As retailers will attest, picky shoppers are spending less and expecting more these days. And they're carefully evaluating where to spend their dollars. With your website, ads, direct mail and (especially) PR under the microscope, it's never been more important to have a company or brand message that's right on the money.

Is Your Marketing Sending a Message Your Customers Want to Hear?
You may be surprised to discover there's a major difference between what a company is selling and what its customers are actually buying. It's a schism that becomes immediately evident once you look at a product or service from the customer's perspective. Where would Harley-Davidson be, for example, if it merely sold motorcycles instead of the lifestyle, adventure and persona being a Harley-Davidson owner represents? A retailer may be selling quality, cast aluminum patio furniture, but its customers want to buy long-lasting, worry-free furnishings for outdoor fun and entertaining.

Sales increase when you create a marketing message that taps into the essence of what your customers want to buy. You can get a clear understanding of their expectations for your company or brand through research, such as online surveys, focus groups or roundtable discussions with your target audience, as well as from online message boards and direct feedback from one-on-one sales contact.

The core marketing message you develop must remain consistent across all your marketing channels, from your website to traditional offline media, and even into social media. That means it has to be simple, direct, and easy to remember and understand. Your core message is the essence of your brand or company. It's uniquely your own, since even businesses that sell identical consumer products, such as cameras or plumbing fixtures, differ based on their company cultures, customer service practices, pricing and more. Your core marketing message must clearly define the difference between you and your competitors and make your brand relatable for your audience.

Show the Heart and Soul of Your Brand
Can you describe what your company is and does in just a few words? This is sometimes difficult for inexperienced entrepreneurs, particularly when there are complex technology products involved. But it's essential to boil down what your company or brand provides, or more specifically, how customers or clients will benefit from what you offer. As you develop your core message, throw out the words "our" and "we," and replace them with "you" and "your." This type of outer-directed language is more appealing to potential customers. So a sentence that might have started with "We provide" should instead begin with "You'll get." And be sure to discard overused, empty words, such as "solutions."

An effective core message communicates the benefits customers will enjoy when they buy from you. It intrigues and captures the interest of the customer. It's not the place for a litany of product and service features. Use your core company or brand message to use benefits to make a promise, and let the remainder of your communications explain how you will deliver on that promise by detailing the selling features.

The advertising campaigns and slogans you create must capture the essence of your core message. Because while slogans and campaigns may come and go, your core message is the heart and soul of what you offer as a brand or company and should experience a much slower evolution. It may take six months, a year or more for customers to internalize the essence of your core message, and it can be difficult to change perceptions once they're established. So fine-tune your core message with an eye toward longevity and staying power to support your company's growth over time.