A powerful analogy to help improve your marketing communications

What happens if someone throws a tennis ball at you? You catch it, of course. Dumb question.

But what happens if someone throws 15 tennis balls at you? You might catch one, if you’re lucky. But you might just end up flapping awkwardly and end up with nothing.

Someone once asked me those same questions, and they have stayed with me ever since as a powerful analogy for effective B2B marketing communications. The point is that your target audience (whether in an advert, on your website, in a pitch, or in any other sales & marketing material) won’t be able to digest and retain lots of different messages. Tell someone 15 things about yourself and why you’re the best choice of supplier and it’s unlikely they’ll take it all in. Tell them 1 or 2 things about yourself and there’s a pretty good chance they’ll digest and retain both. (If those things are interesting to them, naturally).

An example of that in practice

I went to a B2B trade show a while ago where two rival tech brands had exhibition booths right next to each other. The first brand’s booth displayed a long list of things they could do for you. It went something like this…

Win at search. Smash social media. Take your content marketing to the next level. Increase your sales qualified leads. Own email marketing. Automate your processes. Identify new influencers. Double your conversion rates. Another great feature. Another great benefit. Another growth hack. Another piece of jargon. Optimise this. Outperform that. And disrupt your market. And wait, did we tell you about that too? We’re the market leader at it. We do it for >1000 B2B clients, in 14 countries, with unrivalled service levels. And we’re amazing people.

OK, I’m exaggerating just a little, but the booth literally had over 10 messages on it. There was simply far too much to take in. I was fatigued by it, only stopping to look out of professional curiosity. In fact, I was the only one that stopped to look at all. Unlike the booth next door, which simply proclaimed something like…

Every single one of our clients has improved website lead conversion levels within 3-6 months of working with us.

Bingo. If I needed to work with a website lead conversion specialist, I’d know who to turn to. Conversely, there’s almost no chance I’d turn to the first company, despite conversion rate optimisation being on their list of specialisms. (Oh, and by the way, it turns out that the second tech brand can do a lot of other stuff for you – the opening message was just there to lure you in).

But there’s a snag

There will no doubt be some of you reading this thinking ‘but I have lots of products, features or benefits I need to sell’. I get that. So do I at my place of work. It’s a tricky challenge. The only point I’m making is that it is easier for readers to digest and retain this and this, than it is for them to digest and retain this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this and this.

There is psychological science behind why that’s the case. Google ‘the paradox of choice,’ for example. And you’ll have experienced the same thing yourself if someone has ever given you complex instructions on how to reach a destination (see my UB2BER example below). And it’s a also well-known fact to the world’s best advertising agencies, who insist on what they call ‘having a single-minded proposition’ in your advertising. In other words, convey one – and only one – message per advert. Any more is too much for time-poor, distracted people to take in.

an example of complex instructions to underline the importance of simple messaging

As an aside – in my earlier example of the rival tech brands at a marketing trade show – I fear the first brand (i.e. the one that was throwing the kitchen sink at people) also lost out to other exhibitors at the event. Other exhibitors more bravely, and more single-mindedly, pointed out just one or two persuasive ways in which they could help customers. The agency that could help you significantly improve your social selling results on LinkedIn in 3 easy steps, for example. Succinct, clear, memorable. And also more popular, based upon the number of people on their stand.

My ‘one message’ summary

As a marketing communicator, you have a choice… Either:

  1. Throw lots of messages at the customer in the false hope they’ll take them in; OR
  2. Sacrifice all but the most pivotal one (or perhaps two or three) key messages, to make sure the customer takes them in. Once you’ve earned the customer’s attention, you can always layer in additional messages later.

I’m signposting that option 2 is the best choice, and to help with that – remember tennis balls. I use that analogy all the time. Alternatively, think about what Bono might sing if he was as B2B marketer. One message 😉

Recommended further reading

This post by Dave Trott, on the point of sacrifice, is an absolute peach. Enjoy it, and enjoy the cathartic experience of finding sacrifice in your B2B marketing role 🙂

And lastly…

Given my penchant for advertising, here’s my stab at advertising tennis balls…

an advertising concept for tennis balls

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