Terrible messaging maps shamelessly plug a product’s features and ignore customers’ needs. No one uses them in the company and—unsurprisingly—are almost always left forgotten in a file storage service.
Whereas successful messaging maps? They strike an emotional chord in not only super users but also decision-makers, capturing their interest instantly.
Today, we break down the seven biggest steps to creating a messaging map that drives conversions and meets business goals. By the end of this guide, you’ll learn how to pick the right messaging pillars and own your space.
- Unlock buy-in from the top guns
- Get representation across the whole buying committee
- Involve customers early in the process
- Monitor competitors to identify opportunities outside your radar
- Pick and prioritize message pillars to own your space
- Publish it to promote consistent use
- Measure and update as the market evolves
1. Unlock buy-in from the top guns
Getting executive leadership to back a brand messaging strategy right from the start encourages adoption across the company.
“It lends rigor and credibility to messaging decisions,” vouches Tom Lloyd, fractional CMO and managing partner at tllo.co. “It makes it more than a ‘marketing’ exercise.”
To get the seal of approval, speak to your C-suite executives to learn more about their business concerns. Bring up how the messaging strategy benefits the company while tying back to their concerns.
And while you’re at it, enlist your internal stakeholders’ support. It will come in handy when addressing potential objections raised by management.
2. Get representation across the whole buying committee
B2B marketers unintentionally forget about decision-makers when conducting customer research.
These marketers, according to Lloyd, usually have a list of go-to customers they can rely on. But more often than not, it’s a list of champions, not primary decision makers responsible for software purchases.
Even though these super users play a pivotal role in the buying process, marketers who rely only on their insights will end up with messaging that “skews towards users versus choosers.”
“Leaving the economic case out of a messaging map risks positioning your solution as tactical or non-business-critical,” explains Lloyd.
“It also fails to enable your champions with the fuel they need to make their business case internally, leading to deals slowing down or getting scuppered in later stages when decision makers get involved.”
Define your audience segmentation and understand which stakeholders are involved in the buying process and at which specific phases.
Lloyd adds, “This will give your messaging the multi-threading ability to impact opportunities successfully at every stage of the buying journey.”
3. Involve customers early in the process
Marketers involve customers at the later stages, like testing or validating messages.
And it’s a mistake.
“This isn’t bad in itself,” explains Lloyd.
“But the core value in a messaging mapping exercise comes from incorporating customer research from the get-go—before any messaging is created. If the final messaging represents the tip of the iceberg, the body will be formed from this customer insight.”
Get to the root of customers’ pain points as early as you can to understand the reasons behind their motivations.
It saves iteration cycles, according to Lloyd, and gives your business a better all-round understanding of your personas for applications in other areas, like product development.
Base your interview questions using the jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) framework to unearth these pain points:
- “What was going on in your life that made you seek [product]?”
- “What keeps you up at night, tossing and turning in bed?”
- “When using [product], what are you ultimately trying to accomplish?”
Interview at least 8-10 customers for each customer segment (e.g., 8 for power users, 8 for decision makers). Once you’re done, summarize your findings in a JTBD canvas.
The JTBD framework also helps you envision the specific situation or trigger event that pushes customers to look for your solution.
You can use it in the homepage copy, tagline, or even a social ad like the one you see below.
Notice how the version on the right is so much more distinctive.
Instead of opening with a forgettable opening statement (“There’s a faster way to get top creative made…”), it sets a scene video marketers are all too familiar with stressed over making a video in the wee hours of the morning.
4. Monitor competitors to identify opportunities outside your radar
Brands that don’t keep a pulse on the market eventually lose customers.
Case in point: Clubhouse.
The invite-only social app, which took the world by storm in the early days, experienced a decline after failing to address its main concerns (unsustainable revenue model, building features super users don’t want, ignoring misogyny and racism, etc.).
Another big reason for its downfall? The lack of identity and differentiation likely stemmed from poor competitive market research.
It’s inherently impossible to determine your company’s strengths and weaknesses when you ignore competitive research, let alone identify what makes you unique.
Start monitoring competitors’ websites, social media channels, PPC campaigns, and email newsletters to see how they position themselves.
Better yet, use competitive intelligence tools to speed up the process:
- Owletter – analyze competitors’ email marketing newsletters
- Mention – track what’s being said about the competition
- Visualping – monitor website changes
Customer interviews are also valuable in identifying your competitors’ weaknesses.
For example, the question, “What solutions did you try before using our product?”, helps you pinpoint top competitors, what they fail to do well, and what sets your product apart in the crowd.
Even ChatGPT can be helpful in identifying competing products you haven’t thought of. For example, here’s what happened when I asked about competitors for a new automated marketing reporting tool.
You can also request key differentiations among these tools.
Here’s what showed up after I asked how these different automated marketing reporting tools differ in target audience, functionality, usage, and focus.
It’s far from perfect.
And frankly, having written about automated marketing reporting tools in three years, I can already spot glaring flaws in its analysis.
Nonetheless, ChatGPT is a helpful tool to uncover competitors outside your radar. Don’t treat it as gospel. Instead, use it to spark new ideas.
5. Pick and prioritize message pillars to own your space
By now, you’re swimming in a sea of customer and competitor insights.
Tools like Dovetail are valuable for making sense of large volumes of data. Use them to auto-summarize takeaways from interviews. Quickly cluster this information by themes and pull out key messaging pillars to build out your core messages.
Refresher: a messaging pillar refers to a core concept or theme your brand owns in customers’ minds.
Diane Wiredu, a brand messaging strategist, explains her thought process when trying to identify the key themes that set companies apart:
- “What is our brand about?”
- “What do we want to own?”
- “Can we own this space?”
- “What feedback are we getting from customers?”
In her collaboration with Dash, Wiredu pulled several voice-of-customer (VoC) data that compared the digital asset management platform as a centralized home for visual images.
At the time, few competitors were describing their platform that way, so it was a no-brainer for the company to “steal” it straight from their customers’ mouth and own it.
The idea of a home for visual assets to live in was a memorable key messaging pillar on which the team could build out its core messages on top.
Tip: Use a message house to deconstruct your offer until you arrive at the core value of your product.
“The idea here is to understand your main value proposition—or an overarching narrative—and what promises and evidence to support it,” explains Nebojsa Savicic, co-founder of Plainly.
“From there, it becomes easier to effectively communicate to your target audience—why you exist, who you are, what you do, and how you say it.”
Note how the video automation software company visualizes one of its value propositions in a message house.
Bonus tip: Pay attention to the words customers used to describe the problem your product solves.
When Revelo applied this approach to its homepage, the conversion rate increased by 20%.
And it’s all because it changed its homepage copy from “Hire pre-vetted remote software developers” to “Products are only as good as the developers that build them.”
“Marketers sometimes feel the need to list all the features of their solution,” says Rohan Kulkarni, CMO of Revelo. “But a much better approach is to connect with your audience on what they’re actually trying to solve with your product.”
6. Publish it to promote consistent use
Base all campaigns, conversations, and content using the new message map (note: this includes your in-app copy).
Announce it to everyone across the company. If you’ve already gotten buy-in from the senior executives, it shouldn’t be too difficult for everyone to adopt the new messaging.
Your freelancers should also be aware of the latest changes. Note this email my client sent. She outlines the new positioning (“the easiest xxxx”) and words to use in all blog posts moving forward.
If you deal with high volumes of rich media, store your messaging map in a digital asset management platform that offers advanced search functionality, metadata engine, and governance rules.
This lets you search through assets quickly, assign expiration dates, and grant user permissions, among others.
The user restriction tool comes in handy when collaborating with independent contractors.
For example, if you work with freelance writers who only need access to the messaging map and blog style guide, limit their search for other sensitive content so they don’t appear in the results.
7. Measure and update as the market evolves
A brand messaging strategy is not a one-off activity.
Review your message map as you change your ideal customer profile, onboard more customers, and conduct more customer interviews. Ensure it aligns and speaks to your best customers today.
Based on our conversations with marketers, there’s no hard-and-fast rule in measurement.
Gaurav Nagani, co-founder and CEO of Desku, admits it’s difficult to measure how well the messaging map works in the early stage.
“We used to measure NPS score, CSAT Score, and our SEO efforts. We would check what’s changed and what worked better.”
The gist: While direct sales metrics are helpful in measuring your messaging map, qualitative metrics are also valuable in evaluating performance.
For example, if you notice industry practitioners mentioning your product in conversations, that’s a fantastic sign. Bonus if these folks share it with their hundreds of thousands of followers.
Here’s an email Marketing Examples sent to over 130K subscribers. Note how it applauded Basecamp for its positioning.
No doubt, it boosts brand perception and consideration for the brand.
Conversely, if your brand is painted in a not-too-positive light (like Smartsheet), then it may be time to gather all stakeholders to strategize the next messaging move.
All successful messaging maps share one similarity: they revolve around customers, not product features. Follow these seven steps to create a customer-centric messaging map and own your space.
1. What is a messaging map?
A messaging map is a document that provides customer-centric teams with how to communicate a product’s benefits compellingly and consistently.
2. How do you use a message map?
Use it across the company!
- Marketing – create copy in PPC campaigns and social ads.
- Product – update in-app copy
- Executives – introduce products while presenting at conferences
- Sales – position product in sales conversations, both online and in-person
- Contractors and freelancers – update product’s positioning in blog posts, social graphics, etc.
3. What are the seven steps of message mapping?
We boil it down to:
- Unlocking buy-in from executive leadership
- Getting representation across the buying committee
- Involving customers early in the process
- Monitoring competitors to identify what makes you unique
- Picking and prioritizing message pillars
- Publishing it and making sure it’s easily accessible
- Measuring and updating it frequently