I've written quite a few articles about building and launching a viral marketing campaign over the past couple of years. In general, I write about the brainstorming process or how to put your pitches together. In this new series, I'll be looking at the six key components that make people remember a message and therefore, make it more likely they'll pass it on.

(I've pulled these six components from Chip and Dan Heath's Made to Stick and put my own spin on them.)

Part One: The Need for Simplicity Part Two: Deliver the Unexpected

When it comes to getting your point across in a marketing or viral message, there's no room to be vague. You have to focus in on your message and deliver it in a way that's crystal clear. Unfortunately, many companies fall into the trap of speaking in generalities. Why? Because it's easy. Companies tout lines like "we do the right thing" or "we have the lowest prices" and fail to get specific enough to differentiate themselves from the dozens (or hundreds) of other companies touting the exact same thing.

This is where the third key point from Made to Stick comes in.

Be Concrete

If you want a message to stick and stick well, it needs to be concrete. That means you need to take your unique value proposition and explain it in such a way that it's easily understood. Saying "we're fast" is not concrete because what I define as fast and what you define as fast are not likely to be the same.

For example, let's consider words and pictures.

If I asked you to picture something "colorful" in your mind, I'd be asking you to do something that was not concrete. I'd be giving you a general idea of what I wanted, but it would be up to you to work out the details. On the other hand, if I showed you the following picture, I'd be giving you a concrete example of what I mean when I say "colorful."

colorful flowers

The key to remember when it comes to offering up concrete marketing messages is that you need to spell it out. A selling point is broad; good customer service, low prices, speedy delivery or great selection. A good marketing message is concrete; free overnight shipping, find a lower price and we'll give you 10% back, delivered in 30 minutes or it's free or "enough books to stretch to the moon and back, twice."

Making Your Message Concrete

So let's build an example here to show the difference between a broad selling point and a concrete message.

Let's say you run a small town plumbing business. You decide that your selling point is quick service. After all, who wants to sit around all day waiting for a plumber to show up? You're small, you have a tight budget and you don't have a lot of time to craft your marketing message. You might put together an ad like this one:

a1 speedy plumber

The name of the company is "A-1 Speedy Rooter" and the ad touts their 24/7 service line. I see where they're trying to go with this, but they're still being fairly general in their message. There is nothing that gets across exactly what makes them speedy, thus you have no reason to believe they'll live up to your expectations.

A better option would be to come up with a concrete (i.e. clearly and fully defined) example of how and why you are speedy. With that in mind, I sat down and thought about how I might create a concrete message for a plumber who wanted to promote quick and speedy service.

My first thought was "we need to put a dollar amount on this." It doesn't have to be a ton of money, but it needs to be enough to make it clear the guarantee will be taken seriously on the part of the company. That means it will also be taken seriously by the customer. $50 is a nice round number that is still a small portion of your typical plumber bill, but is enough to catch someone's eye in terms of savings.

Since a plumber should show up when they say they will show up (or before), I also figured it was safe to go with "on time" as the guarantee. If the company tells you they will be there by 5pm, they better be there by 5pm.

Now, if you're looking to give something viral potential, it's handy to throw a little dose of humor in there. In trying to come up with a humorous and creative twist, I found myself thinking back to some of the plumbing work we had done when our basement drains backed up. Plumbers tend to deal with a lot of...crap. A plumber's equipment (and sometimes the plumber) can easily pick up some unpleasant odors. Now obviously a good plumber is going to take care of those odors before they come to your home, but we all know many of them don't.

So, that was my final "hook" in my concrete message. Here's what I came up with:

new ad of plumber

If you take a look at the message in the first ad and the message in the second ad you'll have a great example of the difference between a broad selling point and a concrete message. One implies the service is fast, but leaves it up to you to determine what that means. The second spells it out crystal clear.

Take some time to think about the message you are trying to push. Share your message with a friend or family member and ask them to tell you what they think it means. If they can't, or if their interpretation doesn't match up with yours, chances are high your idea is not yet concrete. Head back to the drawing board and try again.

In part four of this series, I'll take a look at building a message that carries credibility.

October 28, 2008

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

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Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Six Keys to a Viral Message that Sticks - Part Three: Be Concrete