A company’s messaging is the foundation of any go-to-market plan. Get it right and you’ll quickly zero in on qualified prospects who need your product and who will understand what it can do for them. This allows you to scale up quickly and accelerate growth with marketing programs and sales teams promoting this message. Get the message wrong and you’ll get puzzled or disinterested reactions from prospects, followed by long tortuous sales cycles. Scaling up on a poor message just multiplies the misery as marketing and sales resources get bogged down with poor conversions and limited traction.
Yes, company messaging is that important. But many companies get it wrong because they make one fundamental mistake.
What is “messaging”? Messaging is a framework that includes key differentiators, customer benefits, a value proposition, a company mission and overriding all of it, a company brand identity. B2B companies should start with the value proposition, because if you don’t have a value proposition, nothing else really matters.
Marketing has become incredibly analytical over the last 10 years, starting with lead management, lead scoring and marketing automation, and more recently with new data analytics and AI solutions. These new systems automate much of the tedious process of assessing and qualifying leads, and managing them thru the funnel. But if you are targeting the prospect with the wrong message, data and automation can’t help you. They can only speed the delivery of the wrong value proposition to the prospect.
Many companies struggle with messaging because they focus on the wrong perspective. It’s human nature to focus first on our own personal perspective. So when trying to describe why a product is unique or interesting, many founders and product marketing teams answer what they think is interesting and unique about the product. What you usually get is a highly technical description of the product, or a long list of features that were laboriously defined and developed by the engineering team. This feature-rich description of everything the product can do is usually met with blank-stares from prospects who could largely care less about all of that.
The key to company messaging is to look at things from the mind of the customer.
Put yourself in the customer’s position and understand their perspective. They have problems they are trying to solve. In the B2B world, they have corporate initiatives and company goals, which will determine how their precious resources will be allocated and prioritized. If your product can help them achieve some of these goals, then you may have a potential customer. They key is to understand these goals across not just one prospect, but hundreds and thousands of prospects. If you can meet all of their needs, then you just might have a fast-growth company.
Your messaging needs to be in the customer’s language, not yours. The only way to figure this out is to talk to a lot of customers about the problems they are having in this area, and what they are looking for as a solution to these challenges.
Most messaging fails because it is overly descriptive of the product.
Many think that if we just describe what our product can do, the prospect will see its obvious value. You do need to describe what the product can do. But many companies fail to come up with compelling differentiators. Differentiators are how you are different and ideally better than everyone else. And companies fail on this because differentiators are a subset of your key features, but they are the ones that set you apart from the others. And they may not be the features you think are the coolest or most important or most technically innovative. Remember it’s about the customer’s view, not yours.
I think of the product description as the steak, and the differentiators as the sizzle, i.e. what’s most interesting to the customer. You need the steak because that is the core of the meal and includes all the mundane but necessary things your product does. But lots of companies have steak. It is the sizzle that will spark the interest of the customer, even though it’s a very small part of the meal. It represents a critical part. You need to define that sizzle and promote it to your prospects.
When you apply your product description and key differentiators to your customer needs, now you have the basis of your value proposition. As shown in Figure 1, if you think about product description, key differentiators and customer needs as 3 interlocking circles, where all 3 overlap is your value proposition. Its unique, its descriptive and it addresses key customer needs.
What about Brand?
Key differentiators and customer benefits feed into a value proposition, as the most fundamental description of how a product can address a critical consumer or business need. A company’s mission and brand fill in the rest of the picture, defining who you are and why you are here. This is important to develop an on-going connection with your customers. If you don’t have a value proposition, then brand does not matter much because you are not solving anyone’s problem or addressing anyone’s needs. If you have a compelling value proposition and no brand identity, then you are vulnerable to another company that might have a better brand connection to the customer base.
People often confuse a company’s brand with its value proposition and in the B2C world, brand often takes precedence, particularly when you are selling a commodity like water, or soap or toothpaste. If you can’t differentiate on product, then all you have is messaging and brand takes the forefront since fundamentally, all bottles of water solve the same problem.
But in the B2B world, and particularly in technology where products typically do have room for more differentiation, a company’s brand and its value proposition are still related but the value proposition is elevated in importance because if you can’t solve a company’s problem, then it doesn’t really matter what your brand is. Many tech companies get hung up trying to figure out their brand and who they want to be when it really doesn’t matter until you can actually solve a company’s problem and give them a reason to care about your brand.