Post date: 14th May 2020

I’ve been fortunate to be a marketing professional for over two decades, mostly focused on B2B financial services. I like to think I’ve learnt a few things and one of the most important is the ability to recognise and appropriate a really great concept or idea. In my mind, this means adapting it to my needs and not just doing a ‘cut & paste’. It’s like with cooks and their recipes, recognising very few ‘new’ recipes are actually new. Most are just variations or adaptions, sometimes significant and other times subtle.

One of my all-time favourite ‘go to’ marketing concepts is the test of ‘memorable, meaningful & truthful’ when developing a new message. I learned this from a doyen of the advertising industry, and I’ve been using it ever since.

The essence of marketing is ‘influencing’. A marketer’s goal is to make a specific group of people think or act in a specific way about a specific thing. There are many parts to this, but I want to focus on messaging. How do you decide if your message is good enough to influence your specific audience? My advertising doyen told me to pass muster, a message had to satisfy three requirements:

Memorable – does it cut through the noise?

Meaningful – will it make the audience care enough to act?

Truthful – is it credible and believable? Does it feel right?

The test sounds obvious and rather simple, but B2B marketing is littered with messages that fail at least one, maybe several of these criteria. Finding a slogan, tag line or key message that actually meets all three is a challenge. I can’t think of any equivalents to Nike’s ‘JUST DO IT’ in the financial services industry.

Why do so many scoff at high street banks’ advertising? The answer is most don’t find it truthful, let alone memorable. Creating a message that is memorable, meaningful and truthful is hard work. It takes huge effort, time and skill. In smaller firms they may not have the resources, especially when the founder is faced with competing priorities. In larger firms the need for ‘buy in’ across departments and levels often leads to a bland outcome. The messaging equivalent of the lowest common denominator.

Let’s agree a test is needed and the effort worthwhile, which leads to asking, ‘how does it work?’ Recognising the audience’s reaction is what matters, not yours, is vital. Experience shows that people use the same words and mean different things or use different words to mean the same thing. Its best to ask them what they think before you move to full-on broadcast mode. And don’t ask them what they think generally, ask them with each of the three elements in mind, as you really need all three to click. Even asking a small group of clients is better than simply relying on your own ‘echo chamber’.

Assuming you now have a message which has been validated in a sensible way, what happens next? My preference is to then edit it again, aiming to make it as short and as punchy as possible. In addition, simplify the language as much as possible and remove any technical or industry jargon. Explaining complex issues using everyday language demonstrates real understanding and we all wish was more common.

If you operate across regions with different languages and cultures, then translate the message and test again. Poor translation or not appreciating cultural differences has led to more than one campaign failing.

A final consideration before you build your campaign to get the message out. If possible, scale the rollout rather than go ‘big bang’ and keep testing. In the initial part of any campaign, you will always discover subtle ways to refine it further, so ensure your campaign has a sensible feedback loop and act on what it tells you. The ability to course-correct in real time is a vital skill for any marketing professional and another sign of a good campaign.

Amidst the current Covid-19 crisis, we do not yet know its long-term impact on business and marketing in particular. We do know that at a time like this, messaging becomes highly sensitive. No one wants to come across as ‘tone-deaf’ and already we have seen reputations made or broken. It seems expectations for what is memorable and meaningful shifted quickly and significantly in reaction to the crisis and the lockdown. In time these expectations will likely revert back as the lockdown lifts and the crisis passes. Many believe this shift is already underway as business resumes.

The one area I believe expectations have changed more permanently is around the standard for ‘truthful’. It has gone way up and will stay up as everyone has been reminded just how fragile our lives and lifestyles really are. Going forward, we will all take things less for granted and it will be a long time, if ever, that we return to our pre-crisis comfort zones.

To be credible in the future will be a lot harder than it has been in the past.