Brands are only as good as the messages they send to their target markets. To be sure, there is a lot riding on the success of the message: money and credibility. For example, the cost of a 30-second spot on CBS for the 2019 SuperBowl™ was roughly $5.25 million. As for credibility, remember the backlash of the “tone deaf” 2017 Pepsi ‘Live for Now’ ad featuring Kendall Jenner?
How can your brand avoid these messaging pitfalls? One solution is message testing: research conducted by an agency or branded company on how a message will perform with their target markets. Message testing can act as a hedge against failure, protecting the brand’s investment as well as their reputation.
It is not enough to assess whether or not key stakeholders like a message; understanding the potential resonance of a message requires a more nuanced approach. A good message test is able to tease out how the target audience feels about the messaging and gain a better understanding (and prediction) of their behavior. To do this, SMS Research Advisors, Padilla’s data and research wing, evaluates messaging in four different ways:
The first two questions – is it believable? is it compelling? – uncover stakeholder’s perceptions of the messaging independent of the brand.
The second set of questions – is it appropriate? is it aligned? – reveal the relationship between the messaging and the brand.
Missing the mark on any of these four components can completely derail the success of your campaign.
Is it believable?
When looking at the believability of a message, we measure the compatibility between the message and the target market’s intrinsic beliefs and assumptions. A message that is not considered believable will not resonate, even if it is true or scientifically proven. Your campaign will need to employ tactics that substantiate your claims.
For example, a client was looking to increase consumption of frozen produce through messaging that frozen produce has as many nutrients as it does when fresh. However, our message testing revealed that over half of consumers believe that fresh produce is healthier than frozen. While this messaging was true, it was not considered believable due to previously held beliefs and the client used a different approach.
Is it compelling?
A message must be compelling to be noticed, differentiate your brand from competitors and drive key stakeholders to act.
Recently, we conducted a study for an electric utility company that was announcing a large-scale environmental initiative. However, the initiative was overshadowed by a competitor making an even bolder commitment. The result? Lukewarm feedback from participants and no major impact on the brand.
Is it appropriate for the brand?
Recently, various brands have been making a splash through marketing around social issues but have seen wildly different results. Why do some controversial ads succeed and others fail? Part of it is brand appropriateness.
Let’s take a look at the 2017 Pepsi ‘Live for Now’ ad with Kendall Jenner. The ad, centered around activism during a politically divisive time, received public backlash causing the ad to be pulled and Pepsi to release a public apology statement. Why? Many critics viewed this ad as inappropriate for Pepsi and accused the brand of appropriating a nationwide protest movement—something that as a soft-drink brand, they had no founded stake or interest (and therefore no perceived right) in doing so.
Is it aligned with the brand?
Brand alignment measures the consistency between the messaging and the brand identity – looking at wording, imagery, design, offerings and perspective instead of broad concepts explored by the other three measures.
For example, a health care client was re-tooling their messaging with respect to their brand identity. To test brand alignment, we used two versions of a message with slightly different wording to understand which had stronger consistency with the brand identity. The results showed that using words and phrases that emphasize positive collaboration better supported the brand’s identity as a leader than those emphasizing competition and criticism of other health care systems.
In addition to reducing risk, message testing is about building trust with your target markets. Continue to strengthen that relationship by ensuring your messaging is believable, compelling, appropriate, and in alignment with your brand.
Dan Reilly is senior vice president and lead of SMS Research Advisors, a division of Padilla.