Getting the Message Right

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If you’ve ever heard a web marketer speak, you’ve probably heard them talk about storytelling. Narrative is the darling of digital marketing. But do you have to be a chardonnay-sipping, self-proclaimed “engagement guru” to make use of it?

No. Today, we’re going to pick the eyes out of the grand and noble concept of storytelling and see how us ordinary humans can use them to build a coherent, effective home or landing page for an app or service.

The key to a good story

You’ve expended blood, sweat and tears—as well as time and money—developing a product. So how do you go about telling the people you built it for that it’s right for them?

If your landing page is the end point, the starting point is messaging. The story of your brand, as you tell it on your landing page, is made up of a collection of messages.

At its most basic, a message is the thing you want users to know about your product. What message do you want them to get?

Recently I worked with a client who runs a crowdsourced talent business. We were working up a landing page to try to attract talent (rather than clients seeking creatives) to join the service.

Here’s a basic “story” we might want to tell about that service:

  • Our service makes your life easier.
  • Here’s how it works.
  • You can join here.

At a glance, you can see that this story probably includes benefits, features, and a call to action.

Formulating messages

A message isn’t copy, though it’s expressed primarily in words. Messaging basically explains the “gist” or “thrust” of a section of the page. But that gist may ultimately be communicated through a range of elements.

For example, the third piece of information above—the CTA—might be a interactive element, rather than straight text. It might be a signup form. It might be a button that launches a modal. But regardless of how it looks or what it includes, the message it presents will be: You can join here.

Let’s step back and look at the first message, though, since that one’s pretty complex.

To communicate the message that “our service makes your life easier”, we need to know who our target users are, and how our product solves their problem better than our competitors’ offerings.

For the talent aggregator, we were targeting individual creatives—freelancers—who hated the overhead of freelancing. Unlike Elance and others of that ilk, our model farmed projects to them and handled all the client sourcing and management, feedback, invoicing and payment on their behalf. All the creatives had to do was what they loved best: work on creative projects.

Since the site was a marketplace, it operated 24/7, so freelancers could work when it suited them, and take breaks without fearing they’d struggle to find work when they came back.

With this background information we can develop a few key messages around “making life easy”:

  • Spend more of your time doing creative work, and less on client management and overheads.
  • Pick and choose the jobs that suit you and your timeframes from our database of thousands of projects.
  • Our service makes freelancing fun and easy.

These initial ideas combine benefits and features, and they’re really long. The best messaging is short and refined, so let’s try to get a bit closer to key messages here.

As we distill these down further, we can apply some tone, based on what we know of our brand and the target audience. So we might come up with messages like these:

  • Swap paperwork for creative work.
  • Choose the projects you want to work on.
  • Put the fun back into freelancing.

That last point is probably the key to this particular service, so we might move that to the top of the list. Prioritizing your messages is the next important step in telling a coherent story about your product.

Next steps

Once you’ve defined the key messages and prioritized them, you can work with a UX person to look at the ways you might communicate those messages using appropriate interface elements.

For example, take the message “choose the projects you want to work on.” Will we include a screenshot of the marketplace there? Will we show a counter that dynamically updates to reflect the number of open projects online at any moment?

Will we include “evidence” of projects, like images of finished projects, photos of happy clients, or testimonials from freelancers who have gotten off the searching-for-work merry-go-round and now spend their days enjoying the luxury of choice?

If we choose testimonials, will they be text-based? Video? Will they include shots of the work completed by those creatives?

As you can see, messaging springboards you into the UX and page design process pretty quickly. It also helps you work out early on just what content assets you’ll need to complete the page.

Messaging matters

I hope that now you’re clearer on what messaging is—and that you’ll give this process a try the next time you’re getting ready to design a page (or any communication) about your product or service.

If you’re already using messaging to help tell the story of your offering, let us know how it’s working for you in the comments.

Georgina LaidlawGeorgina Laidlaw
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Georgina has more than fifteen years' experience writing and editing for web, print and voice. With a background in marketing and a passion for words, the time Georgina spent with companies like Sausage Software and cemented her lasting interest in the media, persuasion, and communications culture.

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