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How to easily make creative messaging decisions

When Millward Brown conducted studies on the odds a viewer would recall an advertising message, they found the odds of recall with just one key message was 100%. With two messages? The chances went down to 65%. It continued to drop from there.

The more messages you try to communicate, the more likely you will fail to communicate any message.

This is why developing the skill to make difficult creative messaging decisions is critical.

B2B = complexity

One of the biggest job hazards in the B2B marketing space is being handed 40+ pages of sales sheets, marketing decks, questionnaire responses and other random materials at the start of a project and having to distill them down to a single theme or message.

When I was younger I would let the amount of data overwhelm me. I see a lot of our clients struggle with this presently. Typically the detail overwhelms the decision-making process and the decision is to simply say everything. That leads to video ads with 32 different messages; or landing pages that go on for miles without any memorable theme.

The issue is as old as time: it’s hard to see the forest through the trees.

But fear not, because I’ve figured out a handy way of making creative messaging decisions, especially in the B2B space (where complexity is merely table stakes).

Worry about the big weight first

Think of the last time you were weighed at the doctor’s office. Your nurse had you stand on the scale, sized you up, then clunked the big weight on the top of the scale to the 50 pound range he or she estimated your weight to be in. 

Then they checked their guess with the small weight by moving it quickly from left to right. If the scale tipped to the other side, they knew they got the range right. If it didn’t, they would move the big weight to the neighboring 50-pound range and re-check.

The principle here is before the nurse can get your precise weight, they have to be in the correct range. If they’re in the wrong 50-pound range, no amount of manipulation of the small weight will get them an accurate measurement.

The same goes for creative messaging problems.

I typically witness marketing teams trying to dial in a creative decision by sifting through the details – the equivalent of starting with the small weight.

The easier way is to start the decision making process by being less precise. Throw detail out and focus on the big things first. Make the complex messaging decision off of the big things first, then bring the detail back in once you’re in the right creative 50-pound range.

The more messages you try to communicate, the more likely you will fail to communicate any message.

What are the big things?

The big things vary but they’re usually the things that everyone on your team takes for granted. The givens. The ones that require no nuance or detail to understand.

Another way to think about it: these are “grunts.” Think about a caveperson who can only string together short phrases. How would they describe what you’re taking 100 words to say in just 3 or 4?

Let’s imagine we’re a new company trying to gain awareness. We need to announce who we are and what we do. Below is a detailed version and a grunt version.

Detail version: We can boost efficiency by decreasing downtime. We help B2B manufacturing companies in the middle market protect their infrastructure from cyber threats. We have amazing project management and offer long-term consulting agreements for growing companies. Our workforce is offshore, nearshore and on-shore. We’re also developing a SaaS solution for companies with their own IT departments that will come out next year.

Grunt version: Cyber for manufacturing

The “grunt” version allows you to lower the resolution of the issue to appropriately focus your attention on the significant issue.

The “detail version” above can trick you into focusing on the wrong stuff. Or worse yet, make you focus on everything - which is not focusing at all!

Once you have the big-weight “grunt” version, you can fill in the detail that supports that grunt. That may or may not include all the other details. The big paradigm shift here is that it’s understood that everything else is merely support, not the significant message.





Picture of Guy bauer, founder of umault

Guy has been making commercial videos for over 20 years and is the author of “Death to the Corporate Video: A Modern Approach that Works.” He started the agency in 2010 after a decade of working in TV, film and radio. He’s been losing hair and gaining weight ever since.

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