Build a messaging framework that aligns product, sales, and marketing for success.
One of the big challenges for emerging growth companies is maintaining a straight line between their evolving product vision and go-to-market approach. The transition from achieving product-market-fit to developing go-to-market fit can be a bumpy and costly ride if product, marketing, and sales aren’t all on the same page.
Product may sometimes feel that sales isn’t doing a complete or accurate job of conveying the product’s features and value. Sales teams may take liberties in sales pitches because they feel that they haven’t gotten a complete articulation of the product’s capabilities, along with the necessary proof points, in their sales content. Marketing, especially when led by generalists in the early growth stages, may not have the time to do a thorough messaging and content treatment that will bring everything into alignment. These problems grow exponentially as product feature sets expand and product portfolios grow.
Poor go-to-market alignment generally results in a sludgy pipeline and less predictable sales cycles. The good news is, getting go-to-market into alignment is a problem that has a nearly mechanical solution which any company can implement. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to developing a strong messaging framework that supports all your market-facing content. Here are the three essential parts for doing it right:
Step 1: Build the marketecture
Stack diagrams seem ubiquitous in the technology industry, but it’s amazing how many emerging companies haven’t completed one. It’s important before you embark on any messaging exercise to define which platform, products, and solutions require messaging, and just as important, how they all relate to one another. The marketecture accomplishes this by forcing you to think through each layer of your product stack, with the resulting taxonomy providing a logical leaping off point for building your messaging library.
The example stack diagram below shows the generic elements that should be part of any marketecture. The base layer should articulate the key platform components. For example, if you have an API or an SDK, you might want to feature that here. Moving up the stack, the next layer should include an articulation of your products. If you have multiple product categories, you can split them here and include the product names as sub-nodes in each category. These diagrams can grow quite complex if you have a large product portfolio!
Depending on your approach to market, you may need a solutions layer on top of product. If your products can be configured to address the specific needs of different industry verticals or customer types (SMB vs. Enterprise for example) then you will want to articulate that at the solutions layer. At the top of your stack, you’ll want to add a placeholder for your brand. This is a reminder that you need to treat your corporate level messaging and positioning with the same care as your products.
Step 2: Develop the Messaging Library
For each component of your messaging stack, you will need to develop comprehensive messaging that passes through three filters; product vision, buyer mindset, and creative.
Most messaging exercises start and stop with an articulation of the product features, capabilities, and, hopefully, some market or customer validation of your product claims. It’s important to remember that buyers approach new technology buying decisions with a complex mix of requirements that your product-centric point of view may not fully address. That mix generally is composed of four categories of requirements; Economic, Strategic, Technical, and Professional. You should strive to elicit these requirements from your customers and incorporate them into your messaging whenever they are relevant.
Depending on your buyer and the complexity of your product, you may need to put varying levels of emphasis on these different dimensions of buyer requirements. For example, at the brand level of your messaging you might focus more on the strategic and professional dimensions of your product’s capabilities and benefits. The product level messaging might place more emphasis on Technical and Economic dimensions. It’s critical that you think through all of them, otherwise you’re going to have holes in your messaging that leave your sales teams hand-waving when buyers ask difficult questions that they aren’t prepared to answer. When you do address all the critical buyer requirements, you’re one giant step closer to having a reproducible customer acquisition and sales process.
The last filter in the messaging development process is to add a layer of polish with creative copywriting. Not every company has access to great copywriters. If you don’t, there are steps you can take to add flair to your messaging. Emotion, contrast, and learning will drive more interest and engagement with buyers. Does your messaging speak in a human or technical voice? Even a technical audience is going to be bored by word-walls of technical jargon. Start with the relatable human impact of your product and then layer in the technical aspects to support the left-brain requirements of your audience.
Apple is a great example of a company that does this extremely well. Go to any of their product pages and each feature messaging group tends to lead with human impact of the technology (“Power to the pro.” for the iMac Pro, for example) and then articulates the technical features (“up to 18 cores.”) that support that impact, along with benchmarks against previous and/or competitive products.
Apple uses benchmarks as an effective way of adding contrast to their messaging so buyers can contextualize technical performance. This benchmarking, which is a hallmark of Apple marketing, also adds an element of learning that leaves buyers feeling they are more knowledgeable about each product feature. Finally, by creating their own benchmarks, Apple frames the debate with competitors on product performance. By controlling the narrative in this way, Apple defines categories in terms most favorable to their products. This keeps competitors on their heels. It’s a strategy that works well for Apple and can work for you too.
Step 3 – Integrate messaging across all your collateral
At the end of step 2 you should have a messaging library with elements that can be interchanged like Lego blocks into all your market-facing collateral.
While some variation in message components should be expected as you port your messaging to different content types (product sheets, sales decks, website pages, etc), that variation should be minimal. By using standardized messaging across all your assets, you’ll give your sales and marketing teams a more comprehensive and easily extensible set of messaging tools with which to do their work—and you’ll give buyers a more consistent experience and better understanding of your products. By implementing this process and maintaining it as new features or products are released, you’ll eliminate mis-alignments between product, marketing, and sales, and ensure everyone on your go-to-market team is in a better position to succeed.