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Two ways to test your product messaging for impact

While having tons of great ideas is necessary as an entrepreneur, what you really need is a way to message those ideas in a way that speaks to potential customers – and gets them to open their wallets. There’s nothing worse than having a moment of clarity, coming up with a “billion dollar idea,” then flopping on execution because the perfect solution had an imperfect message.

It happens more than you think. 14% of businesses fail due to poor marketing. A further 42% fail due to a lack of need for their products or services, many of which probably failed more due to lack of communicating with the right customers than the whole market not wanting their services.

Messaging connects solutions to customers

context is about messaging

As product positioning guru April Dunford said, products need context, not feature descriptions. The example she used was a violin player. On the streets, he is a beggar with a violin. In an orchestra, he’s a magnificent musician and people cough up thousands to hear him play.

It’s all about context. And context is all about messaging.

The two tests that I’ve used to create and vet messaging ideas brand campaigns and even whole companies are the RIBS test and the SUCCESS test.

Sticking to the RIBS

Test idea fundamentals with the RIBS framework

The RIBS test, standing for Relevant, Inevitable, Believable, Simple, is a framework that gets to the fundamentals behind a message.

Relevant

There are always stories of businesses that failed due to being too early or too late to the market. The same goes for messaging. The communications you put out have to be relevant to what your target market wants to hear and is talking about.

Inevitable

However, messages can’t be too present-focused or you won’t gain interest. After all, you’re solving a problem for someone, so you need to talk about the great future they will have with your solution. Therefore, your message must also be inevitable. In other words, what you offer has to be tied to current circumstances but present a future that, at some point, people will look back on and claim it was obvious that would happen.

Believable

Connecting to the message being inevitable, it also has to be believable in order for people to buy in. Believability has as much to do with time as it does the idea itself. People may believe flying cars are inevitable, but very few will believe you if your messaging claims you’ll provide that technology in the next two years.

Simple

Finally, the message must be simple so that your audience understands it, the media knows how to talk about it, and your message can permeate casual conversation. This is not only the words you use, but the concepts behind it. Crucially, simplicity is not the same as dumbing down the message; it’s about making sure you discuss the benefits to the user in a clear way.

Setting yourself up for SUCCESS

See how tangible your idea is with the SUCCESS framework

While RIBS offers a mental deep-dive into the fundamentals of a message, SUCCESS (derived from the book Made to Stick), is all about the functional uses of your message. This analysis is more about whether the message will drive action as opposed to whether it will be remembered.

SUCCESS stands for Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Stories, and Social.

Simple

In the same vein as the RIBS framework, simple messaging means using language and explaining concepts that are intuitive and make sense to a wide range of people. In the context of action, simplicity means giving people one thing to do. This could either be something they already know how to do (like clicking a link) or something you can easily teach them (like downloading an app).

Unexpected

In order to prompt action, you must “interrupt” someone’s day. The average person sees thousands of ads per day, so your message will drown if it doesn’t catch attention. Being unexpected does that. Created unexpectedness can be done through content of the message or how you deliver the message; for example, focusing on controversy in your message or breaking the norm of a specific channel, like when glammed-up celebrities post no-makeup selfies on Instagram.

Concrete

The concreteness of your message is how “real” it is. For example: ‘Drive to the store today’ is more concrete than ‘think about buying some time’. In order for messages to drive action, they must sit in the real world and have action implied or explicitly attached. In most cases, concrete messages include a verb, giving the viewer direction as to which actions they need to take (aka the one you want them to take).

Credible

Credibility refers to the source – implied or actual – for the message.

From a messenger perspective, credibility refers to the person’s authority on a subject. For example, a doctor has more credibility than a plumber when it comes to talking about medicine and health. Sometimes, the person’s credibility comes from their trust factor – a celebrity with a good public image for being trustworthy can be valuable to a brand even if they don’t have subject matter expertise.

From a product perspective, credibility refers to the implied value of the materials. For example, cotton is known to be softer and more durable than polyester, and thus higher quality.

When you create a message, it must have a relevant credibility marker in order for people to respect the action you want them to take.

Emotional

Emotions prompt action, so your message has to make people feel something. A Harvard professor found that up to 95% of purchasing decisions are made with the subconscious mind, an area of the brain highly emotion-driven.

Targeting the right emotion – anger, fear, resentment, happiness, ecstasy, sexuality, etc. – depends on what action you want people to take and the thing people are buying.

When crafting a message, look for underlying emotions that it plays to. Are you confronting a fear? Dispelling a myth? Offering the chance of pleasure?

Stories

People remember stories 10 times more frequently than they remember stats, so a powerful message has to contain a story.

How to make a story

The five basic story elements are:

  1. Characters – Your users are the characters, so they have to be included in the story somehow (either directly in a narrative message or the audience of the message).
  2. Setting – The setting is anywhere that your product or service gets used, depending on the message you’re putting out.
  3. Plot – Most message plots will be something along the lines of your characters living a regular life (until the conflict).
  4. Conflict – The conflict is the problem that customers (characters) face on a regular basis.
  5. Resolution – Your product or service.

Social

Not originally in the Made to Stick framework (initially it was ‘SUCCES’ without the second “S” on the end), Social is all about sparking conversation. Social media giants like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram see themselves as online communities, meaning the posts and messages that cause reactions and conversation rise to the top.

This gave way to a big problem: fake news. People would happily comment about how fake something is, unwittingly giving that post more screen time because the backend algorithms were happy the post generated engagement. However, truthful posts can be equally engaging if the message provides the right mix of emotions, stories, credibility, and the other SUCCESS factors.

One unique element of social media is that your messages must spark some form of curiosity for people to click through and learn more. It’s easy to keep scrolling past a digital ad, so once you’ve successfully interrupted someone’s scrolling you’ll need to pique their curiosity.

Ribbing your way to success

Both frameworks will get you towards tighter messaging that features solid fundamentals and a bias towards action for viewers. If you’re creating a brand new message, run some tests on it first (a cheap digital ad campaign or try it out in person at your next conference) to see how it rides. The last thing you want is a huge investment that doesn’t resonate.

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Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst

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