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Messaging that will Shape Marketplace Perceptions

Very few financial products and services possess features and benefits that differentiate them in the marketplace. How then do some manage to build market share while others decline? The answer, in many cases, is that the sponsoring companies use powerful messaging to effectively shape target market perceptions. The marketing messages that are able to break through the marketplace clutter and make financial services offerings appealing to the marketplace are those that make an emotional connection with the target market. Well-crafted, market-driven messaging can completely change a product’s appeal simply by placing the marketing focus on specific benefits and attributes that are important to the customer.

The process of developing effective messaging consists of two important steps:

  • First, marketers must “listen to the marketplace” by conducting the research needed to understand the needs and wants of their target market
  • Then, they must craft key positioning statements and value propositions that most convincingly convey the product/service benefits that address those target market preferences.

We have seen far too many financial services organizations who believe that they thoroughly understand their target market, but then proceed to waste precious resources by developing marketing campaigns that address the organization’s perceptions, rather than the true concerns of the marketplace. Successful marketers know that rigorous market research is the key to crafting benefit-driven messaging that has a direct emotional appeal to target markets.

A Consumer Product Case Study

Experienced consumer marketers have become quite adept at honing effective messaging that can completely change a product’s appeal by simply focusing on different benefits and attributes. The history of one everyday consumer product category illustrates quite clearly the power of messaging to drive sales.

Although the toothbrush received a U.S. patent in the 1850s, most Americans did not regularly brush their teeth until after World War II. Soldiers overseas were required to brush their teeth as part of their regular daily routine and spread this practice upon their return home. The mass adoption of brushing by the population soon caused marketers to view toothpaste as a significant product category that held the promise of millions of dollars in sales. Colgate, Gleem and Pepsodent soon became the market leaders.

Then came Crest, the first toothpaste formula that contained fluoride and the first to receive (in 1960) an endorsement from the ADA. There was much to be said about fluoride and Crest said it well. So well in fact, that Crest maintained a dominant position in this category for the next two decades.

Competitors eventually grew tired of living in Crest’s shadow in this lucrative category. They responded by identifying specific consumer needs not directly addressed by fluoride, and telling consumers how their products’ unique benefits addressed those needs. For example: Sensodyne relieved the pain of sensitive teeth; Topol, the “smoker’s toothpaste,” removed nicotine stains; Arm & Hammer cleaned with the freshness of baking soda; Rembrandt whitened teeth; Close Up freshened breath; Tom’s was all-natural; Listerine controlled plaque and gingivitis; Biotene managed dry mouth; etc. Soon there was a proliferation of toothpaste varieties—each focused on a different benefit and supported by benefit-driven packaging and promotional messaging. As a result, by the early 1990s, consumer confusion in this category had reached an apex.

It was at this point that Colgate did some extensive marketing research and decided to take a different approach. They introduced Total, a new formula that addressed multiple needs. Among other product improvements, Total contained the antibacterial ingredient triclosan to fight gingivitis along with gantrez, which allows triclosan to remain active between brushings. The well-orchestrated launch capitalized on consumer confusion and the messaging focused on how this new product addressed all the significant needs revealed in their research. The product was an instant success. It immediately became the best seller in the category and built a 35% market share in only two months.

Everyone knows that product/service messaging must focus on customer benefits. The saga of the “Toothpaste Wars,” however, demonstrates one of the most important and least understood factors in the development of powerful messaging—the need to determine whether product/service benefits are independent or interdependent. Our experience shows that messaging is most effective when it recognizes and links interdependent benefits. In order to identify interdependent product/service benefits and incorporate them into comprehensive messages, marketers must first conduct focused marketing research and careful analysis. It can often spell the difference between marketplace success and failure.

Do Not Read Beyond This Point

Unfortunately for financial services marketers, it is not enough to simply create strong, differentiated messaging. Success depends on making sure that those messages are read. We believe that there is a significantly underutilized, time-proven concept that can help marketers create interest and readership—the power of NO. Every one of us grew up with daily reprimands of what not to do, say, eat, touch or want. As a result, NO has become one of the most powerful words in the English language. It invariably evokes a natural curiosity to find out what we are being deprived of. Yet this power is seldom harnessed for financial promotion. Perhaps most marketers intuitively feel that people aren’t comfortable with a negative approach.

We submit, however, that a properly positioned negative message will get more attention—and readership—than positive statements. Probably the most succinct, poignant and elegant example of negative messaging is the Ten Commandments, nine of which start with “Thou shall not…” A fundamental law of messaging is to first get the reader’s attention. Therefore, don’t minimize the power of NO!

The Bottom Line

The creation of strong, benefit-driven messaging is more art than science. It involves a series of interrelated decisions: prioritizing customer needs and wants; determining which benefits are interdependent; matching consumer needs with product benefits; and, finally, deciding how to communicate these benefits in a way that will have the greatest market appeal. There is no doubt that messaging—with its ability to shape marketplace perceptions—is a major determinant of a product/service offering’s marketplace success.