As a product marketer, you know your products inside and out - all their great features and how they can solve your customers’ problems, and this makes it tempting to share the nitty-gritty details when it comes to crafting your materials.
In my experience, the more concise the messaging the more successful the results, and in this article, I’ll explain why, give you an example of how we did it with Dotdash’s recent Odyssey product, and how you can implement the same techniques to simplify your message for maximum impact using the simple framework.
I am one of three kids, I have an older sister and a younger brother. I'm the classic, middle, or classic classic since I'm the second girl. I don't know if your family is like mine, but my parents have a handful of stories that they always go to to talk about us when we were kids. Eventually, it gets to the point where you can recount these stories as if they're your own memory even though I have no recollection of half of them.
Talk like a two-year-old
One of my mom's favorites is when I actually said my first sentence, to paint a picture, I was in the kitchen with my older sister and she decided that mom and dad weren't in the room and she was going to rescue the cookies from the cookie jar.
We didn't just have a cookie jar that was sitting on a counter it was actually up in a cabinet so that required her to pull over a chair, get onto the counter, open the cabinet, she went up to grab the cookie jar, at which point I ran into the living room and said to my mom, "mommy sissy's up high".
So for better or worse, my mom ran into the kitchen and caught Jen in the act of rescuing the cookies. To this day, she hasn't thanked me for her not getting a broken bone. She said that was my debut into tattletale-ing.
But what's interesting about this, is that two-year-olds or kids in general, they have the ability to capture something in a moment and simplify it, make sure that it's concise and actionable, and focus on the things that matter. I didn't go in and tell my mom "Hey, there's cookies" or say all these random words. I just said "Mommy sissy's up high" because I knew that would get her attention.
I actually have a two-year-old and something I've noticed is very similar to how she'll just say things that are the most obvious things.
In this article, I want to talk a little bit about how you can get concise, relevant messages, and what the challenge is today that we're not as precise as two-year-olds. But before getting into all that detail just to give you a little background about what I do on a day to day basis.
I work at Dotdash, which used to be about About.com, you're probably more familiar with About.com if you ever ended up on the site when you were in high school or college. We rebranded to Dotdash a couple of years ago, which for those of you who are curious, it's the A in Morse code, dot-dash.
About Health was converted to Very Well, About Food became the Spruce. So you might have been familiar with some of these other brands, and most recently, we acquired Investopedia and Byrdie in my domain.
Essentially, what we do on a day to day basis is we have about 90 million unique views, and we help people solve problems. I know every brand likes to help people solve problems, but we do it in the most mundane way like "what are you making for dinner? Or how do I apply for a mortgage?".
It turns out a lot of people are navigating these regular mundane challenges day to day so that's what the Dotdash family of sites does.
What I do is, I'm responsible for identifying, packaging, and communicating our product offerings to the marketplace, which means I connect the dots internally, as I'm sure most of you reading as product marketers do.
I work very closely with the site and content team, and then also the sales team to ensure that whatever the editorial priorities are, are things that we could actually take to market. In my role, I have to tailor my message to be relevant to whoever I'm speaking to.
So if I'm talking to the head of front end engineering it's going to be a very different conversation than if I'm talking to the head of sales, the angle is the same, but how I craft the message is going to be very different.
Since this is about a TL;DR, for those of you who aren't familiar with TL;DR, it means too long, didn't read. Often nowadays, it's just like a summary of what the article is. This is this article’s TL;DR.
I'm a huge Mad Men fan, hopefully, some of you appreciate Don Draper as well, and this is just wisdom from Don Draper that we're going to dive into in a little more depth.
How we got here
Before talking about the framework, I first just want to context set and talk a little bit about how we got where we're at. It's surprising that it's so hard to get our messages through to our audiences being that technological innovations have actually helped us go from writing letters to communicate all the way to sending a text message or FaceTiming.
It's pretty incredible where we're at nowadays.
It's unlocked so many avenues to foster better communication, but here we are struggling to be heard. I think that there are three key challenges with real-world message delivery.
Three key challenges to real-world message delivery
- Information overload - That's on the part of the consumer and we're all consumers day to day as well, so you could be sympathetic to that.
- Explosion of big data
- Speed of change - Decisions have to be made more quickly than ever before.
We've gone from being exposed to about 500 ads a day back in the 1970s, to as many as 5000 ads today. This study was actually from 2006 so I'm sure that we're exposed to even more ads on a day to day basis now.
What's crazy, if you think about it is in the 1970s if an advertiser placed an ad on one of the big three networks, so that's ABC, CBS, and NBC, they could actually reach 70% of the viewing audience. That's incredible. Definitely not something that you can do today.
We're combating the quantity of messages that consumers receive on a day to day basis and what's happened is that consumers have started tuning out the noise, I'm sure you've heard that saying before, and what they're doing is they have ad blockers. They have email filters, we have DVR and TiVo and they become really selective about the conversations that they are willing to have with brands.
So we're challenged with making sure that our message is concise, relevant, and actionable and we're trying to compete with all these other messages.
How can we succeed? It's definitely created a problem for us.
Explosion of data
The second aspect and blocker I like to call it is the amount of data that's available. Over the last two years, 90% of the data in the world was created.
According to an IBM study, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are produced every day. I didn't know what quintillion was, I hadn't heard of it, so I looked it up - there are 18 zeros in quintillion for those of you who are curious, which means there's so much more information at our fingertips.
It's not like the 70s or the 80s or even 10 years ago where you really had to dig deep to try to find the proof points to communicate what you were trying to prove. Nowadays, we have so much information it can be overwhelming.
I don't know if you’ve been in that situation where you're trying to craft that message and convince your audience of something and you don't know where to start because there's so much good stuff.
Distilling a message is actually even more challenging because we have so much data and insights at our fingertips. Don Draper lived in a world that was a little bit easier to communicate a message because he had limited information to work from.
I think that many marketers throw the whole book at their client, and they overload them, rather than choosing the message that will resonate most effectively. We really need to get clarity on the message we want to communicate to our audience, hence two-year-old wisdom.
Speed of change
The last blocker is related to the speed at which things are moving. I read this, and I found this really interesting. In 2007, Facebook was still competing with MySpace, Amazon was primarily known for selling books, and the iPhone had just been released.
I also looked up Uber and Venmo - they didn't launch until 2009, so we were living in a very different world and it's crazy to think that it was only 12 years ago. Pretty incredible.
I don't know about you, but I basically do most of my shopping, for clothes and for groceries on my phone, I do most of my payment directly from my phone. I came in an Uber today.
All the technological innovation has actually allowed us to create efficiencies but then there's also this expectation that we could answer emails more quickly, or do things more quickly than ever before.
It's a little bit of a catch 22 and ultimately, consumers have a shorter window to make those purchasing decisions so they have all this information coming towards them, the messages might not be as tight as they were 10-20 years ago, and then at the same time, they're expected to make decisions really quickly. No wonder it's hard to be heard.
How do we win?
I'm going to share with you a simple framework that I use with my teams when we're crafting RFPs or RFIs or just in general when we're talking to internal stakeholders.
You'll probably look at this and be like, "Jackelyn, that is so obvious". Yes, that's the point. But I'm going to go through it and use it a little bit in practice.
A simple framework
These are the four steps:
1) Define your objective
The first is defining your objective - what's my end goal? What problem am I looking to solve? As one of my bosses used to always say.
I'm actually saying that out loud in meetings now because sometimes you don't realize that you're not on the same page as someone, you're looking to solve different problems, so I think it's really valuable to actually define the problem that you're looking to solve.
Are you looking to socialize a new product feature? Are you looking to change consumer perception about a specific aspect of a product line? I think it's good to just in a sentence say what problem you're looking to solve.
2) Know your audience
The second is to know your audience and this means understanding the types of messages that matter to them. I think this is where many marketers go astray.
They craft this tight message that would work beautifully for one audience, but it just falls flat with another audience. So really asking yourself, is this an internal presentation? Is this external? Am I talking to the buyers or the creatives? Am I talking to the brand themself?
I think that could really change how you actually craft the message as well. That is related to number three, which is...
3) Identify the strongest data points (for your audience)
As mentioned earlier, we have more data than ever before and this does not mean that we should be using all of the data and all of the insights. This isn't a senior thesis or anything like that this is an exercise in crafting the strongest message and the strongest data point for one audience is going to be different than another.
If I'm talking to the head of front end engineering, very different conversations and proofs that I'm going to use to try to get to my end goal than if I'm talking to the head of sales.
4) Execute: craft your TL;DR
I think, ultimately, the message delivery can impact how you craft it or how exactly you go about doing it. If you're sending something in an email versus an in-person presentation versus social, obviously that's going to impact it, but I think the overall framework remains the same regardless.
Now the fun part, coming up with some examples so I can walk you through the framework.
A simple framework in action
This is James Taylor. I grew up listening to his music, another fun pastime with my parents.
This year, I'm actually approaching my 10 year wedding anniversary - we were in Rome back in 2009 and we had the opportunity to hear James Taylor live. While I was there, towards the end of the concert, he invited people to come down get close to the stage while he sang his last couple of songs.
Then what I noticed is that he started signing people's tickets, and I was like, "Oh, my gosh, I'm in Rome, in an outdoor amphitheater, I need to get James Taylor to sign my ticket".
- Defining your objective - My objective was clear. "Go home with a James Taylor signed ticket".
- Know my audience - While I know all of his songs, I don't know that much about James Taylor personally and what drives him. I just knew he's American, he's an English speaker, he was kind enough to invite us down here and now he's signing these tickets. He also is not gonna go till midnight, so we probably have a short window that we could execute this plan.
- Then I identified the strongest data points. I was like, "Okay, he's an English speaker. I came all the way from New York to see him. I think those are the two things that are going to make the biggest difference if he even hears what I'm about to say".
- Then I crafted my TL;DR he walked past me on the stage and I said, "James Taylor, I came from New York, I've been listening to your music since I was five, please sign my ticket".
Lo and behold, he leaned over. I was the last ticket he signed and I went home with a signed James Taylor ticket, a big success.
That's just a simple example, obviously doesn't really relate to our industry. I'm now going to walk you through something related more to the product and something that we shipped last year.
Introducing: the Dotdash Odyssey
I work with the ad product team and the product that we shipped last year is called the Dotdash Odyssey. We were super excited about this product because it did everything in terms of the challenges that we were getting and the feedback we were getting from the sales team.
It was a mobile-first linear experience. It leaned in on our organic traffic. Actually being able to take all that organic traffic and package it up together for an advertiser, we were super excited about that.
It can integrate an advertiser's product or they could have collaboration in terms of the actual copy. It leaned into our illustrations by design prowess. It was a first to market opportunity, which, you know, advertisers love those.
From an engineering perspective, it was components so it was gonna save us a lot of time and money to build internally because we could use the same thing again and again, and that also cut down on production time. We were super, super stoked.
What went wrong?
All of these reasons actually together is why we fumbled in initially rolling it out because we were talking to ourselves and we were focusing on all the product features instead of pausing and thinking about, what's the 'so what' for my audience?
After, I don't want to say failing, but not succeeding for about three months, we were scratching our heads because it did all the things.
We had an opportunity to pitch it to one of our premium partners that we had been working with throughout the year, Verizon Accessories, and we decided to take a little bit of a different approach.
The simple framework
We know from reading an RFP that Verizon wanted to position itself as a go-to destination for Verizon Accessories. I think a lot of times people hear the Verizon brand and think, "Oh, it's a mobile provider", but they want to do a lot more and they are doing a lot more. That was their main KPI for their Q4 18 campaign.
1) Define the objective
In terms of defining the objective, we knew internally that we wanted to lean into our organic traffic and our content advantage.
2) Know your audience
Knowing that Verizon wants to establish themselves as a top of mine tech accessories company, and also to sell products online, we knew that that was the angle to go from a pitch perspective.
3) Identify the strongest data points
This is where things got really interesting. When we went to identify the strongest data points, rather than focusing on the product itself, or the design features, or all the beautiful things that we could do for Verizon, we actually focussed more on the content aspect of it.
Since people come to us with questions, about 80% of our traffic is from SEO, we're able to see the questions that people are asking, we listen, and then we're able to first of all optimize our content to get it really tight to make sure that we're answering those questions, but we're also able to share those insights with advertisers.
There were two questions we saw that were the lead questions that really opened our eyes in terms of finding this whitespace for Verizon. One was that a lot of times when people are searching about smart homes, the question is literally what is a smart home? So within the marketplace, there's kind of this lack of knowledge to even understand what a smart home is, what it does, people talk about it, but no one really knows what it is.
The second is that we could see consumers were searching for specific products like Google, Amazon Alexa, Samsung, they were searching for the types of products rather than searching for a smart fridge, aka, categories.
What we realized was our strength was in the content and taking our content advantage and this insight to Verizon, because knowing that our users are really confused about what exactly a smart home is, and how they use it, knowing that Verizon wanted to position themselves as a commerce destination, marrying the two was our way to go.
4) Execute: Craft your TL;DR
We then crafted a TL;DR and I actually pulled two of the slides from the pitch just to show you how we broke it down.
We have tonnes of data coming our way. We leaned in on four specific insights and then we socialized these insights and then converted it to the recommendation for the client.
Above was our second insight, which is consumers aren't aware of the Smart Home device options available to them. These were the proof points. And this is where we could actually see queries, which are essentially like Google searches, general queries, brand-specific queries, and we identified the opportunities that Verizon had in the marketplace to showcase their devices and also answer this question of what is a smart home?
We then pitched the Odyssey. We came up with this idea of a toast to Smart Home holidays, who needs elves when you have a smart home? And then also clicked out to the content.
It was a success. It closed. Verizon was super happy. This is just recapping what we identified in terms of the goal and the tight message.
They wanted to establish themselves as the top tech accessory destination. Consumers weren't aware of the Smart Home options available to them, and Odyssey is the format that we would execute it in but ultimately, we were leaning into this content advantage.
Not only did we close the business, but we also won an award for this specific execution, which was pretty exciting. All because we followed the simple framework, it might have taken us three months to get there but nonetheless, we got there.
Before I go...
Before I leave you I wanted to share this quote, it's really resonated with me over the years.
If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.
I sometimes have the challenge of wanting to share everything because I get really excited about a specific topic, and I’m like, “But this little nuance is so important, oh and this is really important”.
It might be exciting to you, but you don't want to be talking to yourself.
I think that if you really, really understand the value of what you're offering and you really, really understand your audience, you'll be able to break it down into two to three statements or supporting proofs and be able to have that really, really tight, concise, relevant and actionable message.