the person who comes in when a pivot is required – not desired. I became known as the do-or-die, straight-talking person who cuts through it all. In those roles, I needed three things: everyone in the room to accept that they got it wrong, be willing to change, and focus on what was right in front of them but they could not see — the customers that wanted them.
I believe personal and corporate branding are inter-related. They are not separate at all. When I help create a messaging strategy, the people in the room directly impact the type of messaging and brand story that emerges. The people – their insights, experiences, and willingness to listen – make it unique. My professional experience allowed me to develop shortcuts and innovative methods to shape the outcome of the people in the room — to embrace the customer perspective. Whether the company was large or small, B2B or B2C, product or service, I kept refining the techniques until they worked no matter what. Finally, I was ready to share my expertise as a person with a better formula for creating a unique messaging strategy and relevant customer engagement and exceptional digital experience.
What are some of the biggest messaging mistakes you see brands make, and how can they fix those mistakes?
Messaging strategy requires you to look at your offer from the customer’s point of view. Messaging is the connection – the bridge between the brand’s view of themselves and the customer’s understanding. To work well, messaging must be audience-centric and match the audience’s words, emotions, perspective, and mindset. Messaging is the adhesive that allows the value exchange to stick. Yet we do it last.
Current approaches to market research, SWOT analysis, customer journeys, new product development, prototyping, positioning, beta testing, and brand strategy are all steps from the brand’s perspective. Yes, we ask potential target customers questions, and there may be good feedback from the beta, but are you listening? Are making mistakes part of your approach? The truth is usually no.
Whether you are a VC-backed start-up, an entrepreneur seeking funding or customers, an agency looking to create a marketing strategy, or a more prominent firm that has hit a wall, a new website or digital campaign will not solve a problem with a flawed process. Messaging developed at the end of the marketing process should never be the first time you see your product or service from the only viewpoint that matters – your customers’ viewpoint.
In this time of customer-centricity and engagement-based competitiveness, we must ensure that we create a brand strategy that connects with customers. The customer perspective must be your only lens. A new messaging strategy and process can help you reach the people you want. And that connection must be based on emotional insight. Truly caring about what the customer is facing and feeling and how your brand can make them feel differently.
Are there any surprising insights you share in your book about customer-centric messaging strategy that businesses or other organizations can use for their own benefit?
This book uses design thinking, innovative techniques, and organizational leadership skills to allow brands and people to shift their perspective – this can lead to more robust products and services, and experiences that customers want. These methodologies are baked into detailed workshops that allow breakthrough insights and progress for individuals, teams, and companies.
I provide guidance, advice, and workshops to inform marketers, founders, and agency leaders on what to do when:
- The customer perspective isn’t embedded into every strategic decision
- Marketing is reactionary, so it lacks the power to lead with the customer experience
- There isn’t a competitive differentiation in the brand strategy and digital experience
- The sales process is slow, painful, and confusing for everyone
- Business functions aren’t working collaboratively to create a product and service customers want
- Marketing programs are stalled or aren’t reaching the right people
- No one truly understands your value proposition
The surprising insights are the importance of really caring about your customers — getting to a deep emotional connection and understanding those customers so well that you can anticipate what they need. It is also surprising how often brands are working very hard to sell to the wrong customers and endlessly blame marketing and agencies when, in fact, the foundation and methodology don’t work anymore. The age of customer-centric marketing requires giving up the tools and processes that were built on a brand-centric ethos and adopting a new methodology and tools that force brands to be customer-centric.