Are you responsible for messaging and positioning in your role? 92% of product marketers state this is their top responsibility, and it should be.

Messaging and positioning really is a fundamental area of product marketing. The truth is messaging really isn't that hard, it's not easy, but it's not hard. The challenge really there is moving past your existing narratives.

Most companies live and breathe their products and end up creating echo chambers of language and ideas and of terminology that probably makes a lot of sense to people internally, but it doesn't often translate to the outside world.

For us as PMMs, it can also be hard to step outside of what we know and speak the language of the people that we're trying to influence. The key here is to really make room for outside perspectives because if you want to tell a story that's going to resonate, you want to make sure you're listening to the people that you're talking to.

Before we do that, though, it's important to define what effective messaging really means.

The attributes of an effective message

In my experience, there are three key attributes to effective messaging. Effective messaging should be:

  • Relevant - It needs to be appropriate for your to audience, relevant to their needs, relevant to the time, the place, and the channel that you're delivering it in.
  • Authentic - Messaging should always sound human; you don't want a lot of jargon or buzzwords. You also want to make sure that it's simple, and it's clear, and that anybody can understand it.
  • Credible - Your messaging really should be based on facts, it should be accurate, and it should have some sort of evidence to back it up.

So how do you get to a point where your messaging is effective and has all of these three key attributes? Earlier this year, my team actually went through a process of overhauling our entire messaging strategy, and it was a pretty big effort.

I will talk to you a little bit about why we did it, how we did it, and then talk about some of the learnings we gained along the way.

One marketing teams’ journey to message unity

Most people don't realize it but SurveyMonkey has been around for 20 years, which is ancient in the tech world. As you can see below, we started off as this simple, easy to use tool that was just meant to do surveys.

Timeline demonstrating the evolution of SurveyMonkey.

Over time, the company has built a lot of different products. We've also acquired a lot of different companies. Just this year alone, we acquired two companies. We also went public last year. Today we actually have eight distinct product lines.

Eight - that's a lot for a company our size. That causes a lot of challenges, especially when it comes to messaging.

What challenges did SurveyMonkey face with their messaging?

No cohesive narrative

First of all, until last year, we didn't even have a single PMM team. Because of all those acquisitions and the different products we built we had siloed teams working on messaging. So there was nobody at the company that was stitching all of those stories together to talk about our company as a whole. We had a lot of inconsistency, we had no cohesive story.

Focused on ‘features’ vs benefits

Also, being a very product-centric org, all of our messaging was really based on features and functionality and not so much focused on the customer benefits, which is a problem.

Concerns with market perception

If you go back and look at our evolution, as I said, we started off as a very B2C easy to use product. But over time, the products that we acquired were very much B2B solutions. Our goal was to really play in the enterprise space, so our product has evolved, but our market perception hadn't.

Inconsistent messages

Most people we talk to know of SurveyMonkey, because we have great brand equity, but they still think of SurveyMonkey as an easy to use tool that they used back in college. That's the perception out there.

So all of this together caused a lot of inconsistent messages out in the market. We didn't really have a single story we were telling.

Summary of the challenges SurveyMonkey faced when creating their messaging.

My team's goal or challenge was to really take all of this history and this mess and come up with some sort of a unified messaging strategy that incorporated all of those three elements of being relevant, authentic, and credible. But how do you even get started?

How to create unity messaging at your organization

I come from a very MIS background so for me, anytime I tackle a project, it needs to have some sort of structure. We started by defining a process.

The seven step process

Defining a process is important because, again, a project of this scope is not going to be something that you do with a few people on your team, this is definitely going to involve a lot of cross-functional partners.

So we came up with this seven-step process and I'm going to walk you through each of these steps in a little more detail.

The seven-stage process for defining messaging at your organization.

1) Create your messaging framework

The first step in this project was to really scope out what we were going to do, the scoping in this case, was really the messaging framework. Your messaging framework really is about prioritizing the different layers of messaging that you are going to create.

How to create your messaging framework.

Starting with the one in the middle, which is the corporate messaging, this can be called different things at different companies, this can be your brand message, this can be your core message. For us, we call it corporate messaging. But almost every company should have some form of this and this is where you start.

This is at the highest level and this is product agnostic. Depending on how big or small you are, you can then start to layer this and add on different elements. For us, for example, some of the questions that we asked were, as you saw, our product portfolio is pretty complex, we have, for example, different buyers that we sell to.

We sell to marketers, we sell to HR, to IT, to market researchers, there are just so many personas we sell to, it doesn't make sense to have just one layer of messaging that talks about the company as a whole because when we go and talk to marketers, we likely need something that's a little bit tailored to them.

In addition to that, by product, there are some sort of layers that you need that are very technical for each of the products. And then let's say you have different verticals that you sell to BDU is, for example, one of our top verticals. So we really want to make sure that we're also delivering messaging that is tailored to specific verticals that we sell into.

Our framework sort of became this multi-layered framework. For most of you, that might not be the case. The goal at this point really is to prioritize because it's unrealistic for you to think that you're just going to roll out all of this at once. You want to do this in phases.

For us, the first phase that we focused on was corporate messaging.

2) Do your research

Once you have your framework, the next step is to really do your research and there are a couple of things that you can do here.

Audit of existing content

The first and foremost is to really acknowledge what you already have because I'm sure there's a lot of content that you've already built.

Whether it is your website or sales collateral or strategy decks or board memos, have you gathered as much content as you can, because the goal with that is to leverage the best bits and pieces you have, why reinvent the wheel?

Competitive research

The next thing you want to do is competitive research. This is something you're likely doing on a regular basis but for the purposes of this exercise, you're going to take a very specific look at your competitors. This is more from a lens of positioning.

What we did is we created a grid where we talked to all of our competitors, and wrote down their positioning statements, and then had a section for us. So when we develop our new messaging, we could put that into the grid, and make sure that we weren't all saying the same thing.

Competitive positioning template | Download
This template helps you to systematically identify and highlight a product’s unique value proposition in comparison to competitors.

Quantitative and qualitative feedback

Next, you want to get feedback from a variety of sources. You want to do a mix of both internal and external sources and you also want to make sure that you're gathering both qualitative and quantitative data.

A couple of things that you can do here are:

  1. Just start by interviewing internal leadership, talk to them, and try to understand the value they see in your products. You can also talk to your sales teams, or your customer success teams - those are the people out there that are talking to customers every day, that Intel is very, very valuable.
  2. The other thing that we did is if you have access to analysts or industry experts, those are also great places to go and really understand the market landscape. But also analysts can give you really honest opinions about where you stand in the landscape, and what your perception of your product is against your competitors. That can really be useful in sort of setting the stage.
  3. Last but not least, leverage your existing customers and conduct market research. Do focus groups, do surveys, do some sort of interviews, they chose you for a certain reason. Try to understand:
  • Why they chose you.
  • How are they using your products?
  • Why are they using your products?
  • What is the benefit that they're seeing from them?
  • What problems are you solving for them?
Research methods product marketers need to use to create effective messaging.

3) Draft key messages

After you've gathered all this information, the next step in the process is for you to start drafting your messaging. This can vary for everyone and it can be more of the fluffy part of the process because you have all of this concept and all of this data and now you're supposed to put it down in writing.

Deliverables here can be different for every company. Going back to your messaging framework, each layer in your messaging framework can have different deliverables. These are some of the typical ones that we created, for example, when we built our corporate messaging, we delivered all of these materials minus the buyer personas, those ones only came to play when we were working on messaging by buyers.

What to consider when you're drafting key messages.

To give you a whistle stop tour through the points:

  • The unique value proposition really is at the heart of your messaging.
  • The competitive positioning, as I said, will really allow you to make sure that you're differentiated.
  • The buyer personas, I'll dive into who your buyers are, what they want, how to reach them, and things like that.
  • Your elevator pitch really is the more conversational way of reaching and talking to your customers about your company's story.
  • Proof points I'll get to in a little more detail, but these are just the supporting points or data that you are going to use to support as evidence for all the claims that you'll make.

Elements of the unique value proposition

Talking about the unique value proposition, which I said is at the heart of your messaging, if you Google unique value proposition, you likely will see millions and millions of templates out there. There's also the very traditional positioning statements that most of you have probably seen in marketing one-on-one.

Value proposition framework (template)
Our value proposition framework is a template we’ve created that’s designed to help marketers define the unique value of a product or service.

At the end of the day, they all have similar elements. Some of the things that you really want to focus on are first:

  • Who is your audience?
  • Who are you speaking to?
  • Is it your buyers?
  • Is it your users?
  • Who are they?
  • What is their challenge?
  • What do they need?
  • What is your solution or your offering?
Core elements of the unique value proposition.

Have a way of describing your offering in a really simple way. The most important part of the value proposition, at least in my eyes is the part in navy blue, which we call the solution benefit statement. It's about how you solve their problems.

There are different ways to write this, we decided to frame it in a way that we help you do X so you can do Y. It simplifies it and it was an easy way for us to just be consistent in how we talk about benefit and value.

Last but not least, you're going to need to have a section on how you are unique or what you call core differentiators. I typically like to say we need three to five maximum because, after that, it just becomes a laundry list of things.

You really want to be thoughtful and prioritize what truly makes you unique because it's easy to, working at a company, I love my product, I can easily come up with 10 things that I think are great about us. But you want to make sure that these are actually differentiated in some way and that your customers will care about them. So a maximum of five, three is ideal.

Perfection is not the goal here

At this point, I also want to mention that this is still in the early stages of your development. The goal is not to get it perfect. You're not writing copy for a campaign. All of this is internal messaging and it's a guiding document for the rest of your company to use, and then create things like campaign messaging, or take this and use it to make website copy.

The goal is not to get it perfect in this phase, because, as you'll see next, you need to have a few different variations of this as well, because this is not the point where you are able to make decisions on what works and what doesn't, we haven't tested it yet. Have a few different variations. Because the next step in the process is testing.

4) Test and refine

Testing internal assumptions is really, really important.

One, because the data you're going to get from testing is going to help you make the right decisions, it's going to help you narrow down even things like language and words that you use, benefits over solutions, or whatever, you can have two different words that say the same thing, which one works the best?

This is a time where you start to refine that messaging. Testing can be done in many different ways. Testing can also take a lot of time. The best thing to do is to create a test plan, to begin with, and be very thoughtful about the channels that you test in, but also the kind of messaging that you test in each channel.

Ways in which product marketers can test and refine.

5) Gather proof points

If you go back to the three key attributes of effective messaging, one of them is credibility. There are many different flavors of data points that you can use, some of those I've listed here.

Ways in which PMMs can gather proof points for their messaging.

Sometimes you can just look at your existing company stats and leverage those, like stats on number of customers or number of users. You can also survey your current customers and get aggregated data to tell a story or to illustrate a certain point that you're trying to make.

Customer quotes and stories are always a great way of adding credibility to your story. To give you an example, in the image below, there are three different claims that we make in our messaging and these are three very different ways of adding credibility to that claim.

Three different claims SurveyMonkey makes in their messaging.

I'm showing you this to illustrate how you can mix and match the different types of data points. In the first one, we talk about being a market-leading platform and we use a lot of companies’ stats to illustrate that point.

In the next one, we're talking about the usage of the product, one of the claims we make is that we're intuitive and easy to use. So we ran a bunch of different surveys with existing customers who actually use the products and asked them questions about usability and ease of use, training required and all that, aggregated that data, and came up with these stats.

We have pages and pages of stats like this, that we use in marketing all the time.

The last one is an example of using a customer quote or a story, where we talk about the flexibility of our platform, what better way to illustrate that by a customer telling us that?

Now that you have your messaging completed, you have the data points, everything's packaged together, the next step is really the rollout.

6) Rollout

The rollout can be really complex, and really long, or it can be really simple. It really depends on your org structure, it depends on how big your company is.

But for the most part, I think of the rollout in two different phases.

A breakdown of the two ways messaging can be rolled out: internally and externally.

The internal rollout

There is the internal rollout, before you roll it out to the rest of the world, you want to make sure that internally, everyone's speaking the same language. A couple of things you can do there is one - have some sort of a single source of truth.

Single source of truth

For us, it's our internal wiki page. Here is where you want to put all of your materials, you can even put the results of your testing because some people like to dive into the data to understand how you came to certain conclusions.

It's interesting for people so you can just put the results of your data and the key insights up there, you can put all of your documentation up there, which is like your final messaging work, your value propositions, elevator pitch, buyer personas, whatever.

Roadshow across the org

The other thing that we like to do is a roadshow with projects like this. What that involves is that typically, we would get 30 minutes on different team meetings, and then go through and do a presentation of the entire process and of the key insights and walk them through what we did, what we learned, how we did it, and here's the result.

In the delivery of the rollout, you can also create multiple assets. I like to think of this as an internal campaign, really. You're going to create different types of assets and materials, and launch it in different ways. You can even make it into an event.

The external rollout

Involve different channel leaders

For the external rollout, this is a part where you really need your channel partners and you need their help. Going back if you have brought them along the journey, you will have a much easier time getting them to take ownership of it.

Audit all marketing channels

There are two parts to this, there's looking back and seeing if there are things that need to be updated, You will then need to prioritize if at all something needs to be updated, like your website, or old materials.

Prioritize changes over time

Then it's the future-forward projects, anything that you now create should incorporate the new messaging into it. Those are some of the things you need to take care of when you're thinking of the external rollout.

7) Measure impact

The last step in the process, everything's done, the messaging is out there, it's beautiful, it's perfect, everyone loves it. How do you measure the impact? It's hard.

Most product marketing projects actually I find are hard to measure because there aren't always specific KPIs. Especially with messaging, I don't know of a KPI that you can use to measure messaging specifically. This is where you get creative.

How to measure the impact of your messaging.

What we did is looked at what our goals were, and then tied some metrics to those goals, to see the impact through that.

Sales confidence

One of our goals was to improve sales confidence, we wanted them to be able to articulate the value of our products because that was a complaint we heard all the time. It was always like, 'I don't know how to sell value, I don't know how to sell value'.

So this whole project was meant to be able to enable them to sell value. We, along with our sales enablement team, ran a survey before we launched this project, asking them about their confidence and how they feel about selling the value of our products.

Brand perception

The other thing that I mentioned earlier on as a challenge was brand perception. That's something that we regularly monitor, we have a team that does brand tracking. For us, it's just leveraging that and then at the point where we do a customer launch, trying to see if there's been a shift in brand perception as a result.

Campaign performance

There are other things you can look at, campaign performance obviously is one of them.

Analyst briefings and reviews

One other interesting thing that you can do is go back to the analysts that you spoke to at the beginning of the process, they've seen the pre-messaging part, they know the challenges that you were facing, go to them with the new messaging and see how they react to it. That can also be another measure of success.

Pro tips

Those were the seven steps of our process, now some of the things that we learned along the way.

As I said, we're still in the process, so it's not over for us. But what helped us is:

  1. It's important to define your core team and key stakeholders at the very beginning of the process. Make sure that the roles and responsibilities are very clear because there can often be overlap.
  2. It's also important to establish timelines and milestones with your cross-functional partners because this will impact them down the line. You want to make sure you're aligned on that.
  3. Consistent communication is key. Again, part of this project is not just doing the project, but actually talking about it in the company, bringing people along, and getting them to buy-in.

At bigger companies, that's an even bigger challenge because most of the times if you do something really cool, and you just tell them you're going to do it and then show up with this beautiful package, nobody will care, because they want to know how you did it and why they weren't involved.

Consistent communication really helps you to get everyone excited and come along with you.

  1. That goes along with the same point of getting buy-in, the best way to get buy-in is through data. Data doesn't lie so if you've done all this testing, if you've done all this market research, you have all of that data in the back of your pocket, because oftentimes what's happened is there's going to be certain leaders that are very passionate about certain language or about certain things, and they don't want to let go of it.

But if you've done some testing, and you can show them the customers actually don't react to those well, these are the words that actually work better, they can't refute that.

Pro tips for messaging.

Final thoughts and key takeaways

Effective messaging is relevant, it's authentic, and it's credible.

The only way that it can be is by you infusing the voice of your customer into every part of your process.

It's really, really important to use a data-driven approach, not just to make the decisions you need to make, but also to get consensus and buy-in from internal stakeholders.

An outline of the key takeaways from Sarah Din's presentation.