Breaking Up [Your Message] is Hard to Do

In the world of marketing, you’re under constant pressure to communicate as much as possible in the shortest amount of time. You only have a moment to grab your audience’s attention, make it memorable, and persuade them to take that crucial next step.

Here’s the Problem:

Your positioning strategy is a page long. Your key messages are paragraphs. Your unique selling prop (USP) has multiple bullet points. Your value prop is a complicated, run-on sentence not ready for prime time.

And, while you understand the pitfalls of over-communication, the temptation to say as much as possible remains strong. After all, you have a wealth of persuasive material. Omitting important details could result in lost customers.


Practical Steps for Effective Messaging

You’ve heard the cliché less is more. But how do you get there? What’s the process when it’s not cut and dried? Why does condensing complex ideas into engaging copy feel like an impossible task—especially when you’re selling products and services with multi-syllabic qualifiers, further complicated by legal requirements?

Whether your messaging is B2B, B2C, or B2G, the connection you’re trying to make is ultimately P2P (person-to-person). The clearer your communication, the better chance you have of connecting to your audience. If you want to break up your message into more digestible content without losing impact, you’ll need to put together a process that translates those lengthy strategies into concise messaging.

Here are some best practices to help you prioritize key messages, simplify your language, navigate legal requirements, and enhance your impact.


Start with the Story

Easy to understand. Easy to remember. Easy to share.

Like less is more, you've probably heard the cliché tell your story repeated a lot these days. Marketers recognize that story is a powerful device. A story organizes disconnected ideas into logically ordered narrative elements. It transforms abstract ideas into accessible, relatable concepts. But most importantly, a story has the power to engage, inspire, and connect with your audience on the deepest emotional levels.

Story is arguably the highest form of effective communication.

For those unfamiliar with narrative elements applied to marketing, Donald Miller’s StoryBrand is a great place to start. Here’s how he reframes a value prop within a customer-centric narrative:

A character (customer) faces a problem (root problem/villain), until they meet a guide (your brand) who gives them a plan (unique selling prop, authority), helping them transform into the hero they want to be (customer goal coupled with brand promise).

Take these two examples.

  1. Since 1931, Allstate Insurance has been helping people realize their hopes and dreams through products and services designed to protect them from life’s uncertainties and prepare them for the future.
  2. Don’t let mayhem catch you off guard. Allstate helps you save money and be better protected from unexpected incidents. Are you in good hands?

Which is easier to understand, remember, and share?

Number one is informational. It places emphasis on the company, not the customer. As a run-on-sentence, it's nearly impossible to break into smaller parts and still make sense. And yet, there are still brands out there using this approach for their primary message.

Number two identifies—and personifies—the root problem. It empathizes with the audience's frustration, placing the customer at the center of a relatable story. It aligns the brand promise with their desired future state. Not only is it concise, but each statement can stand on its own.

That’s how you tell the story.


Write for the Customer Journey

Do you know the difference between a sales funnel and a customer journey?

Both help visualize the multi-stage process of how prospects turn into loyal customers. But only one of them focuses on how your audience thinks. The difference between a sales funnel and customer journey is perspective.

It may sound like splitting hairs, but when you write for the customer journey, when you see through the eyes of your audience, you gain invaluable objectivity. You understand which information is important for which stage. Through this process, you can eliminate what’s unnecessary.

How? Consider this:

SCENARIO: You’re schmoozing at some corporate networking function. When asked what you do, you reply, “Well, I was born in 1972 and for over 30 years I've set myself apart as a recognized industry leader with deep expertise in SpecialServeTM, demonstrating commitment to excellence for customer needs.”

Who talks like this?

You’d never introduce yourself this way. So then, why do so many brands fall into the trap of leading with their résumé? Why do their headlines include unintelligible features and synergistic trademarks? Probably because they believe it’s important to establish credibility, quality, and experience. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s everything wrong with where it’s placed in terms of what’s important to the audience.

Bury the Lead (Lede) [berē thuh lēd]
def. Emphasizing unimportant information that takes the rightful place of important information.

The above definition is my own. Here’s why I phrased it that way: unimportant information is only unimportant in context. Let’s look at the customer journey:

  1. Awareness: I just found this.
  2. Engagement: This might help me. I want to learn more.
  3. Action: I’m going to try it.
  4. Return: That was great, let’s do it again.
  5. Recommendation: This could help a friend I know.
  6. Advocate: Everyone should know about this.

SCENARIO: Your audience are C-Suite executives who manage Ambulatory Surgery Centers facing shortages, supply chain costs, and market consolidation challenges. Consider these two messages addressing them:

  1. What if you could restore peak efficiency and cut costs in one move?
  2. Get one point of contact, reliable supply, and a comprehensive portfolio.

Which one is best for the engagement stage? Which one is best for the awareness stage? Neither message is unimportant. But their level of importance—and effectiveness—increases when placed at the right stage of the customer journey.

Your audience will never experience your entire narrative in one sitting. Trying to say everything at once will inevitably bury the lead, because not everything can be important in every stage. Understanding where your customer is on their journey helps you eliminate what’s unnecessary and focus on what’s important.


Great Messaging is So 5th Grade

Vertically Integrated. Enterprise Solutions. Comprehensive. Streamlined. Next-Generation.

You may want to sit down for this.

When it comes to messaging, these types of words don't sound professional. They don’t demonstrate authority. They don’t enhance credibility. What do they do? They complicate your message. They sound pretentious. They confuse and can even alienate your audience.

It’s hard to hear. It’s even harder to fight against.

Especially in the corporate world, messaging suffers from Jargon Culture. Within a business, there’s a need for efficient communication, and jargon can serve as valuable shorthand for those in the know. But heavy reliance on jargon in your messaging has the opposite effect.

Ironically, simplifying your message is a complex process. It’s hard work. It takes time. And if we’re being honest, that’s one reason jargon persists: it’s quicker and easier than taking the time to simplify complex ideas. Not to mention, you understand jargon with no problem. So why shouldn’t your audience? Do they even care? Aren’t they smart? Don’t they prefer language that isn’t dumbed down?

They do care.
They are smart.
They prefer simplicity.

Here’s the good news:

You can join the Anti-Jargon Revolution. Sound radical? It doesn’t have to be. Like the rudder of a huge ship, with small simple steps you can steer your brand away from jargon and chart a course for clarity.

  1. Write for a 5th Grade Level: Even audiences with advanced degrees love simple communication. But how can you apply it to finances, science, healthcare, government and other complex industries? For those struggling, try ChatGPT. Simply enter your current messaging and ask it to rewrite for a 5th grade level. It won’t be perfect, but it will give you a great starting point.

  2. Stay Well-Read: Literature. Poetry. Fiction. It opens you up to a wider vocabulary. It provides examples of visual language—language you can use to paint the picture for your audience. Which sounds more appealing:
    1. With these optimized procedures you can streamline messaging with scalable solutions and leverage optimal communication across every channel.
    2. Like the rudder of a huge ship, with small simple steps you can steer your brand away from jargon and chart a course for clarity.

  3. Bury It: When there’s no way around it and you’re absolutely required to write, “Integrated Enterprise Solutions,” bury it in the body copy. And, if you’ve done your job to create a compelling message using narrative elements, jargon will never get a chance to steal the spotlight. It simply can’t compete (pun intended).

Make Friends with Legal and Compliance

You finally have your messaging on point. You removed the jargon. You simplified your language. You built a strong narrative with a customer journey perspective. Everything has glowing reviews from Marketing Communications all the way up to the CMO. All that’s left is final approval. Then, you’re handed back a bloodbath of redlines:

You can’t mention both ideas in one sentence—it could be misleading.
You can’t use anything except the full trademarked phrase.
You can’t prove that. It’s unsubstantiated.
You can’t quote that without permission.
You can’t use that without a citation.
You can’t say that. It’s a claim.
You can’t delete that word.
You can’t say that.

It can feel extremely discouraging. Nothing rains harder on your parade than, “you can’t.” It’s such a harsh rejection. Why does legal and compliance have to be such a wet blanket?

Wet blankets save lives.1

The unsung heroes of the marketing world are the people who prevent companies from suffering lawsuits, liabilities, financial risk and any other legal matters that might threaten the organization.

General Counsel, Compliance Officers, Regulatory Affairs... they are your best ally, not your worst enemy. If you want to develop messaging that’s as compliant as it is creative, start here:

  1. Collaborate Early and Avoid Painful Rewrites
    This is not promoting death by committee. Collaboration doesn’t mean working shoulder-to-shoulder on every detail. Develop a positive relationship with your legal colleagues. You don’t have to be BFFs. Simply ask them for feedback on your messaging—and be sure it’s during the draft stage. After a while, you’ll learn to see with their eyes, and be able to anticipate red flags. And thank them. By showing genuine gratitude you’ll build a better working relationship.

  2. Negotiate with Open Questions
    Red tape, restrictions, and even self-imposed company guidelines can leave your messaging dead on arrival. When you hear, “you can’t...” it’s because your message has been categorized into a binary, black and white, yes-or-no decision-making process.

    In Warren Berger’s The Book of Beautiful Questions, he writes that binary decisions are simply answers to closed questions. Does the message comply? Yes or No? However, when you follow up with an open question like, “What would make this message comply?” or “Which part of this presents the biggest problem?” you can unearth the root cause and propose altered versions.

    Turn “you can’t...” into "let’s talk...” The decision might still be a difficult one, but at least you will have considered every possibility.

  3. Replace Claims with Beliefs
    Helps, designed to, aimed at, may improve, contributes to, potentially impacts... Do you recognize these phrases? While they’re great for avoiding absolute statements, they’re also great at increasing the word count, and watering down the impact. Another way to avoid unsubstantiated claims and still retain a strong message is by reframing it as a philosophical belief—a statement that anyone can agree with. Here’s the difference:

    CLAIM: Advisory services so you stop losing sleep over your financial future.
    LEGAL: Advisory services designed to help secure your financial future.
    BELIEF: No one should have to lose sleep over the security of their savings.

    This approach also demonstrates how you can take a strong stance on an important issue, show empathy, and build trust with your audience (a key narrative element in your story).

Become Message-Curious

STOP. Don’t delete that cold email. Don’t tune out your Spotify commercial. Don’t skip the YouTube ad. Take a moment and evaluate if you can identify why it doesn’t speak to you:

  • Trying to say too much
  • Boring info instead of a captivating story
  • Focus on the company, not the customer
  • Burying the lead with unimportant information
  • Overly complex language that’s hard to understand

Also, take time to think about the brands that resonate with you. Think of the brands you love. What about their messaging spoke to you? What brands are you considering now?

  • Can you place yourself in the customer journey for each one?
  • Does their message contain narrative elements?
  • Do they simplify complex ideas and avoid jargon?
  • Do they use belief statements?

When you pull back the curtain on your favorite brands, you’ll start to see many of these principles overlapping. And by understanding real-world examples, you can reverse-engineer solutions and start using them for yourself.


Not Sure Where to Start?

We love helping our clients develop powerful messaging to build their brand, achieve their business goals, and resonate with their audience. At Liquid, we specialize in helping you develop creative strategies to propel you forward—and maintain momentum. Contact us today to learn more.

1. Wet blankets save lives: This hyperbolic phrase is presented for illustrative purposes only and should not be construed as factual or medical advice. While wet blankets may have certain uses in specific emergency situations, they are not a comprehensive or guaranteed life-saving measure.