One of my favorite market research projects is message validation. When we go and get direct feedback on high-level product messages, I always know we are going to learn something very important that will dramatically increase the results of marketing programs. Hard ROI is easy to demonstrate when your marketing programs get twice (or more) the response from the same spend, because your message is more compelling!
So how does message validation work? We evaluate your messages – the benefits and features that you give your PR department, your marketing programs team and your agencies – and break them into digestible chunks. We set up one-on-one interviews with both customers and prospects (messages are experienced in isolation so this is not appropriate for focus groups). And we walk through a systematic process of vetting the messages.
We never ask, “What do you think?” That doesn’t force participants to share what is really going through their heads. You need to go deeper. Instead of “what do you think?” you must ask, “what is MOST compelling?” and “what is LEAST compelling?”. Do that for each area of messaging that you have: pain, benefits, features, positioning paragraph, etc. Specifically prompt for good and bad – and always ask WHY. The “why” helps you know if you need to throw out some messages, use different words to express the same idea, re-order the importance, or segment your messaging.
What is interesting when you do this is how small changes can make a huge, measurable difference to your programs. On the first message validation project I did in my career, we tested four main messages that the marketing team had been using for outbound emails and direct marketing with uninspiring results. The client knew that if they could get that 1-hour meeting, the clients were hooked, but the programs just weren’t getting the same level of response.
We tested the messages as part of an overall research project, and found that 3 out of the 4 messages resonated extremely well with everybody. But that fourth message was different. Two out of our three target segments not only didn’t find it compelling, they actually found it insulting and frustrating.
That said, it wasn’t that the fourth message was bad across the board. The final target segment really liked the fourth message, even though it was actually alienating the majority of the market! The client reserved that fourth message for a campaign targeted to that specific audience.
Solid, compelling messages about your product are the basis for a successful marketing program. Message validation helps you fine-tune your messaging to ensure maximum effectiveness of your communications with customers and prospects – a great cost saver.
Bonus Tip: If you’re looking for budget to fund a market research project, consider adding a message validation component and using marketing program budget!