So many companies say they need help to raise their game in messaging. The CEOs and CMOs all believe that they have a great product that delivers incredible value but they are failing to communicate it. Having the right messaging, they say, will solve many of their GTM challenges.
So, what are the secrets of great messaging? I’ve been working on messaging for a long time and I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly and I’ve made my own share of mistakes. As I write this post, I don’t want to try to describe the structure of a positioning statement or how to build a story arc. For that, you should read some of the works by Al Ries, Geoffrey Moore, Simon Synek, and Andy Raskin. I read them too. Instead, I want to impart a few tips of a different kind:
Messaging is not a magic spell
I have heard Sales leaders ask many times: “How do we message our solution?”. What they seem to always expect is a script. A precise language that every AE will learn to win every deal. It’s like a magic spell that needs to be uttered exactly the way it is written in the Book of Spells. Once we train and certify everyone on that exact language, then we have our messaging.
Alas, that’s not how it works. The exact language doesn’t matter. It must not matter. What matters is the substance. Messaging needs to be a convincing argument, not memorized lines. Your sales reps are all different individuals, everyone with her and his own personality. That personality includes the way they speak. To be credible, they need to deliver your messaging in their own words.
Also, chances are that a good number of your sales reps are in others countries. They speak German, French, Italian, Japanese, or Hindi. They have no choice but to translate your messaging into their own words. If the messaging substance is there, they can do it easily. If your messaging is trying to mask the lack of substance with fancy lines, you are hoping for a magic spell.
Of course, specific words matter. For instance, productivity, efficiency, and utilization are all referring to the same message - you can accomplish more work with the same resources. That’s the substance. Your messaging should decide which of those words you will use. Consistently. But how you describe the problem and your solution, that your personalized delivery.
Messaging is strategy
Your messaging is an important strategic tool. But, of course, it has to reflect your strategy. For that, it is required that a) you have a strategy and b) your product marketers understand that strategy. Strategy is usually developed by the CEO and his closest team. Andy Raskin always talks about how he likes to talk to CEOs. Well, they also have the biggest budget. But a strategy is only effective when all stakeholders are aligned. If your Product Marketing team is out of the loop, your messaging will not be in line with your strategy.
You might think: “Of course we have a clear strategy!”. Most CEOs believe that. If you really do, congratulations! But there are many companies that are not really aligned, even if the CEO thinks otherwise. Just ask yourself questions such as:
- Are we a platform vendor or an application vendor?
- Do we want to grow our professional services business or do we want our partners to handle that?
- Are we vendor agnostic?
Think about these questions. If your alliances team pushes partners but your sales team sees them as competitors, you don't have a clear strategy. In that case, don’t expect your Product Marketing to magically solve this problem with some fancy messaging.
Messaging has to be differentiated
All the pundits, from Al Ries to Andy Raskin agree that at the heart of your messaging need to be your competitive differentiator. Why should someone buy from you? From the business issue to the challenges to the solution description, good messaging is designed to “land” on your competitive strengths. Product marketers can help you tease them out, validate their uniqueness, and tell the story.
But only if you have some competitive strengths.
Because if you don’t have any strengths or you are not aligned on what they are, you can’t expect Product Marketing to make them up. Also, your competitive claim must have a proof point, which can come in the form of data, independent validation, or customer testimonial. Beware of vague statements such as “we know this industry better than anyone else” or “our solution is easy to use”. Your CEO might be able to make those statements and get away with it, but coming from a sales rep, these claims will be challenged or (worse) ignored.
Messaging has to be relevant
Even if you have solid messaging that has some substance, is supported by your strategy, and lands on your competitive strengths, it won’t be effective if it is not relevant to your audiences. It has to refer to something they care about. I know, good marketing is supposed to convince prospects that they have a problem even if they didn’t know about it, but that’s an illusion apart from a few fashion trends. Usually, they do know they have a particular problem but it was not a priority or they didn’t think there was a solution for it.
A good example is the content management space that has been trying to message the need for information governance for over two decades. Sure, there are some highly regulated or litigious industries such as pharma, oil & gas, or aviation that need to address compliance. But 80% of companies just don’t care and happily share their documents through Slack all day long. The content management industry has been latching onto every new regulation, from SOX to FRCP to HIPAA, and yet most companies eventually find an easier way to address compliance than by implementing a corporate information governance strategy. The information governance message is just not that relevant.
Messaging won’t replace your product
At the end of the day, the customers are buying your product. Not your messaging. No matter how great and compelling your messaging is, if the product doesn’t deliver, it will fail. You may sucker a few customers into buying your weak product for a while, but it will catch up with you eventually.
Yes, there are companies that are successful with aggressive over-selling tactics. Usually, we say that they sell their vision, spending more time on their future roadmap than on the current capabilities they can provide today. They get away with it, because they have already established that they will eventually deliver a good product that will catch up with what their sales and marketing promised. And even that only works with existing customers, who have already purchased a good product previously.
Good messaging is hard to create. It requires understanding the products and the target audience with its trends, issues, and challenges. Good messaging can be very powerful, making it easier for marketing campaigns and sales reps to connect with the buying audiences. That is a huge competitive advantage and an enormous factor when scaling your company.
Good product marketers can create good messaging. But the entire company has to contribute to good messaging. It’s not just words.