Picture of parrotfish generated by Midjourney

The Parrotfish Principle: How to Craft Compelling Product Messaging

Madhukar Kumar


The parrotfish is one of the strangest looking creatures that exists in marine life. It has freakishly large number of teeth. About 1,000 of them.

It is with these teeth that the parrotfish voraciously and noisily eats coral every day. However, what it eats is far less important than what it excretes.

Stay with me. This gets better.

The parrotfish poops white sand. In fact, one fish vacates itself about 200 pounds of pure white sand per year.

Now, other than suddenly questioning your choice of spending your hard-earned money to take a vacation on massive amounts of pristine white sandy doody in Hawaii, what is the moral of the story, you ask disappointingly?

Here it is — No one cares how you build your product and where it comes from (unless you are doing something illegal or unethical).

No one cares if you use one technology vs the other to build something (unless of course you are selling to other builders).

What your customers care about is whether your product brings value to their day-to-day lives.

When marketing your product to prospects for the first time, you have five seconds of their attention. What matters in those first few seconds is the description what your product does and the values it provides to elevate your customers’ lives or solve a problem.

Everything else is noise.

This is the very core and basis of messaging for Product-led Marketing.

For example, it is more impactful to focus on showing pictures of families enjoying lounging on white sand and sipping Mai Tais vs talking about the process of the fish chewing and creating the sand.

Picture generated by Midjourney

Ok, so this is great for sand, you say, but how do I do this for my B2B product?

Easy. Write a press release before you start building your product or features for an upcoming release.

Stay with me. This gets better, I promise.

Jeff Bezos is known for several iconic ideas and one that is probably the most groundbreaking of them all is the idea of working backwards from a product release. Bezos encouraged his team to write a press release about the product even before defining any of the product requirements. This forced the teams to think about the compelling stories before the product is built. This exercise specifically brings clarity around what the product vision is and brings customer-centricity early on. When working for early startups, I would imagine what would the headline and the story look like if the product release was published as a story in New York Times. In fact, now we have the advantage of using AI to help craft this mock press release. Just don’t use what you get back from ChatGPT as is, rather to understand the story telling style that sifts out the most important thing for the end user.

At this stage I would ask the following questions.

What is the product and how do you describe it to your neighbor or a friend who is not in the same industry as yours? Since as builders we are often buried deep into the details of the product itself, one of the best ways to describe the “What” of the product is to ask an existing customer or an early design partner. If fact, I like doing this repeatedly every time I meet a new user of our product. As the user or customer — “Tell me how you describe our product to your peers.” Just like ChatGPT, this will give you key insights but not exactly the word-to-word description that you would use in the end. Once you have gone through a few iterations, it is the message that is typically the easiest to describe and understand that should be the winner.

The next thing I like to do is now pretend that this message will be on a billboard. This helps in crafting a headline by condensing the message into one sentence, preferably five words or less. This is where creativity comes in and it helps to write down as many ideas as possible that come to your mind and then ruthlessly cutting anything that doesn’t “feel” right. Empathy is a huge part that plays a key role in this part of the process because you need to constantly reset your mindset and read the entire headline pretending to be the user or buyer that is seeing that message for the first time.

One of my favorite examples to date is Salesforce slogan aka headline of “No software” when it launched more than two decades ago.

In defining the product, one other thing that I find extremely powerful is to use an analogy to describe the product. This could be a sub heading or the second level messaging but critical, nonetheless. For example, if my product is a design app I may describe it as an “easier version of Photoshop for non-designers.” The analogies are supposed to evoke visuals that then result in powerful recall of the product. However, it is important to note that when you choose analogies you should pay attention to not short selling the product and say that your product is the same or identical to something else. You want to call out what is different about your product and its differentiation in the product description. In the example above, if you notice I also added “easier version” as part of the analogy and then added “for non-designers” so you are talking directly to your users and buyers.

Now that we have the headline and the most important part of the message, let’s talk about the audience. In B2B, often the buyer and users are two different personas, so it is important to keep both personas in mind when building a compelling messaging. For example, cost efficiency may be a big factor for the buyer, but the users may care more about the ease of use. Here again I would lean towards explaining this in the simplest language possible and try and not use acronyms and new words that may not be part of the user or buyer lexicon. Most of the time, the audience part of the messaging should be clear in the headline, sub-heading or the first paragraph so people will self-select to either read more or if they are not the right audience, they move on.

Show, not tell

Next, let’s talk about how the product or features are different in how they provide value or solve a specific problem.

Here, the key is to show and not just tell. An excellent example of proof of product features is a series of videos Volvo released to prove the claims of its product. For example, the company released a video showing the President of the company hanging on top of a truck while talking about the strength of a Volvo hook that was holding the 18-wheeler in the air.

Picture of the Volvo Ad video about one of its product

Proving that your product and features can do something that you are claiming through either testimonials or images and videos is far more impactful than just listing out the product’s features.

Connect with emotions

Finally, one of the most important pieces of brand recall is emotion. Ask yourself when you read your mock press release if it moves you to do something or do something different. You cannot influence human behavior unless you resonate with them at an emotional level. This could be either a shared frustration or a value that your product does which is memorable. For example, Disneyland’s slogan is “The happiest place on Earth.” This simple sentence with the visuals evokes emotion while staying true to the product.

Keep in mind that the same formula does not apply to everyone and every product on Earth. There are several very successful companies that constantly talk about the “Why” instead of the product itself. For example, Nike uses “Just Do It”, and Apple uses “Think Different”, but those messages are associated to brands and companies, not their products. For example, here is how Apple currently describes its latest MacBook Air.

A screenshot of a Apple page of current MacBook Air

If we look at this message it talks about three important features — M3 chip, light and portable (in its name) and battery life. The benefit? “…you can take the superportable MacBook Air and blaze through whatever you’re into.”

Here is another example from Nike Air

A screenshot of Nike Air from its website

Packed with product details and with just three words in the headline, the webpage describes the features of the product (lightweight, durable, comfort) and the values it brings to the user — “…dominate the court, or take the winning shot.”

Once you have the mock press release ready, I would take the messaging and build a full document around the pitch, features, value propositions, differentiators in a single document and then build out both long form and short form contents both in text and videos. One of the key parts of product-led marketing is to then use the same messaging in the free trials, in the product onboarding and using the same videos and text to describe the product on the webpage, on social media the same way you use it in the product itself.


In a previous article, I talked about the importance of Product-led Marketing. In this article we specifically looked at one way to craft messaging that is product-centric. This is not the only way to build messaging but hopefully it gives you a directional idea of how-to bring product and messaging together even before you build the product. To build an iconic brand, messaging is key and cannot be an afterthought to your product.




Madhukar Kumar

CMO @SingleStore, tech buff, ind developer, hacker, distance runner ex @redislabs ex @zuora ex @oracle. My views are my own