5 Essentials of Perfect Product Messaging

Elisabeth Cullivan Thomas

When you create a product or service, you begin with the process of positioning.

The next step on your marketing journey is dialing in your product messaging - the act of communicating the relevance and value of your product. 

While positioning is something that should not change often when done well at the outset, product messaging is something that should be constantly audited and revised. 

Elisabeth Cullivan Thomas is the owner of Launch Product Marketing. A 15-year product marketing veteran, Elisabeth joined us on Wynter Games to discuss the five essential elements of messaging.

Key to the discussion was how you can (and should) ground messaging in facts, and the importance of messaging as a continuous process. 

“Messaging is something that evolves all the time,” Elisabeth said. “You should be checking your messaging, because you know, the competition is not sleeping. A market is evolving.” 

Product messaging is complex and ongoing 

Brands often seek help with product messaging because it’s quite complex. The first foray into messaging is the hardest.

When starting with a blank slate, companies have the opportunity to create a valuable toolset to guide their business. But the process can be time consuming and frustrating. 

“There's lots of inputs that go into the messaging project, including market research, understanding target audience, competitive intelligence, understanding your differentiators from your competition, input from customers,” said Elisabeth.

“Pulling all of this information together with a very broad team can be very time-consuming. So that adds to the complexity. But then it's typically to that ‘aha’ moment when you see it all come together.”

Messaging Process

The beauty of messaging is that you are building something that resonates with your target audience.

Eventually, that messaging will drive all of your downstream marketing activities. Going from chaos to clarity is challenging - but necessary. 

To help streamline the messaging process, Elisabeth summarized the trajectory into five foundational elements.

Next, we’ll go through each of these in turn.

  1. Target audience
  2. Pain points
  3. Solution
  4. Benefits 
  5. Differentiation

#1: Identify your target audience

The first thing you want to do is identify your target audience. Who needs your product in order to enhance their life?

Your target market might be B2B or B2C. It might be a specific geography.

It might be a specific company size, or user demographic. You may settle on something like males over age 50, or financial institutions with 500+ employees. 

Ideal Customer Profile

Once you settle on your market, you can create your ICP: your ideal customer profile.

This is the ideal company that represents the perfect fit for your products. Knowing your ICP is critical.

“It enables you to drill down into what their problems are, and how your solution aligns and solves those problems,” said Elisabeth. “

What's great about building out your ideal customer profile is eventually you can provide it to your sales team and they'll be able to target and appropriately talk to those ideal customers.” 

In the audience stage you can also begin to build out your buyer persona.

A persona is a fully fleshed out and humanized representation of your customers.

It includes identifying things like: 

  • Customer demographics
  • Customer buying decisions
  • Customer product search strategies 
  • Customer motivations
  • Customer goals

Digging deep into your target audience will help your marketing team in a number of ways.

It will help you craft messaging that connects with your ideal customer by leveraging engaging content using the right tone. 

Where do you find the information that helps you do this? Elisabeth said that you can dig into data.

Which companies are contributing most to your profit already? Those are likely the type of companies you want to target. 

“Now, this is not something that is kind of a one-time deal and you're done after you do it the first time,” Elisabeth cautioned.

“You always want to constantly refine and improve your target audience and your target customer. For example, if your efforts aren't resonating, if your sales team isn't closing deals, perhaps you're targeting too broad or too narrow of an audience.”

#2 Understand pain points

The next step is to identify and leverage customer pain points. The interesting thing is that pain points may be real or perceived.

They may be something the customer is aware of already, or it may be something that you bring to their attention for the first time. 

When defining what pain points will drive your business, you want to get to what Elisabeth calls the root of the problem.

In large part this comes out of your audience research in the previous step.

Dig deep, find root problems

By learning about your target customer’s lifestyle, you should begin to get a sense of what motivates your audience, and how you can improve their life. 

Digging deep means looking beyond the surface to the triggers underneath. Imagine your sales team is having a slow sales quarter.

“The next question is, well why are they having a slow quarter? And they might blame marketing's leads; those leads are non-existent or they're poor quality leads. Still, this probably isn't the root problem. You want to keep digging,” said Elisabeth. 

Elisabeth provided some concrete samples of root problems that may exist.

A small business owner may not be able to find affordable automation tools. A sales team may struggle to close deals due to a confusing process.

An agency may be constantly behind schedule because they're waiting on clients to respond.

A marketing team might be targeting too broad of an audience or too narrow of an audience. 

The good news is that you can set out to identify and solve pain points on an ongoing basis.

Elisabeth recommended regularly reaching out to existing customers and asking them why they chose your product.

She also suggested asking the sales team what pain points existing and prospective customers have shared.  

#3: Determine the solution 

Now that you know your target audience and the issue they face, it’s time to determine how your product or service will solve that problem.

The ability to solve the problem is what makes your product relevant and necessary in the crowded marketplace. 

Elisabeth is a personal fan of the Jobs-to-be-Done framework, which emphasizes that customers want a product that is going to do a job for them.

A quote she likes from the Jobs-to-be-Done method is “people don't want to buy a quarter inch drill. They want a quarter inch hole.” 

What this boils down to is that you want to make your solution crystal clear, with all jargon and distraction stripped away. 

“You want to leave out the vague features and function lists, and talk about the job the product will do for your customer, when you're talking about that problem that you're solving,” Elisabeth said.

When value is communicated quickly and clearly, it will resonate with your audience. 

#4: Communicate your benefits 

Presenting your solution isn’t enough by itself. You also need to emphasize how that solution will benefit your customer by improving their life in a tangible way. 

Keep in mind that your product features are not the same as your product benefits.

The two are often conflated in marketing, but in Elisabeth’s mind there is a distinct difference. 

“It drives me a little bit crazy where companies are talking about benefits, but they essentially just list a bunch of product features,” said Elisabeth.

“You want to ask yourself, how does the solution you're providing get the job done? How does getting the job done for your customer actually benefit them?”

This is another area where you want to dig down and look at the root problem you've identified.

How does your product solve that problem, and what is the ultimate benefit to the customer?

Often, product benefits are associated with productivity gains, customer success, financial gains, and security risk reduction.

#5 Differentiate from the competition

The last step is to successfully differentiate from the competition. This means taking a good, hard look at the competitors in your space. What do they offer, and how do they present that offering? 

The best competitive intelligence can be gathered by talking to customers.

You can ask if existing customers are willing to talk to you about the products or services that they evaluated before making a decision.

And you can ask former customers why you lost their business to someone else. 

“Some of the best information when doing research for messaging and identifying differentiators and pain points and shopping habits and all of that stuff can come from lost deals,” said Elisabeth.

“It’s really, really useful information, if they're willing to talk to you.”  

Messaging test

Elisabeth also gave a brilliant two-step test for determining if your messaging is differentiated. 

  1. Write out your message 
  2. Take your company name off of the message, and replace it with your competitor's 

Does the message work equally well for your competitor as it does for you?

If so, your customer will simply choose the less expensive option.

You don’t want customers to be comparing apples to apples when making a decision; you want them to be comparing apples to oranges.

You don’t want the product messaging to be identical.

Visit your customers 

Elisabeth left us with the concept of Genchi Genbutsu. Part of Toyota’s car manufacturing production ethos, this phrase is Japanese for “Go and See.” 

“Toyota believes that if you go and see what's going on on the factory floor, in person, that's the only way you'll truly understand the situation, and the only way you'll be able to collect actual facts,” said Elisabeth.

“I find this true for building out messaging as well. I think it's a great habit to adopt: visiting customers.”

Visiting customers can mean visiting in person in a physical setting, listening in on customer sales calls, or scheduling 1-1 calls with current and former customers.

“You can turn this into a great exercise that will help you build out a customer personas,” said Elisabeth.

Keep it fact based

When Elisabeth says that messaging should be “fact-based,” this is exactly what she means. 

It means undertaking regular fact-finding expeditions, using your customers to mine valuable messaging insights. 

“You're going to refine it and improve it over time. You want to revisit it on a regular basis,” said Elisabeth.

“But the great part of it is that it'll help drive those downstream marketing activities. You'll know who your ideal customers are. You'll know what problems they have. You'll know how they start to solve them. You'll know what benefits you bring to them. And you know why you're different from the competition.”

These five steps provide an excellent framework for compelling product messaging.

We hope that with Elisabeth’s guidance, crafting messaging that resonates with your customers is now within your reach.

Watch Elizabeth talk about Product Messaging here

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