Your marketing messages are one of the most important aspects of your business. They’re the frontline of your company’s communication. They’re the first thing your customers read on your website, socials posts, ads, newsletters, and any other place you choose to communicate.

These little snippets of information have a huge influence on the success of your business. They have to create a clear, concise, and convincing argument for why someone should care about the “thing” they describe.

And that “thing” is your business. It’s your livelihood. Not to overstate it, but the course of your career in many ways hinges on your ability to communicate the value of that “thing” effectively.

With something that critical, it should be a total no-brainer to have tools to help create your messages. But do we?

Sure, there are lots of resources out there about writing headlines. In particular, there’s a big focus on how to write headlines for things like blog articles or emails.

The problem is that so much of this content jumps straight to tips and tactics, like:

  • Use a number list
  • Use this specific list of “power” words
  • Make a bold statement
  • Start with “How to” (yes, like this article)

A lot of these ideas are backed by legitimate data on what generates engagement from readers. Through analysis of millions of examples, we identify patterns. We can then leverage these patterns to pique a customer’s curiosity.

There are valuable lessons to learn from this data and the tactics we extract from them. But it’s not enough.

These tactics speak to general human behavior rather than the specifics of your business.

And while a number list might be a good headline for a blog post, what’s the best headline for your entire business? How do you crystallize the value proposition of everything you do?

For something that important and complex, you need more than “5 quick tricks to fix your copy”. You need to think about the fundamentals of who your business serves and how you serve them.

Surface Level Tips vs. Strategy Foundation

Imagine you had to play 1-on-1 basketball with Lebron James.

Your job is simple: score a basket against him.

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He looks like such a nice guy. This should be fun!

To prepare, you get access to an awesome list of the best, expert-backed tips for how to make a shot:

  • Locate the rim
  • Keep your feet shoulder width apart
  • Square your shoulders to the hoop
  • Form a 90 degree “L” with your shooting arm
  • Keep your non-shooting hand on the side of the ball and use it only as a guide
  • Release the ball as you jump up
  • Keep a relaxed wrist after you shoot, fingers pointed at the hoop

There you go! Let’s make it rain!

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Oh my.

Despite the fact that you were armed with clear, proven tips for how to shoot, the ball ended up somewhere in the 6th row of the stands.

Even worse, you don’t walk away from that experience with a better understanding of why you failed. According to your list, you checked off all the right ingredients.

In business terms, your shot is your message and your customer is Lebron.

If you make a shot, then you’ve created a meaningful connection with your customer. But just like Lebron, your customer is an All Star at swatting away your attempts.

Yes, if you rely on basic tips alone you may get lucky on occasion and knock one in. But is it repeatable? Is it something you can you build on?

It’s not to say those tips are wrong or bad, it’s that they’re not enough on their own.

This is where the foundation come in.

To score consistently, you need more than a textbook jumpshot. It’s about what you have under your jersey. Are you strong enough, fast enough, smart enough?

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On the business side, this equates to the clarity, efficiency, appeal, and strength of your message.

These are things you can actively work on to improve. They’re a reflection of your business and your customers, not just habits of people in general.

Here are the types of “muscles” you need to work on to create effective messages that will connect with your customers:

  • What are your customer’s motivations?
  • What outcomes do your customers hope to achieve?
  • What unique position do you hold in the competitive landscape, and in turn your customer’s mind?
  • Which of your features will most help your customers make progress on their challenge?
  • What tone of voice would most attract your customer?
  • What aspects of your business will get your customer to switch from what they do now to what you’re offering?

If you understand these parts of your business you can use them to make meaningful connections with your customers. These are the ingredients you need to articulate a strong value proposition.

These aren’t afterthoughts or nice-to-haves. This is where you need to start.

With those elements in place, now you can make meaningful progress with your messages. If what you write isn’t effective, you can trace the elements back to your business and strategy.

It’s no longer a question of which trick might work best, but how do I make my business work best.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t understand why those tactics work and how to apply them. Those tactics can be a great supplement to your foundation.

But they aren’t a replacement for the foundation.