How to use messaging hierarchy to deliver consistent messages
Inconsistent messaging confuses prospective buyers and kills your conversions. It sows doubt and suspicion in your customers’ minds when you could be building trust and authority.
A messaging hierarchy gives your messaging structure and maintains uniformity throughout every buyer touchpoint.
In the article, we’ll review what a messaging hierarchy is and why you need one. We’ll provide an effective messaging hierarchy framework with high-level examples you can learn from.
A messaging hierarchy, also called messaging architecture or framework, is a set of words or phrases grouped and arranged in order to convey a company’s values and positioning.
It creates a language system that distills your brand’s value to its essential points. With it, any team member can adapt messaging to various audience segments and communicate consistently across all content.
A messaging hierarchy “acts as scaffolding for your content, supporting and shaping the content you produce,” writes Erin Kissane in her book, The Elements of Content Strategy.
Similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, messaging hierarchies typically look like a pyramid. They’ll start with the broader aspects of message, such as proof points, and narrow the focus as it builds towards the pinnacle, typically the brand promise.
The idea is that every word written for the brand goes back to that top of the pyramid. For example, say the brand promise is to “save 15% or more on car insurance in 15 minutes or less” (Geico’s promise), then all messaging points below that will relate to speed and customer savings.
This messaging pyramid provides a structure for how to think about the copy for important brand elements like your value proposition and positioning statement—but it stops short of being actionable. The pyramid model doesn’t tell marketers how to write the copy that leaps obstacles and resonates.
Peep Laja suggests looking at messaging like an onion, or in layers, like this:
Laja based this framework on thousands of message tests, paying attention to what layers make messaging more effective:
These attributes work together to establish a shared terminology, like the pyramid model, while also clarifying any confusion to potential buyers like “why should I buy from this brand vs the competition?” and “how does this brand in particular solve my problems?”
In this layered model, clarity is the pinnacle. It doesn’t matter how well you differentiate from the competitors if you can’t clearly communicate this (and you’d be surprised how often this happens). Likewise, you could have an extremely valuable product that customers are itching for, but if you miss the mark on its relevance, you’ve lost them.
For example, say you have created a web extension that finds and alerts customers to discounts at their favorite online stores. Using this model, you’ll want to communicate the following:
Above all, communicate each point clearly (you can find this out with message testing, which we’ll cover in a bit).
This new messaging framework clarifies what messages companies should convey (e.g. how relevant it is to the customer and how it’s different) and provides an order of importance for these messages.
Writing marketing messages without a hierarchy is like cooking a twelve-course meal without any recipes. You might hit the mark once in a while, but the results are likely to be inconsistent.
Likewise, communication without preparation and structure can lead to hit-and-miss messages across departments, confusing customers, wasting resources, and tanking your bottom line.
When brand is the moat protecting so many successful empires, the last thing you want to do is create a volatile brand experience for customers.
For example, if your sales team uses friendly, laid-back language to communicate with customers but your marketing website uses corporate-forward language, customers may be put off by the change in tone, leading to credibility and trust loss.
With a messaging framework, companies can communicate consistently across the entire buying journey, which can potentially increase revenue by up to 20%, bolstering your bottom line.
According to a Microsoft Research study and NN Group analysis, the first 10 seconds of a customer’s experience with your website determine whether the visitor is staying or bouncing.
If you want your messaging to convert more customers or enter into more consideration sets, it must deliver on the four layers discussed above: clarity, relevance, value, and differentiation.
To deliver on these points, you must start with the messaging layers. We’ll review each layer with examples of how companies use each.
Clarity describes how well your customers perceive your messages and understand what your product is and does.
Customers consider the following questions about your offering when visiting your homepage:
To clarify your messaging, lead with the market category (e.g., project management application), and use simple language to back it up.
For example, HiBob, a people management HR platform, learned it had a clarity issue when Wynter tested it’s messaging.
The prime real estate on its site leads with, “Glad you’re here!” and although this is a trademarked phrase, it doesn’t tell customers what HiBob is.
The subheading reads, “Say hi to HiBob, the HRIS that drives culture and engagement.” Still, customers don’t have an idea of what HiBob is. What is an HRIS system?
The opportunity to immediately clarify what the product is and how it works was missed.
The moving featured image also speeds through too quickly for customers to learn about the product visually instead.
Since April, HiBob has since adapted their homepage messaging with clarity in mind:
HiBob’s new page:
If customers land on your website and can’t discern what your company does, they’ll lose interest and bounce.
Relevance in your messaging tells customers if your product or service will fill a particular need or solve their problems.
For example, Hygraph is a CMS application with a fairly vague value proposition. It’s not clear from the messaging who the tool is most useful for.
The main stage copy says:
Build beyond today. Breakaway from the restraints of traditional CMS and embraces structured content to deliver experiences across SaaS, mobile apps, web applications, streaming platforms, and more.
The copy doesn’t elaborate on the restraints it means, so it fails to resonate with the pain points the target audience is feeling. It doesn’t answer the question, “Is it for me?” or specify a use case or solve a problem other than being an untraditional solution for structured content.
By contrast, Wynter clearly defines its relevance in its subheader and throughout the website.
Upon reading the first few sentences, leads will know its relevance. From this screenshot, we know that Wynter:
Although you can (and should) weave the target audience’s pain point in copy throughout your entire website, it’s best to spell it out as quickly and as close to the above-the-fold content as possible.
Talk about the pain points, the desired gains you help them achieve, and the use cases.
Value is a customer's benefit from using a product. It is customer-centric, focusing on the four categories of customer-perceived value:
Once you explore your product’s value in terms of these four elements, you can then distill them into two additional categories: tangible and intangible.
Tangible values are physical and transactional values like:
Intangible values are non-physical values adding to a company’s worth like:
Incorporate your product’s value into the copy to increase purchase motivation. Help the customer visualize using your product by painting a picture of what it’s like to experience that benefit.
Although Exit Five’s message has clarity (the community “shares tactical advice, gives and receives feedback, and exchanges ideas about what’s working in marketing today”) and relevance (“B2B marketing”), the panelists perceived little-to-no value in the product.
Panelists found the value uncertain as they couldn’t tell how posts are quality-checked. In the age of misinformation, quality checking was the primary concern among panelists.
Here, explicit mention of tangible and intangible values can address those questions head on and relay the benefits:
Customers need to know why they should use Exit Five over LinkedIn, Facebook, or any other community-building social application.
If your customers can’t find the value of your product, they’ll move on to another company that clearly states theirs.
With information available at the touch of a button, customers are now used to shopping around to find the best option before committing to a brand.
Differentiation encourages customers to choose one brand or product over another.
Most B2B companies will fall into a mature market category (around 10,000 martech solutions and counting), making it critical to stand out from the status quo.
Wynter message tested two competing companies: Klue vs. Crayon, both market intelligence tools, using the 4 heuristics: clarity, relevance, value, and differentiation.
Here is Klue’s homepage:
Here is Crayon’s homepage:
Wynter tested the homepage copy against their shared target demographic of Product Managers and Product Marketing Managers.
Klue’s homepage copy reads: “Collect, curate, and deliver competitive market intelligence across every department of your business.”
Crayon’s copy reads: “Crayon’s award-winning competitive intelligence platform helps your organization see and seize opportunities so you can create a sustainable business advantage.”
Although both have clear subheadings that define value and relevance, 58.06% of panelists found Klue’s website copy most compelling, especially in clarity and relevance. Panelists found Klue’s simpler language best because it spells out exactly what it does right away, leaving no questions.
This finding further demonstrates that clarity is key and questions must be answered straight away.
Right after the above-the-fold content, Klue also includes something others don’t offer: a Competitive Revenue Gap (CRG) calculator. Leads can calculate their CRG and see the effect a tool like Klue can have on revenue.
Klue also highlights its integrations with email, web, mobile, and Salesforce, something Crayon either doesn’t have or fails to mention on its homepage. This differentiator may convince someone who wants to streamline their business flow by sharing intel with multiple teams within the company.
Find what your company does differently to meet customers’ needs and sell it to customers through your messaging.
Approach your website messaging in layers, clearly and concisely nailing down relevance, value, and how you differentiate.
Your customers won’t care if your product aligns with their pains if they can’t understand what it is. They won’t care about the value if it doesn’t solve their problem. And they won’t care how you beat the competition if they don’t have a reason to buy your product or service in the first place.
Analyze your copy with message testing. This way, you’ll know what resonates with your audience and can throw out what doesn’t.
Out now: Watch our free B2B messaging course and learn all the techniques (from basic to advanced) to create messaging that resonates with your target customers.