Build your key message hierarchy

When you get a chance to talk to a prospect — you want to make sure you talk to them about what matters.  And if you’re not well prepared…that usually doesn’t happen.

Think back to when you were a teenager (or a pre-teen if you developed early) and were figuring out how to talk to that boy or girl you had a crush on.

Remember how your brain just fuzzed over when you got the chance and the next thing you knew, you were babbling something about how your cat was stuck in a tree, your grandma had a mustache and you didn’t like pears?

The same phenomenon occurs when we begin to talk to someone new at a networking event or a prospect who just called/walked in the door.

Without a plan, we babble.

The solution is an easy one.  At McLellan Marketing Group, we call it your message hierarchy.  Here’s fair warning — when I tell you how to do it, it is going to appear to be quite simple.  You might even think “seriously Drew, that’s all you got?”

But I assure you, it’s harder than it looks.  And it deserves some time and attention.

Assume you’re at a networking event, and someone you’ve never met before approaches you.  They extend their hand and say — “Hi, I’m Bob.  Nice to meet you.  Tell me what you do for a living.” (I know…no one sounds like that but play along)

Answer these questions in this order.

  1. If you could only tell Bob ONE thing about your business (a single sentence) that you hope he’ll remember forever and repeat often. What would you say?
  2. If you discovered you had time for a second sentence, what would you add?
  3. For some reason – you get a chance at adding a third sentence.  What’s next.
  4. Wow…Bob seems fascinated.  Add another sentence about your business.
  5. You’re on a roll!  Bob hasn’t said a word…he’s so mesmerized.  Add another sentence, quick.

You get the idea.  It’s the first question that’s the killer.  If you could only say ONE thing…and then had to walk away and that was all Bob was ever going to remember about your business — what would you say?

But once you figure that out — that’s golden.  Now you know the key message you should always lead with.  It doesn’t have to be the exact same sentence every time, but the message should be the same.

When you look at the answers to those 5 questions — you’ve build your message hierarchy.  Think of it as a triangle, widening with every sentence.  The most important point is at the top and then you add a layer underneath, over and over again.

Please give it a try.  It’s tougher than it looks but it will help you stay on target no matter what marketing tool you’re creating.

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  1. says

    Huh, yeah, that really was helpful. Wow, thanks Drew! One question though, how do you know which part you say first? Which is more important than the other?

    • says


      The most important thing is just that — the most important thing. If someone can only know one thing about your company/product — what should they know? I guess that’s probably part of your brand and understanding how you’re different from your competitors.


  2. Divine Grace says

    Hi Drew…I really want to give this a try and see if it helps me a lot…

  3. Carmen says

    These post is very knowledgeable. Thanks for sharing this with us. Looking forward for more blogs. Great job.

  4. says

    Drew, wait that’s all you got? Ha!

    Yes. simple yet we don’t do it near enough. We aren’t prepared to explain what we do and more importantly why we do it, how it matters to the other person and where we make a difference than others who may offer seemingly similar services.

    But I would add the importance of your own curiosity because this isn’t only about Bob waiting with baited breath for more details about you but rather your ability to weave a conversation so you can ask about Bob.

    • says


      Excellent point. We recommend that someone first develop their hierarchy, assuming they’ll communicate it in writing — so there is no give and take. Then…once they’ve graduated from that task — they’re ready to take it for a test spin, which as you suggest, means they need to be ready to make some on the spot adjustments, based on the feedback they receive.

      As you know and teach — when you really get how to talk about what you do and why it matters (there’s the key) to the customer/prospect, it’s a whole lot easier to “improvise” as the conversation takes its natural course.


  5. says

    Wow.. Its so fascinating . It makes me think of the answer and it make sense.This is so useful that anyone can achieve a good result. :)

  6. Andie Rogue says

    I would try to build my key message hierarchy to be more organized. I think this is surely helpful. What should be considered the most important factor for the hierarchy by the way?


    • says


      If someone can only know ONE thing about what you do/how you do it/how it impacts them — what would that be? It’s not an easy question to answer. That’s why most people haven’t done it. But, if you are willing to invest the time and brain energy (or your team’s if you work with others) to sort it out — I promise, it will be very valuable to you.


  7. says

    Hi Drew.. Marketing is really a big help and yeah I agree with you, maybe I should give this a try to see if it can benefit us… Thanks!

  8. tinafreysd says

    Very useful kind of tips I really appreciate it..I want to try this also it can help a lot to me.

  9. bambu says

    I think I’d better try to made my own key message too. Thanks a lot for sharing, these could be an helpful one.

  10. says

    Sounds simple but answering that question with a mumbled well i sell….. really is not inspiring, you need enthusiasm and a clear, concise and overall interesting sentence.

    • says


      Great point! I think the more comfortable you are with your own messages — the more confident and enthusiastic you can be. I believe the mumbling comes more from not being sure what to say, than the actual conversation.


  11. says

    Who doesn’t like pears. They are delicious. This is a lot harder than it looks and when you are networking, everyone is trying to get their name and services out there. Engage in the conversations, know your points but listen as well! You can’t help someone if you don’t listen to what they need.

    • says


      Great point — you have to listen and be ready to take the conversation where the other person wants it to go too.


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