Key Messages: Connecting With and Compelling Your Audience to Action

One of my favorite parts of the “creative process” isn’t what most people consider “creative” at all — it’s the process of spending time to research and understand my situation, my target audience and my competition. To most this seems like drudge-work. To me it’s like being the detective in a mystery novel. The more I can learn and the more I can understand what I learn the better I’m able to develop key messages that will resonate with that audience.

The first step — narrowly defining a target audience. Not “women between the ages of 25-55,” but young mothers with children in grade school who have a mid-range family income, work outside the home and are active in community events.” We could, of course, take this even further — and, indeed, if we were actually creating a communication plan we would.

Once I know my target audience, I want to understand what drives them. What are their motivations? What do they care about? Considering what I have to offer, what might their potential objections be? What might be some barriers that might keep them from connecting with me?

I also want to understand their “consideration set” — when they’re in the market for what I have to offer, what other options do they have? My “competition,” so to speak. Once I know what the competition is, I need to compare what the competition has to offer to what I have to offer relative to what’s important to my target audience and identify relevant gaps. Both gaps in my favor, and not in my favor, will help to drive key messages.

Key messages are the “talking points” that I will use in all of my communication materials to get my point across to my target audience and, hopefully, compel them to some action (or belief). Basically, what I’m trying to do with key messages is to get my target audience to “do, think or believe” something.

I will need to develop both primary and secondary key messages.

Primary messages contain two parts: 1) What do I want my audience to do, think or believe? 2) How does what I want them to do, think or believe appeal to their self-interest? In other words “what’s in it for them”? This is the benefit part of the statement and it will be based in large part on what I have learned about my target audience.

Secondary messages could be thought of as “proof points” — what evidence do I have to offer to support my primary message.

For instance, suppose I’m promoting a fitness program to my target audience. Based on my research I’ve determined that staying healthy and fit is very important to them. I also know that they’re very busy and don’t have a lot of time to invest. In addition, I’ve learned that they are skeptical of many of the “lose weight fast” or “get in shape with no effort” claims that are on the market.

My primary message might be: “XYZ Healthcare’s Fitness First program helps you get fit with a time commitment of less than 30 minutes a day.”

My secondary message might be: “The program is supported by XYZ Healthcare center, a world-renowned provider, and based on the research of Dr. ABC, who has worked with ### patients, like (testimonials).”

Note that we haven’t even yet considered how we will get these messages to our audience — the tactics, like billboards or direct mail or social media. Despite the fact that most people thinking about marketing something start with the howsuccessful marketing requires more what.  What do you know about your target market and your competition? What do you know about how your product/service can meet your target audience’s needs? What do you know about how you product/service can be differentiated from the competition?

Only until you have answered those questions — and created your key messages — are you ready to think about the communication tools you will use to carry those messages.

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