Does Messaging Matter in Tough Times?

On April 20, 2010, the British Petroleum (BP) Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, spewing oil into the ocean. This event was the largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. It took nearly 90 days to seal off the well.

Eleven people were killed in the explosion. Roughly 3.19 million barrels of oil were released into the ocean. Countless birds and fish died. Beaches were destroyed. Communities were suffering. After ten years, the environmental impact remains.

One memorable moment from this event was the ill-timed comments of BP’s CEO, Tony Hayward. When Hayward apologized for the disruption and devastation he said, “…there’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do. I’d like my life back.” Hayward faced immediate backlash. And after a few more missteps, he was replaced as the CEO of BP.

In tough times, messaging matters; not only the words, but also the tone.

Customer messaging is the ongoing conversation with your customers. Everything you do and say sends a message. Customer messaging is a two-part process: empathize with the customer; communicate the impact.

Empathy is your filter

Plato wrote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” This quote is especially relevant in tough times. Salespeople fight battles in tough times, just like customers. Viewing the world through the eye of the customer is your fail-proof way to communicate a customer-focused message.

Empathy is viewing the world through the eyes of another individual. It’s seeing as they see and feeling as they feel. Empathy allows you to fully understand how buyers define value. Before sending any message, pause for a few moments and ask yourself these questions:

  • What challenges is this buyer experiencing?
  • What does a typical day look like for this individual?
  • If I were this person, what would I want (not need)?

Communicate the impact

Utility is what your product or service does. Impact is how your solution affects the buyer. Utility is simple and straightforward, while impact is much broader. For example, an ergonomically designed hammer will drive nails more productively leading to greater profit. The utility is driving the nail. The impact is greater productivity and profit.

Utility is constant regardless of the economic environment. During a recession, a hammer still drives nails. Although utility is constant, impact will change. Impact changes because the customer mindset shifts. In good times, customers have an abundance or growth mindset. In tough times, customers shift to a scarcity or protection mindset. With a scarcity mindset, customers look to protect their scarce resources. Continuing with the hammer and nail example; in good economic times, frame the message this way:

Mr. Customer, our ergonomically designed hammer will improve productivity leading to more profit on this project. (Notice the impact focuses on more profit.)

In tough economic times, frame the message this way:

Mr. Customer, our ergonomically designed hammer will improve productivity leading to lower labor costs on this project. (Notice the impact focuses on reducing labor cost.)

In good times, focus on enhancing gains; in tough times, focus on reducing loss.

Customer messaging is more than a single call or an e-mail; it’s every way we communicate with the buyer. Empathy helps you understand the buyer at a deeper level. Communicating impact helps you persuade the buyer at a deeper level. Use this two-step process throughout your messaging campaign.

Messaging matters in tough times. Have you noticed the tone of recent advertisements? Ads are filled with messages of hope and encouragement. An encouraging word can go a long way during these difficult times. Or, as Zig Ziglar famously said, “You never know when a moment and a few sincere words can have an impact on a life.”

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