The most common messaging mistakes and how to fix them


Hi there, welcome to Lab Notes. Thanks for joining me. If we haven't met before, my name's Felicity Wild. I'm the founder and chief tone of voice nerd at the Brand Language Lab. 

Today I want to talk to you about the most common messaging mistakes I see in my work. 

For the last few episodes, we've been talking all about messaging. We've been looking at what it is, covering some messaging frameworks that I like to use and looking at the differences between messaging and narrative. Because I feel that sometimes they're confused. People talk about narrative when they're really talking about messaging. So we cleared up the differences there.

Now I want to look at the mistakes, what causes them or what I find causes them and how to fix them. 

The best way to fix them is to get a fresh pair of eyes on them. To get an external consultant to come in and help you make your messaging the best it can be. But I know that's not realistic for everyone. I know a lot of you watching this won't have the budget or the means for this. So here’s how you can fix your messaging and make it as good as it can be. 

The top five messaging mistakes I most commonly see are messaging that is inconsistent, unclear, generic, lacking in empathy and not related to your goals. 

And a quick spoiler alert (if you don't listen any further — remember this) all of these mistakes link back to a lack of strategy, not understanding your audience or not thinking about them when you write your messaging, (thinking about what you want to say rather than what they want to hear) and saying what everyone else is saying saying. Like saying something different is a bit of a risk, so choosing to blend in and stick with the crowd. 

That being said, let's look at these five mistakes in a little more detail. 

The first mistake is being inconsistent. And the cause of this really is no strategy. Or you have a strategy, but you haven't shared it with everyone. So everyone isn't on the same page about your strategy. 

The fix is pretty self-explanatory: obviously, develop a strategy. You can use some of the resources in Lab Notes to help you do that. And there's loads of resources on the internet as well. 

Next, organise your messaging into frameworks. And have them easily accessible by everyone to get your team all on the same page so that everyone who's writing for your brand knows what the messaging is and they use it in their copy.

And lastly, embrace repetition. Sometimes inconsistency creeps in because you feel like you're saying the same thing over and over again. Maybe you do have a strategy but you're finding it's getting very repetitive and you're worried that you're boring people. 

In reality, people are paying far less attention than you think and repetition is a good thing. It makes them feel safe. It helps them trust you. 

If you think about Marmite (my favourite example), they've been saying “you either love it or you hate it” for coming up to 20 years. They've been saying the same thing. And everyone knows them and recognizes them as a very trusted brand. So embrace repetition. Don't be scared of saying the same thing over and over again. It's actually a good thing. People aren't paying enough attention to get bored. 

The next mistake is being unclear. I think the cause here is not considering your audience. There's two sides to this, or two elements to this. It's either not understanding your audience. Or understanding your audience, but not thinking about them when you write your messaging — writing it from your point of view, rather than thinking about your audience. 

The fix, if you don't understand your audience properly, it's to build a better understanding of your ICPs. ICPs means ideal client profile or persona. And I'm going to talk about how to do that in a future episode of Lab Notes. 

Sometimes messaging becomes unclear because we're thinking about what we want to say. And our priority is making ourselves look really clever when actually people need to first understand what we're saying before we think about being clever or adding in wordplay or adding in kind of like quirky tones of phrase or puns or you know things like that. It’s basically trying too hard. Prioritise clarity and make sure what you're saying is clear first. 

Use the “so what?” test. If you make a statement as part of your messaging, ask yourself: so what? And keep asking that, keep interrogating the message until you can't ask it anymore. You've boiled it down to its essential elements, to the essential message. 

It can help you to get really clear on what you're trying to say, remove all the fluff, remove all the unnecessary stuff around your message and really distil it down to the most salient points. 

And organise this into a framework. Once you've done all this work, you need to have it in a clear, easy to understand framework that everyone on your team has access to. That they can understand, and they can use it. 

And it's not just your team. If you're working with external contractors, it's useful to have this ready to show them as well so that you can brief them and get them up and running quickly. 

The next mistake is generic messaging that doesn't stand out in a crowd. It doesn't give your audience or the people you're targeting a reason to be interested or to choose you versus everyone else because you're all saying the same thing. 

The cause here? There are two sides to it. It could be fear of missing out, fear of saying something different, seeing that as a risk rather than an opportunity. Playing it safe and sticking to the tried and the tested. 

Or a lack of thought. If messaging is done in a hurry without much thought, it will tend to be very generic, not particularly standout, not particularly interesting. It'll be pretty boring. 

The fix here is obviously to give your messaging a little bit more thought. But if the cause is risk aversion, I find a good way to fix that is to reframe the way you're doing competitor analysis or competitor research. Instead of looking to see what your competitors are saying, look at your competitors to see what they're not saying with the aim to find space. Space that you can then own. 

Be as specific as possible. Again, this is where the “so what?” test comes in handy. If you make a generic, bland, standard statement. Ask yourself “so what?” and boil it down into something more specific. 

And finally swap power words for simple, direct language. Oftentimes people fall into the trap of using big words like “reinvent” or “reimagine” (those are two of the prime offenders that I've seen recently over and over again) They've been used so often that they have essentially become meaningless and they've become very generic. They just blend in with the furniture. 

Swap those power words for simple, direct language using the “so what?” test again. What am I actually trying to say with this power word? What does it mean? Boiling it down to its simplest form and then you've got something to work with that won't be so generic. That will be specific to your offering, your product, your service and what you do. 

The next mistake is lacking in empathy. Now, the cause here is similar to what we've talked about before: it's not considering your audience. Either not really having a proper understanding of them and then it looks like you lack empathy because you're not demonstrating an understanding of their problems, their frustrations, the situation that has led them to seek help or seek a solution in you. 

Or not thinking about your audience enough when you're writing from your point of view, not their point of view. Saying what you want to say, not what they need to hear to make a decision about whether to buy from you, or work with you. To remember you or to forget you. 

The fix is to make the reader the main character. To always think about them when you're writing your messaging. Focus on their problems and how you specifically solve them. Not how in general they can be solved, but how you solve them. 

Look at reviews and testimonials to give you some clues about the language that your happiest customers are using and you can incorporate some of that into your messaging to reflect the feelings that they've had about working with you, the problems that you've solved, the end state that they've reached after working with you.

And also speak to your sales team, they'll have lots of insights into the questions that people ask, the concerns that they have, the frustrations, the fears and this can all help to build  empathy into your messaging and build a better understanding of your audience. Where they are when they're looking to your brand for help, and how you specifically can help them. 

The last mistake is that your messaging isn't related to your goals. It's haphazard. It's all over the place.

Obviously this comes from not having a strategy, from not having a plan, just doing a kind of scattergun approach. It links to being inconsistent and the fix is pretty obvious: define your goals. 

Then map out your customer journey. How do your customers get to that end point that you're wanting them to reach. And then connect the dots with your messaging. How can you use words to get them to this end point and to help them along their journey with you? 

Thank you for listening! That was a really quick sprint through all of those five problems, but hopefully it's given you a clear way forward if you're suffering from any of these problems. And some tips on how to avoid these problems if you're looking at doing your messaging work. 

As always, I don't track opens or activity on these emails. But I’d love to hear your thoughts. I love feedback, suggestions and requests. You can email me directly or you can connect with me on LinkedIn. 

Join me next time when we're going to be looking at how to build emotional connection in your copy. I'll see you then, thank you!