Getting your message across when you’re marketing a complex service or product can be complicated by the added challenges of defining terms and illustrating and explaining concepts. It’s essential, though, so that your audience not only understands the relative value of your product or service but also feels engaged with your message and company.
Biotech firms and pharmaceutical manufacturers need to reach a broad audience — including investors, researchers, and the public — and present a clear, consistent message about the complex technical services and products they offer. That’s where Cobalt’s expertise comes in. We know that to create an effective message, it’s vital to first understand, really understand, the subject so that we can explain it in a way that will engage readers. Our work is also guided by the best practices of communicating complex ideas. This post will examine how to use multi-channel marketing and the best ways to engage your audience with different types of advertising strategies for communicating the benefits of complex products.
Strategies for Communicating Complexity
When tasked with communicating the benefits of a complex product, you may need to provide the context of why it is valuable, how the product does what it does and the advantages it affords the consumer, without drowning the reader in unnecessarily technical language.
Consider the following strategies:
Know your audience
What are your readers’ goals and information needs? How much do they already know about your product or the problem it can solve for them? What is the best way to reach them? Understanding your audience allows you to use the language, tone, and voice that will resonate best with your readers. Meet them where they are. Aim to provide the correct amount of background and context. Understanding their media habits can guide your decisions about the best format for your message.
Using unnecessarily complicated language — jargon — makes communicating the benefits of complex products extra difficult and is a sure way to lose your audience’s attention. If you know your audience, you also know when you need to define or explain a technical term or concept. Using the necessary technical terms specific to your audience is good — using jargon is not.
The following example from plainlanguage.gov illustrates the difference:
Instead of “The patient is being given positive-pressure ventilatory support,” use ” The patient is on a respirator.”
Break down complex topics
Chunking complex information, or breaking it down into smaller bites, makes it easier to understand and more likely to stick. Small bites are more easily managed in working memory and are more likely to be added to long-term memory. When these bites are presented with an organizing principle, the reader can create a mental map of the entire message and understand where each part fits. For example, complex processes can be explained and illustrated in terms of the stages or steps involved.
Use metaphors and analogies
Metaphors and analogies are powerful tools for making complex information clear and relatable and can not only illustrate complex concepts in everyday terms but are also memorable and engaging. For example, content to explain how mRNA vaccines work frequently uses the metaphors of messengers carrying instructions, blueprints, or recipes to the cell and then disappearing like a Snapchat message or self-destructing like instructions for a spy mission. The immune system is then described, metaphorically, as being armed or prepared for the fight to come. The vaccinated public becomes a united front to stop the spread of disease, like a firebreak slowing down a wildfire.
Use visuals to bring data and stories to life
Images and videos are invaluable for communicating the benefits of complex products. Among their potential uses are the following:
- Breaking down the steps in a complex process
- Highlighting innovation
- Revealing what is usually hidden, like the interior workings of a machine
- Illustrating an analogy or metaphor
- Using charts and graphs to present data
- Providing context by showing how different parts fit into a system or process
- Showing how items relate to each other
- Illustrating a concept that is central to your brand or product
Use storytelling to frame your message
Research suggests that people are more likely to engage with and process information delivered in a story and that stories may even improve recall of scientific information. Unsure where to start? Look for a foothold in daily life. You might start your story about a drug or device with a glimpse into the lives of the healthcare providers and patients who will experience the benefits. You could describe a pivotal moment in the research process. By explaining how your product helps to solve a problem, you promote its value and give it a human connection. When digging for storytelling ideas to promote your product or business, consider feedback from clients and consumers, your founding story, and common challenges in your company and industry.
When the Cobalt team was tasked with developing a creative campaign to market the STA-PURE Flexible Freeze Container for Gore PharmBIO Products, it used hyperbole and compelling imagery to tell the “Not That You Would, But You Could” story.
Communications Toolbox: Finding the Right Tool for the Job
Creating a strong integrated marketing communications strategy for complex products means deploying a variety of communication tools. They should work together and have a central clear message that is consistent across promotional marketing materials. With planning, you can create an effective campaign toolbox that uses art and science to promote and explain complex products across print and digital platforms. The key is choosing the best tool for the job.
Powerful print ads present attention-grabbing visuals and slogans to engage the reader. For a complex product, this means distilling your message to its essence in a way that will spark the reader’s interest and help them remember your brand.
For a B2B campaign, for example, a print ad can provide specific information to a targeted audience about how your product may help them overcome a current challenge. Research suggests that readers exposed to print formats, relative to digital information, may internalize the information better, improving comprehension and recall — a definite advantage when conveying information about a complex product.
Glossy, eye-catching brochures can creatively convey complex information about your product’s abilities and advantages with colorful infographics, diagrams, or other visual stories. Selecting a particular feature or selling point to demystify can help to focus a brochure’s message. A higher-level brochure may promote a series of products and how they work together. Brief text can put the visual content into context, explaining the problem or challenge that your product can solve and why it is important in the bigger picture.
By incorporating a QR code into a print ad or brochure, you can keep your reader engaged, linking them directly to your product’s web presence or your company landing page.
Blog posts give you the opportunity and space to tell a longer story about a complex product. You might use a blog to explain why or how a product or service came to be, add context to explain how it addresses changes or challenges in the industry or highlight the latest news affecting your company and customers. You can use a series of blogs to go deeper into a topic or technology. Blogs keep readers engaged with links to product pages or related posts.
White papers, whether short or long, should have a well-defined scope and organization. You can use text and graphics together to highlight research findings and market trends, describe and illustrate a process or product, or break down how an innovative method can benefit customers. Color-coding can reinforce organization and ease readers’ navigation.
A landing page — the digital welcome mat for a campaign or product promotion — is an especially important space for accessible, easily digestible content. A well-designed page can convey credibility and brand consistency while linking visitors to more technical information about specific products and services.
Social media has the advantage of reaching a potentially wide audience on a variety of platforms. It’s important to understand how your target consumers use social media — which platforms they engage with and why — to plan an appropriate strategy. Social media posts for complex products can highlight innovations, recent research findings, industry news, or tell a story about a product, person or challenge that is relevant to your audience.
Complexity Case Studies
If you’re a science- or technology-focused organization looking to persuade a larger audience, eventually you will need to move from theoretical principles to real-world execution. Let’s look at two marketing campaigns to see how complex products, services and ideas can be successfully communicated.
In the late 1960s, NASA didn’t just land a man on the moon — they made the entire nation fall in love with a cold, lifeless rock. Think that’s a stretch? Consider this: in July of 1969, 94 percent of American televisions were tuned to the Apollo 11’s moon landing. How did they do it? They made a horribly complicated mission, filled with complex scientific principles, seem like manifest destiny.
NASA’s public relations team employed a journalistic strategy to build public interest and enthusiasm for the mission while educating the public about the complex technologies involved. They sent press releases and packaged broadcast segments to news outlets aiming to explain, humanize, and glamorize space exploration. By explaining the science involved in the moon mission — including elements of physics, astronomy, and engineering — these press releases and resulting news stories helped to demystify the technology and make the mission more accessible to the public. NASA also crafted a compelling story that made the moon mission a symbol of the country’s success and superiority over its political rivals. Private companies with NASA contracts boosted the government’s efforts with flashier campaigns to promote their products (Tang, anyone?) while building interest in the Apollo mission. Finally, to satisfy the public’s interest in the astronauts themselves, NASA contracted with Life magazine, which published cover stories about the men and their families, presenting them as average citizens who answered the call to serve their country.
Public health campaigns aimed at preventing the spread of disease often seep into the background of the media landscape. In contrast, the many public and private campaigns to educate people about the benefits of receiving a vaccine against COVID-19 quickly became ubiquitous across every available media platform.
Besides encouraging readers to do their part to stop the spread of the coronavirus, brief messages also used plain language and graphics to explain the complex technology behind the vaccines. This example from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention presents the basic information about how the mRNA vaccines stimulate immunity (and counters common vaccine myths). It uses jargon-free text along with a gradual layering of relevant information and colorful graphics to illustrate each concept. This video from Johns Hopkins explains the vaccines and addresses some of the prevalent false claims about them.
Clarity, Consistency, Connection
When you’re tasked with communicating the benefits of complex products, start with an integrated marketing communications plan. A solid plan will ensure that your message resonates across channels. Using the tips and strategies described here to communicate complexity with clarity, imagery and consistency can improve audience engagement and connection to your brand and product.
To learn more about how we can help with communicating complex information, visit the Cobalt Services page or contact the Cobalt team.