A simple advertising campaign can cost thousands of dollars. Done right, it can lead to tens of thousands of dollars in increased sales and enhanced brand equity. Done wrong it can lead to the loss of revenue and even jobs. One of the simplest—and often most neglected—strategies for making more from an ad campaign is message testing.

Do you ever find yourself humming an old advertising jingle you remember from childhood? It's a common occurrence for all of us. Some things just stick in our minds, seemingly forever. But what makes one marketing message stick while hundreds or even thousands of others are barely noticed or immediately forgotten?

Memory is a tricky thing and highly selective for each individual. We remember things that matter to us alone, not anyone else. We each have our own unique filters through which we view and experience our world, including the marketing messages directed to us.

With billions of advertising dollars invested to reach and motivate audiences each year, nearly every component that goes into a marketing campaign has been studied and measured. So a lot is known about what makes messages memorable, including these four proven ways to make your marketing stick.

The critical question: how to get a higher response rate from the right audience? Here are five messaging tips to help you capture more return on your advertisinginvestment:

Craft Your Messages Carefully

One of the myths about message testing is that it will improve your message. It won’t. Testing only helps an advertiser identify the best message from among options. The best message among five weak messages is still a weak message and being the best weak message doesn’t make it strong. Consider these two “messages”:

Click Rate :
Chew Our Gum: 02%
Our Gum is Tasty: 03%

Testing one message against another here doesn't produce a good message; it simply reveals a bad message and another that’s even worse. Demonstrating that one is better than the other still leaves us with two poor messages.

You must start with more carefully crafted messages. For instance, consider these example messages:

Click Rate :
Flash a bright smile. Chew Pearly White Gum: 09%
Get the Girl! Chew Pearly White Gum: 13%
Got bad breath? Chew Pearly White Gum: 18%

The following is not an advertising message but it’s a great example of carefully crafted marketing copy. It was on the list of ingredients in an airline snack distributed by a flight attendant:

“Contains organic evaporated cane juice.”

A normal person would have simply written:

“Contains sugar.”

And they would also sell a lot less product as many discriminating shoppers look at sugar as just another form of poison.

- From a marketing standpoint, what’s better than sugar? Cane sugar.
- What’s better than cane sugar? Cane juice.
- What’s better than cane juice? Evaporated cane juice.
- What’s better than evaporated cane juice? Organic evaporated cane juice.

(What is organic evaporated cane juice? Sugar!)

The copywriter who produced this description of sugar certainly knew how to craft a message. Each word, each punctuation mark, each grammatical nuance of your copy should be carefully crafted to accomplish exactly what you want to do with your message—secure a sale or get some sort of a response.

Figure out your controlling idea

In traditional storytelling, you can start with a character or location and let the story line wander, twist, and turn as you explore an underlying theme. When you’re using a story to persuade someone about your idea or your product in a professional context, the approach needs to be a little more precise. You have to first determine the one idea that you wish your audience to remember. Then, make that “controlling idea” the cause for the conflict and climax.

Comprehension

Does the audience get the message, the main idea, the point? What does the message instantly communicate? Can the audience play the message back?

Connection

Making a connection with a communicated idea or message means not only that the audience “gets it,” but that it resonates with them, has meaning and significance for them, and usually triggers an irrational or emotional response: frustration, excitement, anger, passion, joy, happiness, sadness, and so on. When connection is there, it will spark new behaviors and actions.

Set the mood

The specifics depend on who you ask, but a good story always allows the listener or reader to get lost in the tale of ad. The mood is a through line that has gone on a journey towards the end and shifted. That’s the skeleton, the main thing running through a story that makes it more than random information.

Evoke an Emotion in your Marketing Message

Your target audience will watch and more important remember your advertising message better if you can evoke their emotions. These emotions can be: shock, heartstrings, surprise and laughing.

Anger is also an emotion that you can use, but it won’t work with most products and services that you are trying to sell. An ad can become unforgettable if the right emotion is triggered, but people can get an aversion for your product and services, so be careful when you use emotions in your marketing message.

Harmony

The elements of an ad should operate toward a single key message. When the elements are more organized and harmonious, the brain is better able to process the message. Many ads make the mistake of using emotional elements that don’t fit the theme as a way to generate laughs, thinking that the humor will make the ad more memorable. And it will, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing as the memorable part will be the ad itself at the cost of the message.

Credibility

The audience needs to believe who is saying it (the brand or messenger’s voice), what is being said, and how it is being said. Otherwise, any connection begins to break down - immediately. The audience may completely understand a communicator’s message, and even connect with it on an emotional level, then promptly turn around and say that coming from this particular source: company, political candidate, supervisor, whatever, they aren’t buying it.

Clarity.

Clarity is about separating the core message from the background noise, the irrelevant things that suppress, obscure, and distort the message. The core message is the “Big Picture,” the primary goal sought by a campaign; and it can be conveyed with a simple story told in a logical order that relates to people’s lives.

Transparency

Transparency is about honesty, being forthright with consumers. Messages shouldn’t convey attributes that are not part of the product, service, or concept being promoted. And they shouldn’t use phony characters. Messages should not convey unrealistic promises, either.

Choose the right structure, and stick with it

Whatever construct or approach you prefer, the importance of structure in advertising cannot be overstated. Craft the arc of your story meticulously for maximum impact.

Keep it short

Use only the words you need to use and not the words that will impress other people. Make it count.

Leveraged Attention

Attention is like a spotlight shining on a room filled with objects. Those objects under the spotlight are the ones most likely to be remembered while the others remain in the dark. The focus of the viewer needs to be directed at the most important elements at each moment of the ad. If you fail to leverage the attention of the audience, you’re wasting two precious resources: their time and your money.

Contagiousness

In communications, contagiousness is a good thing. You want your audience to “catch the message,” run with it, and spread it around. Think of the last time you saw an advertising that was so funny or clever that you discussed it with your friends, found yourself reenacting it, or repeated the slogan or catch phrase in conversations. That’s contagiousness. To be contagious, a message has to be energetic, new, different, and memorable. It should also evoke a vivid emotional response, have “talk” potential, motivate the target to do something, and elicit a demonstrable reaction.