Creating a Product Messaging Framework


Jed Morley is the Founder, CEO, and Brand Strategist at Backstory Branding, a brand strategy and messaging firm that’s worked with Lucidchart, Grow, and SaltStack. Previously, he led marketing at Consensus and BambooHR. He’s helped dozens of companies improve their brand messaging.

Table of Contents

What’s the purpose of messaging? Why is it important to business success?

Communicating value – marketing messaging should clearly, concisely, and consistently communicate the value you provide your audiences. It enables you to effectively convey the benefits of your offering and differentiate it from competitors. Those audiences can be internal and external, from employees to customers, partners, investors, and even the media. Effective messaging is essential for building trust, establishing a positive reputation, and differentiating your company from its competitors.

Avoiding misinterpretation – a clear and consistent message avoids confusion and prevents potential customers from drawing their own conclusions about your offering, which may not accurately reflect your intended value proposition. This helps to avoid missed opportunities and lost revenue. You don’t want people to draw their own conclusions about who you are, what you do, and why it matters. Proactively and explicitly address those questions on your own terms.

What’s the difference between positioning and messaging? How do the two relate to each other?

Positioning frames what your brand stands for in the minds of customers – positioning helps brands establish a unique identity and differentiation in the market. It involves identifying what the brand wants to stand for in the minds of customers and crafting a narrative that resonates with them. For example, when you think facial tissue, you think Kleenex; when you think Ketchup, you think Heinz. Positioning work makes the proper noun of your brand name synonymous with common noun words that you want to own in the minds of customers. 

Positioning defines the category with familiar points of reference positioning helps contextualize the brand with familiar points of reference so that customers can think of it by the terms that a prospective customer might search for on Google. These are the high-level words you want to own in the minds of the market. It should be in a contextual framework that customers already have or a new category you create, which takes time and money.

Messaging articulates the value prop –  pain points are problems for customers, they’re jobs to be done and your customers are searching for a solution. By using messaging that clearly articulates the value you provide, it gives customers a clear understanding of why they should buy. Messaging gets down to specific benefits related to different features and solutions within the product itself–the sum total of your messaging aggregates up to positioning.

How do you start a positioning project?

Find your points of differentiation, then verify they’re meaningful – do an internal assessment of what makes you unique and why it matters. This could be a unique product feature, a particular customer segment, or a distinctive brand personality. Once you know what makes you different, find what makes you different and relevant. It’s not enough to just be different—your differentiation has to matter to buyers.

Draft a positioning statement and test it with conversations – craft a hypothesis of what you think makes you different and relevant; draft a positioning statement you think will resonate with your intended audience, and then test it in conversations. Go have conversations with existing, prospective, or even lapsed customers to find out where you are or are not resonating.

Locate your current position, and identify where you want to be – your statement of position clearly explains where your brand currently stands in the market and how your target audiences perceive it. Then, provide yourself with a roadmap for where you want your positioning to go in the future with a positioning statement.

What is branding?

Brand is the perception of a person, place, thing, or idea – branding is the process of creating the experiences that shape the customer’s perception. Branders have to create experiences that change people’s beliefs so that people will take different actions that ultimately translate into desired results.

Ultimately, brands reside in the minds of customers – you can own company names, tag lines, and logos, but ultimately customers own the brand. Branding efforts result in changes to your brand perception. The ultimate goal is to establish a positive and lasting impression in the minds of customers.

What is a messaging framework?

A messaging framework informs who your audiences are and how you’ll message them – it starts with identifying the companies and individuals your messages will address. Then it outlines the messages that are impactful for each.

ComponentWhat it is
Ideal Customer Profiles (ICPs)These are descriptions of the companies that make the best customers for you and your business. Sometimes these are firmographics that could include characteristics like industry, size in terms of revenue or employees, or GTM channels.
Key PersonasThese describe who the people making or influencing buying decisions for your product. It should include who they are, what they want, and what’s in their way. Outline the demographics at the audience level which marketing messages operate at.
Features, Advantages, Benefits (FAB) FrameworkAn FAB Framework helps to clarify and articulate the value that a product or service offers to a specific audience. It builds up from features to advantages and benefit statements.
Features – features are the specific characteristics of a product or service that set it apart from other products or services. They are the attributes that make the product or service what it is. Start here to learn how to sell against competitive products. Starting from the ground up with features also will help create alignment across teams.
Advantages – Advantages describe what a feature does and how it works – things that provide specific benefits to customers.
Benefit statements – Benefits are the positive outcomes or results customers can expect from using a product or service. They are how it helps and why they buy. These can also be referred to as value propositions. A benefit statement is a concise statement that highlights the benefits that the product or service provides to the customer.
Brand NarrativeThe Brand Narrative consists of a one-page company overview including a one-line elevator pitch, an About Us statement, and supporting brand pillars. Writing this overview helps you determine how to most clearly and consistently communicate who you are, what you do, why it matters, and how it’s differentiated and relevant. Once you write this overview, you’re ready to write copy across all your marketing materials and communication channels

Create a Copy Cascade™ – the Copy Cascade is a method of organizing your messaging hierarchy. It includes:

  • Brand Message – an audience- and offering-agnostic value proposition that resonates with all your audiences. It’s like a keynote address at a conference.
  • Value proposition headline – seven-word headlines that summarize the value proposition of a specific product or service.
  • Elaboration blurb – this is a paragraph of two to three sentences elaborating on the value headline.

Products and audiences can each have their own Copy Cascade – each product or audience might have its own cascade of headlines and blurbs. You can end up with a messaging pyramid where you have product and audience-specific messaging stacks nesting beneath one another. This will help you apply your messaging to different content and audiences.

What are the steps to defining your messaging?

Step 1: Create a hypothesis with in-depth internal interviews – the people you interview need to be insightful, articulate, and opinionated. You want different perspectives from people who have an understanding of how your brand is perceived relative to the competitive landscape. This is part one of two.

Step 2: Do a brand audit and competitive analysis – audit your current communications and how your value prop compares to competitors. Ask how you are perceived and what your current position in the market is. This informs where your brand position is today.

Step 3: Get an external perspective – compare and contrast your internal assumptions with empirical viewpoints from the external audiences you serve. You’re looking for Message-Market Fit™ —start with an internal hypothesis, test it, and iterate based on feedback from meaningful conversations with external audiences. This gets rid of subjectivity as you’re getting the best message with a data-driven approach.

Step 4: Develop a minimum viable message and iterate until you get resonance –  you don’t want people distracted by design elements so just test out text on a slide or a piece of paper. You might ask them word by word what resonates and why. Get their feedback and iteratively revise the concept or individual word components. You can pick up where you left off in a future conversation—it doesn’t take many conversations to refine your message until you get resonance. Resonance looks like positive body language (head nodding, agreement, demonstrative responses). If you can record them, it’s even better because it proves to the rest of the team that the insights you’re building the recommendations on are valid.

Step 5: Develop your FAB analysis, Message Maps™, and Brand Narrative – once you’ve done the groundwork, you’re ready to build out the repository of messaging materials that will inform the activation of your messaging.

How should you roll out your messaging?

Start with rolling out to your website, then implement it everywhere – from your website, it will go into social media, paid advertising, content marketing, and providing sales with aligned messaging and value props that consistently set up customers for success because they know what to expect from the product. I prefer not to limit messaging to your website—create your framework separate from any one deliverable so that people don’t think that messaging lives on the website, which tends to lag over time.

Tune the messaging with A/B testing – you should be able to get 90 percent of the way there with your messaging development process, then A/B testing can help you fine-tune it. By testing different messages and measuring their effectiveness with digital ads and content, you can determine which messages resonate best with your audience. You’re never truly finished with your messaging as competitive inputs and product development never sit still.

How do you define your ICP? How do you identify the key personas within your ICP?

Mine your CRM for information on your ICP – begin by brainstorming the characteristics of your best customers. Look at the demographics, firmographics, psychographics, and behavioral patterns of your existing customers to identify commonalities.

Interview people who represent each segment – interview the people in your segments until you start to hear the same themes repeat themselves—then you know you’ve cracked the code on the value proposition for that audience.

Ask the four questions in the brand ladder methodology – by going through these questions, you’ll ladder up from features to benefits and benefits to feelings, then feelings to values. This progression allows you to uncover insights to better understand why people prefer certain products and features over others.

  • Of everything this product does for you, what is most important and why?
  • How does that make life better for you and your company?
  • How does that make you feel?
  • What is important about feeling that way?

There are often multiple different personas who look at you from different perspectives – in a SaaS context, you might have a decision maker, a technical buyer, an economic buyer, and an end user. They might all have different priorities and perspectives, so messaging for each will differ.

How do you determine what features, advantages or benefits each persona cares about? How should you adjust messaging to resonate with each?

Verify what each persona cares about with conversations – when you talk to different external stakeholders, make sure you talk to the different segments or audiences that your messaging will address and figure out what they care about.

Create a Message Map for each persona –  the Message Map should summarize the top 4-5 benefit statements that are unique to that Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and persona. While FABs are open-ended and expansive (you never limit how much content you create or topics you address), Message Maps will map the most important statements to the audiences they should apply to. They signal the top benefits to highlight when you don’t have time to say it all.

Benefits that pertain to one audience might not be relevant to another – or your different audiences might have different prioritizations of messaging. That’s why it’s crucial to think about audience-specific messaging and verify these through conversations and firsthand feedback.

How should messaging feed into your sales and marketing channels?

Update your website every two years at a minimum – your website is the foundation of your online presence, but it’s often lagging behind changes to your messaging. How often you update it depends on how fast your messaging changes. At a minimum, look at it every 2 years.

Make the messaging framework accessible so it can be applied to sales materials – it should be in a central repository where everyone can refer to it. It’s a natural next step after evaluating your messaging to apply it into presentations and materials for customers (e.g., sales decks and demos) that are easy to change.

The FAB exercise dovetails well into a sales playbook – if marketers contribute to the articulation of your features, advantages and benefits, they’ll align with sales to reinforce what’s happening at the top of the funnel. You’ll also be able to create sales battle cards. You want to supply marketing campaigns with as many topics and thoughtful articulations as possible.

Include investors and employees – you want your investor comms to reflect your most recent messaging as you raise capital. It’s equally important to develop messages that resonate with employees and they’re sometimes overlooked. You articulate values that will define your culture as part of building your messaging framework. You need to think about how you can define cultural behaviors that will fulfill the promises you make to external stakeholders. Think of it as a fruit tree, where your cultural behaviors are the roots that will produce fruitful results.

Allow a bit of creative license in creating copy from your message – messaging is what to say and copy is how to say it. Copy should incorporate the brand voice and infuse the messaging with some personality. What you say needs to be delineated and established with clear guidelines from which your teams can create copy.

Who should be involved in creating your messaging?

Product, marketing, and sales should give input into your messaging – there should be agreement among these groups as to what to say about your products and the value they provide. Otherwise, misalignment and mixed messages can create confusion for customers.

Executive sponsorship is key – executive sponsorship is key to ensuring that messaging development is a priority within your organization. Developing messaging can be a tedious process, so it’s important to communicate the benefits of a strong messaging framework to keep everyone motivated and engaged.

Set up a scheduled cadence of meetings to create your framework – space out the exercises into 90-minute sessions so you can sustain a concentrated effort over a period of 2-3 weeks. The process can be tedious otherwise and takes a lot of effort, so you have to space it out.

How often should you adjust your messaging? What might trigger an adjustment?

Build, measure, and learn consistently – when you’re looking to create messaging, start with an assumption, build a prototype, and test it until it has resonance. This iterative process can help you refine your messaging over time and ensure that it resonates with your target audience. Regularly measure the effectiveness of your messaging and adjust as needed.

When looking at a hypothesis, ask “What would have to be true for that to work” – this is from Roger Martin, andit’s a very liberating way to test a hypothesis about messaging. It helps keep the messaging exercise from becoming politicized.

You need to adjust your messaging when:

  • You introduce a new product
  • A competitor tries to obviate you
  • A new technology comes on the scene
  • When you have new insights from customers

Continually refresh your pool of insights – you need to have an ongoing and deliberate practice of direct contact with your customers. Win/loss interviews are a great way to stay in close contact with customers.

It’s really important to retire outdated messaging – if messaging is no longer effective or relevant, you need to refresh it or you can do serious harm to your perception. A shared repository of best-in-class messages can help you keep the story you’re using fresh and consistent across functions.

What are the most important things to get right?

You have to have empathy – you need to understand the problem you are solving from your customer’s perspectives and truly care about their needs. Customers can tell when you’re just placating them, so it’s important to approach messaging with genuine empathy and a desire to help.

After you have success, deconstruct the why – you don’t want to grow by accident; you want to be able to do it intentionally and repeatedly. Evaluating your successes will help you understand the strategies and tactics that were effective and incorporate them for future success.

What are common pitfalls?

Infighting that frustrates the process – when agendas take priority over the company’s collective good, it can cause a lot of dysfunction. You’ll miss insights that can create clear wins if you don’t have the collective abilities of your teams invested and employed.

Not getting everyone involved – the interdisciplinary perspective is where the biggest insights can happen, so you need a culture of collaboration where different functions can work together to great effect.

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