What do you do when you’re taking a break from crafting your perfect B2B messages? Some people go to early-morning flea markets and collect antique spoons. Others take weekend nature hikes and collect arrowheads. And still others visit kitschy souvenir shops in tourist locations and collect snow globes. Me? I go onto the World Wide Web and collect Breaking Bad synopses.

What’s Breaking Bad about?

It’s fascinating to see the variety of ways people sum up the plot of the smash-hit, ridiculously prolific award-winning AMC Network crime drama series that ran from 2008 to 2013. One description says this:
Breaking Bad was about a high school chemistry teacher, Walter White, who, diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, turns to a life of crime to financially secure his family in the long run.
That’s the verbatim synopsis from a Storify contributor, and one of the more everyday, plain vanilla ways to explain the premise of the complex, five-year-running nail-biter. Nothing special; little more than who, what, why, and how, just the facts, ma’am. Yawn, right? Right, if you’re the wrong audience. But for someone who had never heard of the series before, who was simply curious to hear what it was about, without judgment or emotion — that was a clear, concise, objective, uncluttered, easy-to-grasp summary. Then I found out that Vince Gilligan, the show’s creator, had pitched it to the network using this description:
This is a story about a man who transforms himself from Mr. Chips into Scarface.
This message was never used in the advertising. But it won the deal. That’s the reason I started my collection: his audience for the pitch was entirely different from the audience for the show. The producers were in-the-know experts in crafting successful programming. Most viewers in the target audience’s age group (myself included) wouldn’t have had a clue who Mr. Chips was. So what does any of this have to do with how marketers write B2B messages? It’s all about the audience. As the Breaking Bad series gained momentum, different audiences began exploring it, and explaining it, from different points of view, depending upon their mindset, interest level, knowledge of the subject matter, and emotional investment. Kind of like the different buyers we hope will buy our products.


Take the initial example above of a totally objective description, and apply it to product marketing. I call this summary message the “package contents.” As the basis for building out a message framework that will ultimately be used for communicating with each of our audiences, that stripped-down one-liner is one of the most valuable, foundational messages for a product marketer to distill first — even if nobody ever utters or writes the words for public consumption. Just like nobody really loves the foundation of a house, nobody loves the foundational message. It’s not the persuasive pitch, the announcement headline, the heartstring-tugger, the big “get excited!” TED talk about this new product they’re unleashing into the wild that’s going to change the world. But it provides the structure for all the other messages to be created.

Custom Build

When chemistry teacher Walter White is diagnosed with Stage III cancer and given only two years to live, he decides he has nothing to lose. Determined to ensure that his family will have a secure future, Walt embarks on a career of drugs and crime.
Only a few word choices separate this version, from an IMDb contributor, from the baseline description above–changing the tone with the subtlest hint of urgency and despair. We’d do the same with a persuasive pitch to our audiences – take the foundation and build on it with a compelling message.
Breaking Bad is about a desperate man becoming greedy and losing sight of his original goals.
More manipulation of language shows a different audience this writer’s point of view, and makes the story foundation almost unrecognizable–but it’s still the same premise. The thing is this: with B2B messages, nobody has to ever see the foundation. They don’t have to talk about it. It can remain buried in the ground. But the marketing team has to know it’s there, and be confident that — like the product or solution itself — it’s strong enough to support the structure of campaigns, content and copy they’re building on top of it.

The Heisenberg Principle

How can all of these synopses be so snowflakishly different? Were we all watching a different program for five years? It’s not uncertainty that caused everyone to grasp at different meanings in the series. It was their perspectives. Same goes for what people will glean from our B2B messages. Once the base is laid, the message construction on top of it will depend — and potentially, vary widely — based on several factors:
  • the value propositions to different customer segments and buyer personas
  • their unique needs, challenges, and pain points
  • their progress along the purchasing journey
  • the content types you’re creating
  • the mediums through which buyers consume your content
Imagine that you opened your pitch about Breaking Bad with this description:
Breaking Bad is at its core a study of a deeply troubled, morally compromised man, and a grand experiment in positioning viewers behind a character that by all measures would be feared and hated in real life.
…and piqued someone’s interest — which surely you would. What if they had follow-up questions — which they surely would? You’d need to ultimately unfold your way back to, you guessed it, the “package contents.” You don’t lead with that basic summary. But you need it. That’s why my collection of Breaking Bad descriptions has become so diverse. Just like B2B messages, none of the magic in a snow globe can be attributed to its base. But it couldn’t stand on its own without one.