I've messed up messaging twice before.
Both experiences were painful, but with five years distance between me and the most recent accident, I figured why not share?
Messaging, done wrong #1
Shortly after I started freelancing as a PR copywriter in 2017, I was asked by a client to enter a Facebook competition.
The prize was £100 and my bank balance looked a little sad at the time so instead of insisting that, as a professional, I should be guaranteed fair payment for delivery of all services, I gave it a bash.
I was one of three people who entered, and I devastatingly lost to the strapline: ‘That's one small step for a man, but one giant leap for your business.' I can’t even remember what my strapline was, but I doubt it was any better.
This section is called, ‘messaging done wrong’, but this is not an example of messaging. What I've shared is just words. Words that carry no information about what your product does or how it solves a problem can never be messaging, no matter how aspirational they sound.
For more reasons than one, I think of this episode as a career-low, so let’s hurry on to my second example of what not to do.
Messaging, done wrong #2
Sometimes things just don’t click like you expect them to.
In 2018, I had started freelance copywriting for a new client and was struggling with the new site copy I’d been asked to put together.
It was complex. There were several key audiences I was speaking to, each of which required different messages. Worst of all, there didn’t seem to be a way to fit all of their interests into the same strapline.
If I was in a film, I would be looping crumpled pieces of paper over my shoulder and into the bin. In reality, I was just hitting backspace a lot.
In the end, nothing really stuck, and we went for a line that I wasn’t that happy with. Again, I can’t remember what it was.
A few months later, my client decided to do a complete rebrand with a big agency. They would refresh all their marketing, including the messaging that I had put together. I felt like I had failed, but with no better ideas, I could only go to the meetings and see what the agency came up with.
Turns out they didn’t come up with anything better than I did. Reading through the concepts, I could see all the dead ends I had reached a few months before. It occurred to me that the brief was too big: we were trying to speak to too many people at once.
Our messaging was speaking in all-user emails, not hand-written notes.
What I assumed was my lack of ability, turned out to be a lack of perspective. I hadn’t thought to put the crowbar down and think about whether all the pieces of what we were trying to communicate would actually fit.
Sometimes, when you find yourself trying too hard, it’s because something’s wrong. How can you strip back to the fundamentals?
I always find less is more useful.
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Written by me, Alan*
*Everything on this site is! I focus on the full process behind growing software businesses with content. No skim-the-surface strategic recommendations or out-of-context tactical instructions. Only what you need to know.