The Biggest Problem Businesses Face in Their Messaging (and How to Solve It)
Back in the early 1900s, the Triscuit was the first biscuit to be baked with electricity. That’s where it gets its name (“elec-TRI-city biscuit” = “Triscuit”).
Advertisers used this as a differentiator at the time, stating, “Triscuit is baked by electricity, the only food on the market prepared by this 1903 process.” 1
It makes sense — this is what would have helped the Triscuit stand out from its cracker competitors. But while heralding the Triscuit’s uniqueness, the message itself holds almost no appeal.
At this point, electricity would have been around for roughly twenty years — though perhaps it still would have been very trendy and chic to eat an “electricity biscuit.”
But let’s say for our purposes that the use of electricity in the baking process was nothing more than a neat piece of trivia. The only biscuit baked by electricity… so what?
This is the core of what I like to call the differentiation problem.
Solving the Differentiation Problem
The differentiation problem is an extremely thorny challenge for business owners across industries. It’s a common trap in messaging to speak only of what makes your business or product unique, thinking that it will attract customers — but too often, it doesn’t.
This goes against what business owners know about saying that they are the “first, best, or only,” when it comes to advertising their business or products in the market. It has flaws. Customers need to know why it matters to them that a business is “first, best, or only.”
The desire to differentiate leads businesses to get caught up telling potential customers all about how they solve the problem (their differentiator), which can quickly become a monologue. A loss of focus on the customer leads to the customer wandering off. The differentiator by itself isn’t working.
One of the biggest secrets to creating a compelling message is to combine your differentiator with the customer’s transformation.
Examples: Combining the Differentiator and the Transformation
Let’s say the Core Transformation for Triscuit is Lifestyle. Potential customers are the kind who like to try new things and set the trends — to stand out from the crowd.
If we add the Triscuits’ differentiator to that Core Transformation, the message would look something like this:
Let the rest of the world eat boring crackers baked over the fire. Distinguish yourself by eating the only biscuit prepared using electricity.
Let’s go one step further. It can be very effective not just to add your differentiator to your avatar’s transformation, but to use your differentiator to claim exclusivity on the transformation.
For example, let’s say Triscuit’s Core Transformation is Adventure. We would focus on the novelty of the cracker and the unique experience of eating it. Here’s an example of a message that uses the differentiator to claim exclusivity on the transformation:
We bake Triscuits like no other cracker (using electricity!) so you can experience a taste like no other.
The main goal in claiming exclusivity is helping customers understand that you are the only one who can provide the certain kind of result they’re looking for. It’s attractive because by reading or hearing a short, simple message, they are able to visualize and quickly attach to the main benefit — while recognizing that your competitors do not offer the same thing.
Learning how to use your differentiator alongside a transformation, or to claim exclusivity on a transformation, is a process. It often requires lots of rewriting and reconfiguring to get a concise, powerful message. Give it a try and keep working at it — when you land on a compelling message, you’ll know it!
This is an edited excerpt from my book Mission, Market, Message: The Actionable Guide to Marketing for Small Business Owners, which you can purchase on Amazon.
1. Snouwaert, J. (2020, March 26). It’s pretty obvious that the Triscuit name is a play on the word biscuit, but it turns out the ‘tri’ at the beginning doesn’t stand for ‘three’ - it’s short for ‘electricity’. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/triscuit-name-origin-combination-of-electricity-biscuit-2020-3.