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Speaking to your customer: Keep your message brief and clear

Start with a one-sentence offering, and keep the message consistent

By Anders Helgeson · March 30, 2021
Hero image of a junk hauling truck

The amount of information your customers' brains are processing at any given moment is massive. What that means is that you need to get your message across to them clearly and quickly.

I've done this for my junk removal business, Time Now Hauling, but the power of getting your message across quickly is pretty universal.

The one-sentence offering

It all starts with what I'll call your one-sentence offering. 

It doesn't need to be a complete sentence (and it can be two short sentences—I'm not counting), but it has to make it crystal clear exactly what your business does.

There's always time to tell your story and help your customers get to know you. But first, you need to be sure they understand what you do. And with everyone else also bombarding them with all of the things, you don't have much time to get through to them.

Think of the way ads currently run on YouTube. Typically, you'll have a 15 or 30-second ad that's skippable within a few seconds of it first playing. Those first few seconds are realistically all you have to make an impression on your potential customer before they click away. This has always generally been true, but the margin for error is getting much narrower as information overload increases and people are, for example, seeing your ads while also browsing their phones or looking at your flyer while listening to a podcast.

So how do you craft the perfect one-sentence offering? Here are the main criteria I suggest:

  • One sentence (or one short phrase)

  • Easily repeatable

  • Doesn't require explanation (a 10-year-old could understand what you offer when they hear it)

  • Describes your solution to the customer's problem

One thing people often forget here: it doesn't need to be cutesy—or even obviously catchy. It can be, but that should be secondary to clarity. Your goal is to establish an obvious, immediately recognizable link between your customer thinking they need something and your product or service. You might think repetition can get annoying, but having a simple, repeatable phrase becomes extremely powerful if you can center your brand messaging around it.

My favorite high-profile example is Snickers. Snickers introduced the "Hungry? Why wait?" campaign back in 1995 (and expanded it with its "You're not you when you're hungry" campaign in 2010, which grew global sales by 15% in the first year that it ran).

On its face, it's the most obvious ad campaign ever. It presents a simple question: are you hungry? And with the answer almost always being yes, the solution is now Snickers.

I love it so much because it just seems so ridiculous. Look, Snickers is a candy bar, but it's now the first thing I think of when I'm at a gas station and I'm looking for a quick snack. Logically, I should probably think beef jerky, granola bars, or maybe sunflower seeds. But this ad campaign from Snickers has tricked me into thinking that a candy bar is just as acceptable a snack for my hunger as an apple. (It's not.) This persists into the modern age, as a three-second video of a Snickers bar and a loud voice asking if I'm hungry is still as effective as any ad I've seen to this day.

Snickers sells a product, and I sell a service, but ultimately we're selling a solution to a customer's problem. 

Speak directly to your customer

Established brands can run feel-good ads that are intended to make you think positively about the company on a macro level, but smaller brands like yours and mine need to grab our customers' attention and capitalize on it quickly. Your one-sentence offering needs to be specific and speak to your customers' pain point. If they don't know how you can help them within a few seconds of seeing your flyer or ad or website, they'll toss it in the trash or click away.

If you do this right, potential customers will feel a relationship with your company (because you're talking directly to them), and they'll qualify themselves as a good lead (because they feel you can solve their specific problem).

So when you're crafting your message, start by asking: who is your ideal customer? 

For my business, it's people who are too busy or overwhelmed to figure out how to get rid of their junk on their own. So my junk removal business has "Stress Free Junk Removal" slapped across all of our marketing materials. It's the main tagline on our website, it's the main headline across all of our Google Ads, and when we get out and do neighborhood canvassing, it's written in big letters in the middle of our flyers. 

One of Time Now Hauling's flyers

My goal is for customers to think of my company when they see their old couch, mattress, or pile of trash that's accumulated in their side yard, and start to get a hint of that stressed-out feeling in their gut. That discomfort becomes the trigger that reminds them, "hey, I don't need to deal with this—I can call Time Now Hauling."

I even love pointing to our competitor 1-800-GOT-JUNK as an example. They skipped the go-between and just made their one-sentence offering the company name. They've got us beat there, but we're hot on their trail in the San Diego market. 

Time Now Hauling Google ad

If your message is clear, you can be your customer's first thought when they need the solution you offer. Or maybe their second thought if they're also hungry.

Build out from there

It starts with your one-sentence offering, but the clarity of your messaging needs to be maintained across all your marketing materials.

All of my marketing copy is focused on speaking directly to the customer who gets stressed when thinking about their junk problem. First, they're greeted with "Stress Free Junk Removal" as the headline. 

Time Now Hauling's website

My ideal customer would see that headline and say, "that's what I'm looking for!" 

The next section asks if their clutter stresses them out, and offers a few examples of situations where clutter can cause stress. This gives another opportunity to connect on a situational level and asks them to think more about their problem. As they continue to scroll, we talk about how they'll feel better after they clear out their junk, and we present some reviews from our previous customers for social proof. And toward the end of the page, we have a longer section that speaks specifically to common hesitations that people have when dealing with low-skill companies (price gouging, showing up late, shady practices).

While everything after the headline is well beyond the scope of the "one-sentence offering," it still sticks to that clear message: you will be less stressed if you let us take your junk.

This kind of clarity and consistency in messaging also gives the customer a chance to decide whether or not our service is right for them. If they're looking for somebody to come pick up their junk for the cheapest price possible, they probably won't call us since that's a job for Craigslist. But anyone who's focused on a stress-free process through and through will choose us.

Recycle the message

This kind of clarity in messaging is powerful across all your channels: website and email copy; text, video, and podcast ads; printed materials, and everything in between.

And, of course, your one-sentence offering can be the start of your elevator pitch. If your customer is into it, that gives you a few extra seconds to give them more information, connect with them personally, and sell your service or product.

Removing as many mental roadblocks as possible for the customer creates a better experience for everyone: you get a customer who understands what you do and knows it's right for them. They're happy. You're happy. And all because the message was clear.

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