If you’ve ever been the victim of a typical window replacement sales pitch, you know all too well the plague of botched marketing and sales messaging. You reach out for a quote, simply looking to understand if upgraded windows would increase your home’s energy efficiency, and after an hour-long, data-stuffed slide presentation, you still find yourself asking those same basic questions.
Unfortunately, this Window Salesman Plight isn’t industry specific — it’s a common and innocent byproduct of passionate businesspeople. We see it in many business to business (B2B) technology companies, where articulating the value in the customer’s language is often more challenging and complex. It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on what your product or service does, not the value it delivers. After spending countless hours refining real-time dashboards and feature-rich toolsets, of course you want to share every detail of your “baby.” While the features and functions of your solution certainly have their place, it shouldn’t be the focal point of your company’s messaging platform.
We know all too well that this is easier said than done. It’s hard to hone in on concise, compelling messaging. If your current messaging isn’t resonating with your target market or you are building something from the ground up, always begin by fully understanding your audience’s needs and pain points in conjunction with the market dynamics and your true competitive differentiators.
Start From ‘The Other Side Of The Table’
Messaging is a make-or-break point in your marketing foundation. Often confused with “copy” or “content” (the specific words used in marketing material), in reality, messaging is the guidepost and framework for companies to articulate a cohesive, compelling and strategically crafted story to the outside world.
To set a solid foundation for successful relationships with customers and prospects, companies must focus on WIIFM: the “What’s in it for me?” value proposition that elicits an emotional response from the audience. Put yourself in their shoes: Customers and prospects have everyday problems that impede their work. No one wants to feel alone in their struggle, and being able to evoke the satisfying “they get my pain and can help fix it” may sound simple, yet it is a powerful place to start.
That’s why we emphasize with clients that messaging is more than just words. If your message reaches your target audience but isn’t compelling enough to precipitate the intended response, the issues will cascade downward from there, since everything related to a company’s go-to-market (both externally and internally) relies on having the right messaging in place.
Executing The Strategy Behind The Words
Unfortunately, having “perfect” messaging in place doesn’t preclude you from experiencing future dissonance. The right messaging isn’t a one-and-done effort. A variety of factors can drive a company’s need to revisit their messaging, including:
1. Launching new lines of business (products or services)
2. Recognizing changes in the competitive landscape
3. Identifying shifts in buyer behavior
4. Planning to penetrate new market segments and/or new personas
5. Repositioning to support a company’s evolving growth strategy
6. Acquiring or merging with another entity, or other business model change
These inflection points can be applied to analyze past, current and future messaging needs. Understanding the triggers that warrant a messaging audit allows companies to proactively maintain and refresh their messaging to support a stellar marketing function — before feeling the pain of stagnant messaging.
After identifying a need to develop or change messaging, companies should embark on an exhaustive yet worthwhile process of analyzing and synthesizing questions around six areas before concluding the appropriate messaging direction.
1. Market Landscape: Where and how does my company fit into the broader market?
2. Competitive Landscape: How are my competitors articulating their value?
3. Path To Market: How should our partnerships and alliances inform our positioning?
4. External Stakeholders: What are customers, prospects, analysts and other influencers saying?
5. Present And Future State Of Our Products And Services: What do we offer today and where are we headed?
6. Internal Environment: What are we communicating on our website vs. the annual report? Is everyone rallying around the same, correct message?
Building Out A Messaging Framework
Once you confirm your strategic direction, it is time to build out a messaging framework document. Think of it as a clean canvas where you can articulate all of your strategic concepts. Using a framework provides consistency and clarity on the “right” message to deploy across all communications, both internally and externally.
So, where do you start? Most messaging frameworks include:
• A few paragraphs about the company, incorporating information that’s both visionary and outlines “what we do and who we help” in a tone and voice that captures the essence of how the company wants to be perceived by the customer.
• Taglines to quickly convey value.
• Unique value propositions, which are typically the three to four points that set the company and product or service apart in the market.
• Target audiences and their pain points as they relate to the solution.
• Industry proof points or internal data points that support key messages.
The Many Applications Of Messaging
Leadership teams will notice a powerful difference once they are brought through a messaging initiative and have a strong framework in place to serve as the foundation for internal and external communications.
With a coherent message that articulates the real value, heart and soul of your company, and its product or service offerings, marketing and sales teams can begin applying it to just about any form of communication, and to any audience — sales messaging and materials, marketing campaigns, web content, annual reports, analyst presentations, articles and more. Done right, messaging should come to life in content development, marketing and sales programming.
Armed with the right understanding of your place in the market, messaging that supports your differentiation and resonates with target audiences, and a plan for disseminating it through the right materials and programs, companies of any size can reap the benefits of a solid foundation that can support your desired growth trajectory.