How to Develop Customer-Centric Messaging in Four Easy Steps

A recent client knew their messaging and positioning wasn’t working. Field sales stumbled trying to explain it. No one understood it and every employee told a different story.

Messaging and positioning are one of the most gut-wrenching activities an organization undertakes. The pressure to get it right and a multitude of internal opinions on what constitutes good messaging abound. Often organizations make the job harder by ladling the exercise with too many objectives and expectations. When I talk with management teams I often hear them describe messaging as needing to convey what the company does, the market category, the latest cool features, how it differentiates from competitors and include trending buzzwords, 800-pound gorilla customer names (for validation), while motivating prospects to contact the company, AND be short and memorable.

It doesn’t need to be nor should it be that hard.

The most effective messaging and positioning is at the intersection of customers’ most valued and sought benefits, a brand’s unique differentiators, and the market’s direction.

Clients frequently come to us for help with their messaging and positioning. They believe that since their internal exercise did not produce the right messaging their approach must be missing some vital step, knowledge, or insight. They don’t need a consultant; they need a more effective process.

The four-step process we recommend (and use) are:

1. Capture customers’ words.

Capture the actual words by sitting in on prospect calls, demos, and meetings. Don’t ask Sales for this information, they are focused on buying signals not tone, body language, semantics, and emotion. Ask marketing or product marketing to be the listener and scribe.

Tip: Focus on customer segments that represent the company’s future growth areas and listen without prejudice.

2. Leverage industry analyst inquiries.

Talk to large and boutique analysts – don’t pitch them – about market categories where you might fit today and in 24 months. Ask thoughtful questions about purchase drivers, the decision process, sought benefits, features, ROI, and business case development. With permission, record the calls and transcribe them; there is a wealth of information there.

Tip: Conduct multiple inquiries throughout the year to develop a relationship with key analysts. Those will come in handy because as you develop your messaging, your questions will change.

3. Conduct competitive analyses.

Pick your top four aspirational competitors because you should, as a rule, position up to more successful vendors. Conduct pattern analysis on two years of press releases, media stories, industry and Wall Street reports, executive interviews and speeches. Look for changes in messaging and any corresponding events such as new products, M&A, emerging trends. Plotting the patterns gives insights into when, how and in what direction competitors will evolve their messaging.

Tip: Plot the changes on a four by four chessboard, it makes pattern detection easier to identify and understand.

4. Agree on unique differentiators.

The process to identify unique differentiators begins by defining the table stakes that all competitors must offer for prospects to consider them. Then, list those capabilities, whether you have them or not, that customers use to shortlist vendors. From that list define your unique two to five differentiators that compel a customer to buy from you versus aspirational competitors.

Tip: Speed up this step with a customer/prospect co-creation session and also use it to validate market strategies.

The four-step process puts structure around activities that are already happening in organizations. Once you have the results from the steps you’re ready to sit down and craft the actual messaging.

The easiest way to do that is to answer four questions:

  • Who are we?
  • What do we do?
  • Why are we different?
  • How we are different?

The objective is to describe your uniquely differentiating and most valued benefits that strategic customer segments realize from using your product or brand. When answer ‘why are you different’ focus on the primary reason customers select you over someone else or status quo using customer language. Structure your answer to how you’re different by listing in a table each attribute (no more than five) and the corresponding customer defined benefits, in their words.

As you work on the wording, focus on being short, to the point, written in ninth grade English. The language should reflect the tone of your brand, without jargon.

Bluescape messaging was that they help companies create better. Its visual collaboration software gives teams a virtual workspace to meet, share, and develop ideas.

The messaging wasn’t differentiating or effectively resonating with their target markets. Following the four-step process, new messaging was developed. The responses to the first three questions are below. The response to the last question is, and should be for every company, internal confidential.

  • Who we are?  We’re a comprehensive digital workplace collaboration solution provider.
  • What we do? We make conversation and content collaboration natural, so that teams work faster, smarter, and more efficiently.
  • Why we’re different? We make collaboration natural, visual and intuitive while allowing you to use your favorite tools, applications, and devices. We are experts in creating better ways for people to work.

Notice how the language is casual, simple and familial which reflects the tone of the brand. Customer sought benefits are– “work faster, smarter and more efficiently” – with the unique differentiators conveyed as “natural, visual and intuitive”. Bluescape expanded the messaging work and questions into a detailed branding document that guided all market-facing interactions – and made updating easier.

Marketing and sales should validate your messaging with prospects, customers, partners, key influencers and industry analysts. Test it at tradeshows, prospect dinners, in social media and field marketing events before baking it into all your content.

Keep in mind there is no one perfect positioning statement. As customer expectations evolve over time, so too should messaging. The operative word is evolving not herky-jerky shifts. By going back to the four-process step, identifying what has meaningfully changed and incorporating that into the question responses, your team can easily keep messaging aligned with customers and relevant.

 

First published in Martech Advisors on June 25, 2018

Leave a Comment