Babe Ruth is widely accepted to be the greatest baseball player of all time. Yet it almost never happened.
At the beginning of his career, Babe Ruth stepped up to the plate towing a 54-ounce bat. By comparison, the average weight of a bat used in the MLB today is between 31 to 35 ounces.
You may be asking yourself: Why did he use such a heavy bat? A fierce batter from the beginning, he wanted to hit the most home runs, and to do so he thought he needed to use the heaviest bat he could lift. Logically, this makes sense because force equals mass times acceleration (F = MA), right? Not quite. You see, in following his instinct to use a heavier bat (the mass), Babe Ruth forgot to factor in the bat speed (the acceleration).
If he had followed his original instincts throughout his career, Babe Ruth would likely have been a good baseball player, but he wouldn’t have achieved one of the highest batting averages of all time–on top of his home-run hitting prowess. However, he adjusted his approach and during what was arguably his best season–that of 1927, when he hit 60 home runs–Babe Ruth used a bat that weighed just 40 ounces, allowing him to increase his bat speed.
Similar to the Great Bambino, many marketers and salespeople have the right intentions but the wrong instincts when it comes to their messages.
For example, look at this list of messaging intentions/instincts:
- Help your customers/give them as much information as possible to make a decision.
- Show your depth and professionalism/use sophisticated language and industry jargon.
- Build relationships with your customers/keep customers happy and never challenge their point of view.
- Deliver your message in a memorable way/use clever copy and stunning, highly polished graphics and photography.
In each case, you intention is good, but your instinct is bad. Now, you can still be modestly successful with bad instincts, but to be the best–to be a legend in your own right–you need to be open to reconsidering your traditional messaging instincts.
Based on the list above, here are four ways to improve your messaging instincts:
1. Find Your “Value Wedge”: Most marketers believe prospects need more content to make a decision than they actually do. In reality, since your prospects and customers already think you are essentially the same as your competitors, they are really looking for you to emphasize the incremental differences that matter to their businesses. By giving too much information about things that put you at parity, you will be validating their notion that your market is becoming a commodity. Instead, you want to zero in on those areas where you do something that is important to the customer, and it is a unique or advantaged capability–or you deliver it in a better way. We call this finding your value wedge. In short, resist the instinct to pile on more information than your prospects and customers need.
2. Be Simple And Concrete–Find Your Story: If you use exactly the same industry jargon, phrases, and rehashed messaging as your competitors, what will you get? A story that sounds exactly like everyone else. Your prospects don’t want you to show off your lexicon of acronyms and fancy-pants words; they want you to “make meaning” out of all the raw data and information that is growing faster than their time to process it. You add value and help create a decision-making environment for your customers when you choose simple, concrete words that are clear and easy to understand. In addition, the part of the brain that makes decisions to change is very simple and doesn’t have the capacity for language, so you often need to make a concrete point with a visual that depicts your message (see point number 4).
3. Bring Business Insights: Asking 20 questions about where your customers are having pain, and telling them all about the great features and benefits of your products, does not add value for them. Recent research from SiriusDecisions indicates that providing industry and business expertise is four times more valuable than having product knowledge and developing good relationships. Your prospects believe you see more people who look like them than they do, so act like it. What insights have you gained from solving problems for other organizations? What problems or opportunities are your prospects missing that they don’t even know about? Messaging that focuses on addressing these points is the kind that will increase the intellectual altitude of your customer conversations.
4. Draw Pictures: Being different and memorable often takes place in the delivery of your message, not just the message itself. The replacement of copy and prose with more metaphorical photography and images has made marketing collateral and presentations more beautiful. But they aren’t necessarily different or memorable. The real opportunity lies in turning your messages into stick figures, arrows, boxes, and whimsical icons. Marketing messages come to life when they can be seen. Further, they can be shared more easily when you enable your prospect to retell the same story to others. Your instinct may say that infographics, whiteboards, and other visual storytelling techniques aren’t as professional as polished PowerPoints, but you’d be wrong.
Some of these ideas may require breaking down years of marketing messaging “muscle memory,” or they may validate changes you are already making. In either case, make sure you are always critically examining your messaging instincts to make sure they are as good as your intentions, and you will be hitting more home runs.