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High impact messaging is fundamental to effective product marketing. It is very hard to do and every company has unique messaging challenges. However, in our experience, and especially in the case of technology companies, messaging is often made unnecessarily complicated. The natural instinct is to try to say everything to everyone and to speak with all those technical and/or industry terms that we use everyday in our work environment. The best messaging is simple, concise and focused on a few big ideas. It is broadly accessible and understandable, but also very relevant to the target audience for a specific product or solution. So, how do you get there?
At Aventi Group, we work with many companies on product messaging. We learn with each new project. Most of the larger technology companies in Silicon Valley have developed robust and well-tested approaches to messaging that generally work well. Yet, while a rigorous messaging process can drive collaboration and force structure and approvals, it rarely can ensure a clear and concise message. To that end, here are five(5) guidelines that we use to help our clients generate the quality messaging materials they need.
o Start with some research and an “external” view
o Pick an audience and it can’t be everyone
o Locate the “Big Ideas”
o Keep it simple.
o If you can’t back it up, don’t use it.
#1 - Start with some research and an “external” view
Before you start writing down your messaging ideas, do some research about the market you are targeting, including the industry or industries, key decision makers, etc. The natural tendency, especially in the high technology industry where there is such a focus on features and functions, is to start a messaging exercise by immediately writing down all the great specifications and capabilities offered by your product. Resist. Start with some perspective. Think about who you want to buy your product and find out what they are thinking about. For example, if you plan to sell to CIOs, go find a recent article or analyst report summary about CIO priorities for the coming year. They are easy to find and often free of charge. For example here is an article from Forbes.com about The Top 10 Strategic CIO Issues For 2013 . You can usually find something along these lines for whatever audience, industry, line of business, or geography you want to attract. Read through a few sources and get a feel for the current “hot button” topics, buzz words, acronyms, etc. Also, try to gather some insights into the key metrics that are important for certain executive types or industries. For example, referring to the Forbes.com article above, one takeaway is that CIOs in 2013 will be very focused on faster access to information and managing IT costs.
#2 - Pick an audience and it can’t be everyone
Now that you have some broader perspective and context, you can apply this knowledge to your product or solution. To be effective, messaging should be developed with a specific audience in mind. Ideally, you want to target your messaging to a single decision maker (audience). This can be very difficult - especially with products that involve complex selling processes with multiple buyers or decision makers. Nevertheless, force yourself to pick one. In the end, you may have to build messaging profiles for each key decision maker but that is okay. Start with the most important buyer or decision maker and build the messaging for him or her first. You can then create different messaging profiles for additional audiences. What I have typically found is that once you have the primary decision maker messaging completed, it is a relatively easy task to come up with additional messaging profiles for other important audiences.
#3 - Locate the “Big Ideas”
Now is the time to write down capabilities and benefits offered by your product and look for common themes or big ideas. I also call these the outcomes or value statements. My goal is to come up with three (3) around which to build the messaging profile, but two (2) or four (4) are fine as well. If you have more than that you need to do some prioritizing or attempt to combine two outcomes into a single, bigger idea. The easiest approach here is to start by making a list of key capabilities. See if you can come up with 10 or so. This is not a specification list. Instead, you are listing the truly unique and/or strong functions that your solution offers. Once you have your list, look for some common themes. In other words, are you able to group two of three of the capabilities together to support a bigger idea? For each group, come up with a simple statement that highlights the big idea or outcome. Remember, these need to be significant. Something, your “audience” will really care about.
#4 - Keep it simple.
The shorter the better. Don’t worry about including everything. Messaging is about focus and high impact. Force yourself to choose each word carefully and make your points clearly. Stay away from trendy terms, overused business terms, or technology / industry jargon wherever you can. Yes, it is sometimes helpful to use words that are familiar to the industry or functional area that you are trying to reach, but I always lean toward using words and phrases that anyone can understand. Think about presenting your message to a friend or family member. Would it make sense and be compelling to them? If not, then you may need to do more work.
#5 - If you can’t back it up, don’t use it.
This is a good test of the strength of your message. You have selected two to four main value statements or outcomes that you want to highlight. For each of those statements you should be able point to two or three capabilities and resulting benefits. If you can’t do this OR if what you come up with feels weak then you probably need to go back and revisit your key outcomes and try to come up with another one that is easier to support. I have seen very good messaging built around just a couple of significant outcomes but each with very strong and compelling support. As long as the supporting capabilities and benefits and significant and differentiated, then that is fine.
Finally, one other additional suggestion. Build your messaging to last. At a minimum, you should be thinking of your messaging as being in place for two years. You may end up making minor changes to the capabilities and benefits you highlight as part of the messaging, but the big ideas should be ones that have some longevity. There are several reasons for this. First, it takes a while to messaging to get some momentum in the marketplace. Second, it takes time for the company to internalize the message and integrate the main themes into their daily activities, not to mention product development, corporate communications, etc. Third, your company will most likely spend a substantial amount of money updating website and online content, creating collateral and sales and marketing materials, and generally proliferating the new message. You don’t want to force this updating exercise any more frequently than is necessary.
Best of luck with your adventures in messaging.
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