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Key Message Blunders

Part Four: Getting It Wrong


4. Getting It Wrong

Many people in business choose to present their products and services with key messages that reflect their knowledge of their company’s offerings and would appeal to themselves. This approach sometimes works. Often, however, a slogan or value proposition not tested on people who match the ideal client profile fails to benefit promotional efforts.

Typically, the basic problem is a lack of the authenticity that can only come from truly understanding what the ideal client values, expressed in their own vocabulary.

Consider these examples:

  1. Your outboard experts on the front window of a boating and marine supplies shop.
  2. Award-winning design since 1999 on the home page of an interior design studio.
  3. Ahead of the trend the motto of a clothing boutique.


Example 1 commits the blunder of the presumptuous use of your. No matter how popular, this boat centre could never achieve a sense of belonging to every person who reads its window sign.

Rather than planting an intuitively acceptable idea into the mind of the reader the mark of an effective key message this claim inevitably alienates people who do not regard the place as their own. Its value at evoking and maintaining a sense of belonging among actual customers is likely mild, overall.

Better to use something like The island’s leading outboard experts, if true.


Example 2 commits the blunder of promoting features that do not provide compelling benefits. The statement is purely about the design studio, implying that its clients can get interior design so good that it wins awards.

If that is the best promise this studio can make, then how many prospective clients for interior design consider the chance for the designer to win an award as a compelling reason to purchase anything on offer? Chances are, the market’s values lie elsewhere. In that case, design awards had better be more important to this design studio than more clients.

Better to say something like Leaders in designing indoor spaces since 1999, if true.


Example 3 commits the blunder of not appealing to a specific market.

Generally, children are oblivious to clothing trends, only noticing and following them unconsciously. The concept of clothing trends is typically not a part of children’s conscious value-set.

As clothing is concerned, pre-teens tend either to function like children oblivious to trends per se or to make choices like teens.

Among teens, a trend is generally something to consciously avoid. Though clothing trends have been rampant among teens for decades, even the word trend generally carries a negative association among teens.

Young adults generally either make clothing purchases like teens or choose to be deliberately oblivious to trends.

Hence, from children to young adults, the concept of being ahead of any clothing trend likely provides little traction, if any.

Among adults, only narrowly-focused niche markets seek to set or to follow clothing trends. Therefore, this motto would turn off more clothing shoppers than it attracts.

Better to say something like Get noticed.


understand the market first

Marketers who do not understand and appreciate the values, concepts, and customary word choices of their target markets risk using key messages that do not generate much new or repeat business. In some cases, they even generate avoidance of their brand.

Overall, it is better to articulate an authentic, meaningful key message that reflects the thoughts and feelings shared by people who match the ideal client profile.

  Glenn R Harrington, Articulate Consultants Inc.


Click for Key Message Blunders 1

Click for Key Message Blunders 2

Click for Key Message Blunders 3

Click for an overview of key messages

Click for three reasons why independent businesses need key messages to succeed


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