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Optimizing Your Client’s Messaging Strategy (pt 2)

Message content and target audience

Optimizing Your Client’s Messaging Strategy (pt 2)

Ian Roberts
Posted on 19 December 2014 in Email Management
by Ian Roberts
5 min
In our last blog post, we discussed two of the four components that comprise promotional messaging:  the medium through which the messages are conveyed, and the overarching message theme.  In this post, we’ll focus on the remaining two components of messaging:  message content and target audience.  

Message Content:  Should positively affect behavior


Using market research to help build message content is, at once, a simple and a complex process. The task itself is, typically, a simple one: Respondents are asked to react to various statements that, together, comprise the total marketing message that will be disseminated. However, a degree of complexity is introduced when we try to determine not only the individual statements that are most effective, but to determine the specific combination of those statements – and, frequently, also the exact order in which those statements should be placed – that will yield what those within the target audience consider to be the most effective message.

How do we define an “effective” message? In this context, “effectiveness” encompasses the degree to which the message is:
  • Believable,
  • Important,
  • Persuasive,
  • Interesting, and
  • Prompts a positive action or change in behavior.

For ideally, of course, a promotional message will persuade the recipient of that message to act in some way – usually we are hoping to “jump-start” the purchase of a product or service, or encourage an inquiry or other “positive” behavior (e.g., advertising for prescription pharmaceutical products that is intended to spur the patient to request a prescription for the drug from his doctor; advertising by political candidates to persuade voters to elect them in an upcoming election).

Because the task has so many “moving pieces”, message content is often initially developed through several phases of qualitative research. Once the results of the qualitative research have enabled us to roughly determine the message content and the order of the statements that comprise this content, a couple of phases of quantitative research will typically be conducted, so that the message may be fine-tuned and finalized.

Target Audience: Technology has been a game-changer in delimiting a target audience.

The sophistication and reach of technology – from digital film and satellite transmission, to inexpensive hand-held cameras and cloud computing – have increased exponentially over the past 30 years. The result is that nearly every point on the globe has become accessible with virtual immediacy, by a huge number of its inhabitants. We tend to take it for granted today, but we’re able to snap a photo … use Photoshop to alter the color tones, shadows, and shapes of the subjects of that photo … insert text in any font imaginable … and almost-instantly send the resulting document file wherever we would like it to go. And we can do all of that much more quickly than could have ever been imagined even 30 years ago.

At the same time, the growth of the World Wide Web and various forms of electronic communication have allowed every user of these tools to become aware of events that happen across the world in real time, as these events unfold. Each of us is able to curate a virtually limitless stream of information about any topic imaginable. As we are exposed to this information explosion, we have become conversant in diverse of areas, to a degree that was simply unimaginable in the pre-Internet age. Across the globe, we share more common knowledge and experiences than at any other time in history – because we share access to the same endless bank of data.

The contradictory nature of the global marketplace complicates target audience identification.

The result of all of these technological advances is that the earth has, essentially, been transformed into what media theorist Marshall McLuhan termed a “global village”. This very same technology that ties the world together also allows marketers to reach those who dwell in this “global village” with messages that are quickly tailored for different markets, or even customizable at an individual consumer level.

Ironically, this phenomenon of a global village whose members share many common bits of knowledge and interests – but are also quite different on a cultural level – has made identifying specific target markets both easier and more difficult.

A global marketplace requires effective communication with the global village.

As researchers, we tend to collect a vast repository of information about our “villagers”. This information may be “sliced and diced” in an infinite number of ways – by any demographic attribute, behavior, or preference imaginable. Some of these characteristics may be specified by the client as being in the “need to have” category, prior to the inception of any research efforts; in these instances, the client is confident that their target audience possesses some specific characteristics (e.g., the target audience for Abercrombie and Fitch jeans includes male and female teenagers in middle-to-upper-middle-class families who lead active lifestyles, plus parents who may be purchasing the jeans for their children).

There are other characteristics of the target audience, however, that may not be as definitively identified by the client. To hone in on these previously unknown characteristics and enable us to optimize the effectiveness of the promotional messages, the researcher will need to include survey questions that uncover relevant demographic, behavioral, and attitudinal information. This will allow the patterns that emerge – if any – to be noted and used to develop/fine-tune the message content.

It’s probably fairly obvious by now that properly defining the target audience is critical for any marketer:

  • If the target audience is not properly defined, then the client’s marketing spend is wasted on those who should not have been included, and
  • Revenue is likely lower than it might have been because not all who should have received the message were included.

Optimizing Messaging Strategy: An iterative process

As is probably quite evident by now, it would be virtually impossible to include a full complement of questions to cover every one of the four “messaging” components – medium, theme, content, and target audience - within a single research instrument; the resulting study would be both unwieldy and unreliable and you’d be hard-pressed to find respondents who would complete the entire survey. In addition, there will inevitably be lines of questioning and/or specific elements of message content that do not come to mind until other findings are known.

Therefore, messaging research is, ideally, always undertaken as an “iterative” process. That is, research is done in phases, with the findings of earlier the phases informing the construction of the research instruments used in subsequent phases. Detailed messaging research that does not include any research pertaining to graphic elements (photographs, drawings, logos, etc.) may require as many as three or four iterations; if graphic elements are included, even more iterative rounds will be necessary.

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