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Jul 11, 2013
How To

Content Marketing: How a telecommunications company tripled conversions, revenue with message maps

SUMMARY: Whether it's a white paper from Marketing or a job posting from HR, everything you publish delivers a message about your company. How consistent is the message you're driving?

After one year of using "message maps" to keep its content marketing consistent, this B2B company tripled soft conversions on its website and tripled its revenue goal. See how the team built its first map and put it to work, and how to make your own.
by Adam Sutton, Senior Reporter

Prospects don't give you much time. You might have less than 10 seconds to get their attention, said George Stenitzer, VP of Communications, Tellabs.

"Early in the process, a buyer may only pay nine seconds of attention. That's about 23 words or less of text, or about the size of a tweet, a headline or a quote in the media … In broadcast, it's about seven seconds."

Tellabs helps telecommunication providers across the globe advance their mobile, business and residential networks. Whether in a video or white paper, the company strives to win customers with a consistent message.

Consistency is difficult to maintain, especially in a large company with many departments that publish content. Stenitzer uses what he calls "message maps" to keep everyone on the same page.

After using message maps for a year in its content marketing, Tellabs tripled "soft conversions" on its website. A soft conversion is defined as a visitor watching a video or reading a blog post, magazine article or white paper. The lift coincided with a jump in revenue three-times greater than the team's target for the same period.

Although the revenue cannot be attributed directly to the lift in soft conversions, Stenitzer says there is a strong correlation and is convinced that they are a major contributor. Below, we describe his message maps and how to create your own.

Step #1. Trace the content funnel

While Stenitzer says he has than 10 seconds to capture a prospect's attention, he also believes the window expands when a prospect enters the funnel.

Following this theory, he categorizes content based on the amount of time it takes to consume (i.e., how long an average prospect must pay attention).

Here are four categories Stenitzer mentioned and examples of the types of content for each:
  • 7 to 9 seconds — tweets, headlines, elevator pitches

  • 2 minutes — infographics, videos, blog posts

  • 5 minutes — magazine articles, long webpages, panel commentary

  • 20 minutes — white papers, webinars

The team's goal is to get prospects to consume larger pieces of content as they follow the path to purchase. This way, they spend more time with Tellabs' message before heading to the sales team.

Commit to consistency

Stenitzer's challenge is to deliver a consistent message in content throughout the funnel. His team does this with message maps.

"The communications department, the marketing department and the sales department can follow through with those messages so that every penny we spend we're putting wood behind the arrowhead of the same message," he said.

Step #2. Outline your first map

Message maps are one-page documents that illustrate the most important points to emphasize on a given topic. It shows what to emphasize and how to support it, whether you have 90 seconds or 90 minutes of a prospect's attention.

A basic map includes three types of information:
  1. Main message

  2. Supporting statements

  3. Supporting detail

Your first map should focus on your company's overall message. This will set the foundation for all your other maps and content.

Tellabs uses software to create its maps visually. They have a web-like design with the main message in the center. Branching off are three or four supporting statements, and branching from those are additional details with more support.

For example, here is Tellabs' main message, Stenitzer said, with three supporting statements:

"Tellabs helps customers succeed by advancing their network technology, lowering their cost and growing their revenue."

Step #3. Call an executive meeting

When Stenitzer joined Tellabs, he gave the CEO and other executives an exercise. He asked them each to say the company's core message with three supporting points in 23 words or less.

"What we find out in our initial exercise, of course, is everyone tells their own story in their own language. They have different senses of what's important, sometimes different orientations about who to talk to," he said.

This step can demonstrate that inconsistency is rampant in a company's messaging. The next step is to collaborate on a statement that everyone can deliver.

Who are you talking to?

Before you can know what to say, you have to know who to address. The best approach is to speak to your customers, Stenitzer said.

"The way we say it, [the main message] has to be absolutely clear to me in the first nine seconds what the benefit is, why do I want to respond do that message or why would I want to do business with you."

For example, the main message for Tellabs is "Tellabs helps customers succeed." This is the core message the company tries to deliver in every piece of content.

Three supporting points

Next, craft supporting statements that help explain and prove your main message. Each statement should relate directly to the main message.

Tellabs' goal was to write the main message and three supporting statements in fewer than 23 words. Here, again, is the result:

"Tellabs helps customers succeed by advancing their network technology, lowering their cost and growing their revenue."

Supporting detail

Once you have the supporting statements, you can include more detail to back up each of them with proof and differentiate your claims.

"For example, if I claim I can bring you a lower cost, the next logical statement is, 'How much lower?'" In our case, for Optical LAN, it's up to 70% lower total cost of ownership, and then I have to be able to back that up with detail," Stenitzer said.

In another example, look at the message map from Tellabs for its professional services. Here are three types of information it includes:
  1. Main message: Tellabs Professional Services minimize risks and costs.

  2. Supporting statement: Improve performance and operational complexity.

  3. Supporting details: Reduce customer churn; better network architecture.

Step #4. Begin to use the map

You should base your first map on the company's overall message. It will set the main points to support in everything from blog posts to videos. The amount of detail and supporting information you provide will vary with the type of content you publish.

For example, prospects read a status update in a few seconds, so it cannot include much detail. In a blog post, you can give the message more support.

"A message needs to be like an accordion. You might have it small, you might have it large, but you're going to need consistency whether they're getting the nine-second serving size or the 20-minute serving size," Stenitzer said.

Step #5. Create maps for content

In addition to its main message map, Tellabs creates a map before starting most of its content. Since these maps reinforce the company’s core message, they are conceptual offshoots of the main map created with executives.

"Before we write an annual report, or an earnings release, or pretty much any piece, we write the message map and make sure that it's consistent with Tellabs' overall message," Stenitzer said.

You can make them in minutes

When Stenitzer worked at another company, a reporter from The Wall Street Journal called wanting to interview the chief financial officer. The CFO agreed, but only if he and Stenitzer sketched a message map beforehand.

"He said, 'No message map, no interview,'" Stenitzer said. "So, what did I do? I sat down at his desk and in about a minute and a half we said, 'OK, here's the main message, here are the three supporting points. We got [the CFO] on the phone and his quote got into the story."

Creative Sample

  1. Message map



Related Resources

Inspiration — software the team uses to create message maps

Content Marketing: Targeted persona strategy lifts sales leads 124%

Content Marketing: 21 ideas for planning, creating, and leveraging content from your webinars

Content Marketing: Webinar strategy increases registration, lead capture 91%

Overall Content Marketing Strategy Leads to 2,000% Lift in Blog Traffic, 40% Boost in Revenue

E-commerce: How Wine Enthusiast increased organic traffic 154% with content marketing

Content Marketing: 172% ROI for online retailer’s high-powered blog

Content Marketing: 7 tips for content repurposing

See Also:

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