How to design and implement effective strategic messaging

Every startup or every company, for that matter, is in sales and communication business. Communication, on the other hand, is a part of the sales process.

Intro

Companies do not pay enough attention to strategic messaging. Message effectiveness is not easy to track and to report on. This isn’t an A/B test with which you can get exact results in a matter of days, if not hours.

The effects of great messaging and story comes later and usually results in shorter sales cycles. When you tell a consistent story and communicate a clear values you attract prospects that identify themselves with problems that your product solves and value the benefits it provides.

The softer evidence that your new message resonates can come early, as soon as you roll out a new framework for organization and your sales team completely adopts it.

More concrete evidence that new messaging framework works, such as shorter sales cycles, higher conversion on your marketing pages, and higher average deal size you can expect in 3–6 months.

When I reached out to a marketing event organizer to present on the subject of messaging this is the response I got:

“Value Messaging is not sexy”

Strategic messaging maybe not be sexy, but this can transition companies from being just “okay” to “great”.

You don’t believe me? Check out examples that Andy Raskin, an expert in messaging and storytelling, highlights in his post: How to Evolve Your Message: 5 Popular Examples

Why Messaging Is Important

Strategic messaging drives marketing and sales activities streamlining communication so that what prospects read on your website translates well into demo and sales conversation.

Strategic messaging should be translated into a compelling story. Storytelling is a subject for a different post, but it’s important to understand how strategic messaging translates to stories that your marketing and sales team will communicate.

Definition of Strategic Messaging

I use terms “strategic messaging” and “value messaging” interchangeably in this guide.

Strategic Messaging is a clear VALUE communication framework that company uses in all interactions with employees, prospects, customers, partners, investors, and other stakeholders.

You can refer to Strategic Value Messaging as a map that guides your organization in everything that you do. Also, communicating product value to the customers is communicating problem solution and product benefits.

Strategic messaging communicates product’s value proposition for your target customer profiles. The essential part of effective value messaging is getting your target customer profiles right, as well as understanding how other stakeholders impact buying process.

Note: I use the term “buying process” instead of “sales process”.

For example, if you are selling a solution to help companies design an exceptional mobile app experience by providing actionable analytics based on user behavior and operational metrics, then your product user is a mobile developer, your economic buyers are Marketing or Product Management leaders, and CTO / VP of engineering are the technical influencers and a stakeholders.

Daily User: Mobile App Developer
Economic Buyer: CMO (VP of Marketing) / CPO (VP of Product)
Influencer / Stakeholder: CTO / VP of IT Operations

Each one of them will evaluate your product from a different angle, so it is important to communicate clear value to each persona profile.

How Effective Is Your Current Message?

For startups, messaging exercise has to be done early in the process and reviewed, if not on daily, then on weekly basis. Product-market fit is all about finding a product that solves a problem and a message that resonates with your target customers.

Evaluate internally and externally whether your current message is consistent and effective.

Internal Evaluation

How consistent is your sales team in communicating product value?

The following exercise is a great way to get a quick understanding where your sales team stands. Send each of your sales reps a personal email that asks to write:

  • 1 sentence company pitch (what do we do?)
  • 1 sentence problem pitch (what problem are we solving?)
  • 1 sentence competitive pitch (how are we different from anyone else?)
  • 1–3 value propositions in bullet point (why customers should buy from us?)

Better yet, get them all in the room and give them a piece of paper and 3 minutes to write the answer to these questions in front of you. This way, you can ensure that no one is digging into product description on your website or is using your current sales deck.

Repeat this exercise with your marketing, customer success, and product teams. Compare the results, look for patterns, and check your website’s homepage message.

- How far off are your teams?
- Do all of your sales reps communicate the same high level value proposition?

External Evaluation

Send a quick email to your customers with a short survey asking:

  • Why did they buy your product? What problem they they were looking to solve?
  • What value do they receive from the product?
  • How do they use your product?

Now compare the results. How far off are internal and external messages?

Let’s dig into designing an effective value messaging framework.

Step-by-Step Process of Designing the Effective Value Messaging

Step 1: Discovery

The goal for a discovery process is to collect as much information about your current customers, prospects, competitors, and product roadmap as possible. This is a critical step in understanding the customer lifecycle and the buying process. You will be building your target customer profiles based on these conversation.

Interview the sales reps
Sales reps will do anything to close deals. Great sales reps intuitively know what questions to ask in order to identify problems that the customers are facing. Ask them to identify your target customer, ask about the easiest deals that they had closed, as well as the toughest ones; What message do they think resonates with customers, ask them to list stakeholders; ask them to list customers that love your product, and who they have the best relationships with….

Listen to the prospects (shadow sales calls)
Shadowing sales calls is a great tactic to listen what questions prospects have to say about your product, what the most common objections are, and how they understand the product before they decide to learn more from your sales team.

Note: in my company, shadowing sales calls will be an essential part of the new employee onboarding process, regardless of the title.

Interview the last 5–10 lost prospects
Ask your sales reps to give you a list of customers that fit your target profile, but for some reason the deal was lost. Send a quick email and ask them to spend 15 min of their time to understand why they went the other way. If needed, give them a $20 Starbucks gift card.

The goal here is to understand who those people are, what problems they were looking to solve, what drove their decision, who was involved in their buying process, and what was the main deal breaker.

Interview the last 5–10 customers you won
Conduct similar interviews with recently signed customers.

Interview customers that have been using your product for 1yr+
If your company is lucky enough to be in the business for a year, you should have customers who renewed and those that churned. Interview a couple of those customers with focus on understanding why they use your product, how often, and what do they like the most.

If a customer complains about your pricing, it’s very likely that your value proposition is too low.“ — I’m not sure who said it first.

Interview the industry experts/analysts
Larger organizations have access to the Forrester and Gartner researchers, but for the rest of us it is quite difficult to get a hold of them. Here is my suggestion — select a company that could be a great customer of yours. Buying persona in this company should be considered among the leaders in the industry.

Reach out to him/her and position yourself as someone who is looking for expertise. Interview them.

Organize your feedback.

Step 2: Build Target Profiles

When creating targeted customer profiles companies tend to stress too much about industry, revenue, number of employees, and so on. I recommend focusing on individual buying personas and figuring out what problems and desires they have. How do they go about their day? What value and benefits are they looking for in solutions?

Additional Info: Lincoln Murphy wrote an excellent post about ideal customer.

Think about the following items when you are creating the profile of ideal customers:

  • List of daily activities
  • Identify goals and responsibilities
  • How success is measured?
  • Identify biggest problems, headaches
  • What is their role in a buying process?

Then you can identify targeted companies and how your ideal customer fits in organization:

  • Targeted Company
  • Buying Function / Roles
  • Buyer Personas’ Titles

Now, you should have an ideal customer profile. You should understand the kind of companies you are selling to, who are the individuals that use and buy your product, what motivates them to buy, what issues they wish to solve, and what prevents them from solving their problems, how they value and prioritize their resources.

Step 3: Create Value Categories

By this time, you have a clear understanding of your ideal customer. This is a critical step in the process, where you need to categorize all of the feedback you have received so far into a few value categories.

Create up to 3 value categories for each ideal customer profile. Let’s go back to the company that provides user behavior and operational metrics to help companies build awesome mobile app experiences.

This company has 3 different buying personas:

  1. Daily User: Mobile App Developer
  2. Economic Buyer: CMO (VP of Marketing) / CPO (VP of Product)
  3. Influencer / Stakeholder: CTO / VP of IT Operations

Here is an example of the value categories that each of them have:

  1. Daily User: Mobile App Developer

Value 1: Faster Development cycle
Value 2: App Quality and Performance

2. Economic Buyer: CMO (VP of Marketing) / CPO (VP of Product)

Value 1: Revenue, Engagement, and Retention
Value 2: Customer Satisfaction
Value 3: Product Roadmap Decisions

3. Influencer / Stakeholder: CTO / VP of IT Operations

Value 1: Visibility
Value 2: Mean-time-to-resolution

Value messaging framework

Step 4: Build Value Statements

The structure is set, now you need to create a short value statement for each value category. A couple of tips here:

  1. Focus on describing the value and not the feature. A couple of questions to answer:
  • Why would your ideal customer care about this value?
  • What is the final benefit that customer wants to achieve?
  • What is your ideal customer’s desired outcome?

Note: Read a great post by Lincoln Murphy about desired outcome — Desired Outcome is a Transformative Concept

2. Avoid superlatives and buzzwords

3. Start with a verb

Examples:

Value Category: Revenues
Value Statement: Minimize revenue at risk by proactively monitoring the transaction success rates

Value Category: Product Map Decisions
Value Statement: Make informed product decisions with actionable analytics on how your app is being used and how it performs

After you have created the value categories for each customer profiles, it’s time to develop value descriptions, assign features for each value category, proof-points and metrics of how your customers will measure this value, and customer stories that showcase how your product delivered on this value proposition for others.

  • Value Category
  • Value Descriptions / Bullet Points
  • Features
  • Proofpoints / Metrics
  • Customers Stories

Repeat these steps for each Value Category.

Step 5: Review

Now, it is time to review the messaging framework with your team. Start with you product and sales team. The product team should review the new messaging framework with a product roadmap in mind. If your organization plans to develop a feature or a product that is tailored to a new ideal customer segment, then you have to go back and ensure your that your messaging fits the new vision.

Design a simple questionnaire to make sure your feedback is organized. This way you will ensure consistency of the feedback. Here’s a couple of tips that I found helpful during a review stage:

  • Identify the most knowledgeable members of each group. Interviewing 30 inside sales reps can be a daunting task, but if you select 5–7 best sales reps they will give you enough feedback to understand whether you are going in the right direction.
  • Create 2–3 rounds of interviews, so that during each round you interview someone from sales, from product, one of your sales engineers, and someone with a C-level title. Analyze and make edits if necessary, and then review your messaging one more time . Again, your second round of reviews should include someone from sales, product, sales engineers, and executives.

This approach will help you get a dozed feedbacks from all important departments in the company. It will prevent you from interviewing an entire sales team and from making changes only to find out that these edits do not play well with the executives or they don’t match the product roadmap.

Internal Reviews:

  • Product team
  • Sales
  • Sales Engineers
  • Executives

External Reviews

  • Investors
  • Advisors
  • Analysts

Step 6: High Level Messaging

Value messaging map should be complete and final after a couple of rounds of reviews. This part of the framework should be completed — Value Map Framework

Now that you have a good idea of the values your solution provides to customers it’s time to create your high level messaging.

High level messaging is very close to classic brand messaging exercise. It includes

  • Tagline
  • Slogans
  • 1 sentence / 25 word description
  • 50 word description
  • Brand Value or Brand Pillars (up to 3)

Tagline is a phrase that will define your company long term and slogan is something that can be created and tested regularly. If you are not clear what the difference is between a tagline and a slogan, read this awesome article Quora answer on tagline and slogan by Icen Wong.

The one sentence or 25 word description is a statement that will be displayed in ‘About Us’ section.

For example, if we go back to our original example about mobile experience company,their 1 sentence description would look like this:

COMPANY NAME helps deliver an exceptional mobile app experience by providing actionable analytics based on user behavior and operational metrics

Tagline can be:

Exceptional Mobile Experience

or

Deliver an Exceptional Mobile Experience

This is what your final Value Messaging Map should look like — Example.

Step 7: Distribution

Distributing your new messaging takes time, but if you have done your review process correctly it should not be a surprise to anyone in the organization.

First, introduce your sales team to a new messaging, since they are the ones dealing with customers and prospects on daily basis. Integrate your new messaging into sales playbook. Design questions to help sales reps discover customer problems and values.

Slowly roll out new messaging on your website.

Step 8: Evaluate Results

As we discussed earlier, you should start seeing the first significant results of the new messaging 3–6 months after implementation.

However, you should see improvements in your sales cycle, email response rate, and website conversions in the first couple of months. Select a series of metrics that will show you effectiveness of your new messaging.

Value Messaging Map Checklist

  • Targeted Company
  • Buying Function / Roles
  • Buyer’s Personas Titles
  • Value Category
  • Value Descriptions / Bullet Points
  • Features
  • Proofpoints / Metrics
  • Customers Stories
  • Tagline
  • Slogans
  • 1 sentence / 25 word description
  • 50 word description
  • Brand Value (up to 3)
Value Messaging Map Template

Next Steps

Sales

  • Create sales diagnostic questions to identify most important value
  • New sales deck and new demo script

Outbound email campaigns is a great way to test new messaging framework. It is easy to monitor open and response rates and your team can A/B test value statements one against another. For example, you can test whether “increase your revenue” works better than “prevent lost revenue”.

Marketing

  • Test value statements (via Paid channels, A/B test)
  • Map content topic ideas
  • Website messaging

Conclusion

The process of creating an effective value messaging framework can take much time and resources. But it is an essential step to creating a great story around your company and product. Value messaging framework is almost like a shorten plot of this story and a great foundation to build your story upon.

Notes and Extras:

Lincoln Murphy| Blog 
Andy Raskin 
Tiffany Spencer — Getting to a Messaging Framework and Value Prop


If you like this article please recommend and share.

Follow me on Twitter, Medium, connect on Linkedin or send me email with comments and questions: myk@myxys.com.

Subscribe to my monthly newsletter with best (handpicked) articles on startups, marketing, growth, and sales.