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A Recipe for Great Marketing Messages

Simplicity can be one of the best ways to reach consumers


By Joe Lilly

For years, I kept a box of cake mix on a shelf in my office. When new staff members were hired, they’d invariably ask about it. That would be my first teaching moment for them.

I’d explain that when creating a marketing message, they should think of that message as the front of a cake mix box they might see on a grocery store shelf. The picture of the cake on the box looks beautiful. The color is perfect. The slice of cake looks delicious. The front of the package is simple and inviting, with few words.

Now look around at the other options on the shelf where the cake mix stands. There are many choices, but this one elicits an emotional response. It stands out above the rest. You pick it up, admire the package again, and put it in your basket. You were sold. For you, the message on that box broke through the clutter. That’s what a great message should do.

On the other hand, imagine going to the store for cake mix and seeing every box with the back of the package being displayed. No pictures. Just words and lots of them. Ingredients. Directions. Baking time. Calorie count. Clutter. No emotional response. Nothing breaks through. No reason to buy.

Joe Lilly
Joe Lilly

That’s a mistake many people make when crafting messages. They want to tell everything all at once. In other words, they are trying to market the “back of the box” rather than the front. Your audience cannot absorb everything, and so they absorb nothing. Opportunity lost.

Your marketing message should not be cluttered up with “ingredients” or “directions.” Yes, those points are important, and they can be available on your website, in your collateral materials, background papers, or as explanations to back up your message. However, they should not be the focus of the message itself.

First impressions and impulses are vital. Because decisions are often made in seconds, stores want to show the best in products. Likewise, you should take the opportunity to show the best of your product/service/idea simply and creatively in your message.

Think of your marketing materials, using this concept. Does your website convey “the front of the box?” Do your ads have too many words? Are your collaterals simple and inviting? If you have just a few seconds to sell your product/idea to a consumer—or to the CEO—do you focus on how it makes them feel, or do you clutter it with all its ingredients and directions? You may want to “throw all the ingredients” into your message to make you feel better, but it’s not about you. It’s about the buyer.

Take the time to look at your materials and “taste” the messages you are communicating. Are they simple and engaging? If not, adjust your “recipe.”

With the right marketing message, you can make a great sale. You don’t want to come off half-baked. 

Joe Lilly is a communications consultant in Louisville. Contact him at [email protected].