Mastering messaging and the importance of message testing
“Ugly websites convert better than pretty websites” is a common misconception.
But the reality is that it's not ugliness that moves people down the funnel. It's just that websites that don't meet the highly-designed standards usually pay extra attention to messaging.
So it's not that ugliness helps a site convert better, it’s that focusing on messaging does.
Sometimes the approach that will make you stand out and pique curiosity is inventing your own lingo. A lot of the now widely accepted terminology—like "sales enablement"—was made up at some point.
So, yes, it can work. However, you need to explain those made-up terms and answer what people want to know: "What is this?"
Some companies just throw lingo at you without any explanation. People will just make assumptions about what it might be or dismiss it off the bat.
Other companies follow up with an explanation. And that's the smart way to do it. However, the explanation needs to be crystal clear and phrased in simple, plain language.
I read the sentence this example uses below to explain what "frontline intelligence" is, and still have only a vague idea:
Clearly, no message testing has been done here.
If you fail to communicate clearly, the whole invented lingo approach falls flat. Marketing is hard enough; now you're making it a true uphill battle.
The absolute best way to get someone to do something: make them want to do it. And the only way to increase user motivation to act is through words. Without strong messaging, you're relying on people's intrinsic motivation and expecting them to do what you want them to do without clear guidelines. But to boost your target customers' motivation to take action, your messaging needs to resonate.
This is key to increasing your conversion rate and generating more pipeline: if the target customer motivation is high, the deal is likely.
Three questions to ponder:
If your answers are "don't know" or "not sure," then you need to conduct message testing to find out.
A weak approach to messaging is like doing a Zoom sales call while the prospect’s mic and webcam are off.
Imagine that. A demo call where your lead has both their mic and cam off.
Zero feedback. Can't pick up on cues nor ask questions. You wouldn’t be able to tell if what you’re saying is resonating or boring. The only thing you're able to see is whether they end up buying or not.
You'd have no way to improve your pitch. And if you can’t improve, you can’t increase your close rate.
Sounds crazy, but it's somehow the norm when it comes to messaging.
People just publish website pages and landing pages and mostly never look back. If you don't conduct message testing (with Wynter or otherwise) to improve your messaging, it's like doing sales calls while leads have their mic and cam off.
The purpose of a business is to make a customer, and you do that through communication. You're messaging something to the customer.
The problem with communication is the illusion that it happens. Alas, the symptoms of ineffective messaging aren’t easy to spot.
However, here's how you can measure effectiveness.
You most likely measure every imaginable metric, but how do you know that your messaging is working?
Let's clear up the confusion: Getting someone to buy or sign up is a symptom, a lag measure. To get people to convert more, you need to focus on the cause (lead measure).
While a lag measure tells you if you’ve reached the goal, a lead measure tells you if you are likely to achieve the goal.
Lags are measures—demos booked, revenue, profit. They are called lags because, by the time you see them, the performance that drove them has already been passed. You can’t do anything to fix them. They're history.
You can't optimize messaging by focusing on quant metrics like conversion rate. This is how most people do it, but it's wrong.
If you tweak your messaging and increase signups or conversions, you still have two problems:
Someone signing up after consuming your messaging is the effect. You can't impact the effect directly. Instead, you need to work on the cause.
To understand what makes messaging work, you need to distill it down to components:
This is the B2B Message Layers framework:
But how do you know if you're succeeding in each of these four layers?
You conduct message testing and measure it. Wynter has this built in, but you can measure a score for each layer using a Likert scale (1 to 5)—e.g., how clear do you find this or that?
Most people have no clue about how poor their website copy is because they've never done message testing for it.
The way most judge their copy looks something like this: "Hey, looks good to me!"
When CXL launched a new talent recruitment product, I felt very confident about the copy. I thought I explained it well, and I was even a bit proud of myself.
Then, I launched a message test with Wynter testing the copy with my target audience. I asked the audience questions about different sections of the page:
And what became apparent was how I totally failed to convey the idea in a clear and compelling way (and confused minds don't buy). Since they didn't get it, they didn't want it.
Judging your work by how you feel about it is naive. The only way to judge your messaging is to put it in front of the people that actually matter—your target customers.
A lot of companies might argue: Why shouldn't I start with A/B testing? But there's a tiny problem.
Most B2B pages don't get enough transaction volume for A/B testing. As a rough ballpark, you'd need a minimum of 600 signups/mo from that page, so A/B testing is typically out of the question.
That's also fine in most cases, as A/B testing is a measurement methodology. It'll tell you whether “B” is better than “A” and by how much. It won't tell you why or how to improve anything.
That's why message testing is actually the better way to go for B2B—and can work beautifully in conjunction with A/B testing should you have the traffic for it.
Message testing is a form of qualitative research; hence you don't need large sample sizes.
You need to get your web page or pitch (whatever the medium) in front of the target buyers and ask them research questions. Doing it on a 1:1 basis is very high quality but slow and expensive. Doing it via surveys is cheaper, faster, and can be high quality if the selected panel is excellent.
You only need to recruit 15 people to reach what’s called "insight saturation."
Insight saturation is the point in a research process where enough data has been collected to draw necessary conclusions, and any further data collection will not produce value-added insights.
But you don't do it the way you'd imagine.
Here's the wrong question to ask when conducting message testing: Would you buy from this website?
And these are the right questions:
Asking whether they would buy is wrong because people are unable to predict their future behavior. But they can tell you accurately if they find your pitch clear, relevant, compelling, and differentiated.
To repeat, there are four heuristics you need to measure:
For each heuristic, do a Likert scale (ask them to rate from 1 to 5) as well as qualitative, open-ended questions. Ideally, you do this section by section, so you know exactly where the problems are and you can fix them.
Doing this manually will typically take a week or two. But if you don't have time, you can get the answers with a couple of clicks and in ±24 hrs with Wynter.
Don’t just focus on copy. Focus on overall messaging.
Smaller companies focus on the copy, trying to get more website conversions.
Larger companies focus on messaging, aiming to lift all the boats—conversions, brand, and overall competitive advantage.
Messaging is about identifying a few key messages you want the target customers to know about you and then conveying these ideas.
What a lot of people miss is that they think it only applies to their website or just the home page. But those same key messages should also be repeated again and again in your marketing and social media content.
In the near future, all winners will be doing message testing.
Ten years ago, average website usability was poor, and some companies decided to conduct user testing. Now, almost everyone's doing it, and average website usability is way better than it was a decade ago.
Today, average website messaging is boring and reeks of sameness. Most talk about themselves as if they're the only ones doing what they're doing. But leading companies today are testing their messaging.
So, ten years from now, almost everyone will be doing regular message testing. In fact, it will be an inseparable part of any go-to-market effort.
All brands have a common starting point; their identity. Think about your brand DNA or story. After your brand identity comes positioning.
And then we get to the tactical layer: messaging.
Unfortunately, this is where a lot of smart strategy work goes to die.
Companies are smart about where they fit in, yet their high-stakes messaging is all about generic, boring sameness.
To win at messaging, you need three capabilities:
All of this in the context of saturated markets.
Stop explaining your business as if you're the only one doing that thing. B2B buyers consider many options and focus on differentiation instead.
Stop leading with features and capabilities that everyone in your space has. That makes you a commodity. Lead with that one thing about you that gets people to lean in, heads nodding. Work to discover what that is.