Foundation: Messaging & Narrative


The Messaging & Narrative pillar of product marketing is one of our more public facing pillars, and is often why people associate Product Marketing with Content Writing. I want to be very direct in my approach…

If Product Marketers wanted to be responsible only for writing we would have gone into Journalism, Content Marketing, or Copy writing, but we didn’t, we became Product Marketers.

I also want to make very clear, this article is written from the viewpoint of a company that has dedicated Product Marketing function distinct from content creators. In smaller companies and startups, where you often have to wear many hats, your Product Marketer may very well be your primary content writing. This is okay! In those company sizes you have to do everything you can to make it work, but as the company grows you’ll work to define and separate the rolls better. Try not to get caught up in only writing content, you can provide different value and let content writers do what they’re good at.

Looking for a specific “Guide & Template” to dive right into Messaging? You can find it here!  I’m going to try and make this as easy and consumable as possible, but also point you in directions where you can take this much deeper.

Buyer In Is Better Than Product Out

In product marketing it’s very easy to get drawn into starting with your product/solution and crafting all of your messaging from there. You try to position your product, how it’s the best in the world, and why everyone should buy it no matter what.

When we do this we make it harder on our company to find our true target market that should even be looking at our product to begin with. It’s important to use your buyer and market research, and start with the needs of your buyers first (hopefully the ones you can actually solve for best) and message from there. If you don’t have the needs of your buyers well documented, both what you solve for and adjacent needs, take the time to go get those first.

The Three Phases of the Buyer Process

When it comes to purchasing anything, most people have three primary phases of the buying cycle/process that they move through. When you come across a prospect, they will often be in one of these phases. Additionally, within each phase you can segment further for more granularity, but I’ve found it’s best to focus on these three parent categories and go from there. When it comes to Product Marketing, our goal is to understand what this overall process looks like, how people enter/exit each of the phases, and what their requirements are at each of the different phases. The better we can intimately understand this, the more successful our messaging and Go To Market motions will become.

Phase 1: Research & Awareness of the Problem

“Why Should I Care?”

The first phase of the buying process is about the prospect’s awareness and knowledge of a potential problem. Our entire goal in this phase is to get the prospect aware that there is a problem, and that it is important enough to solve for. We rarely want to talk about our solutions or our company in this phase.

If a potential customer does not realize that they have a problem worth solving, then your solution and company mean very little to them. By taking this approach first and crafting your messaging and narrative around the buyer’s problems and why it is critical to solve for, you will ensure your message lands properly. Some people will move through this phase very quickly, while others will take a lot more convincing. Additionally, in your buyer persona research you should be able to uncover how the needs change between different buyer types, so that you can capture the needs critical to your target market that you specifically can solve for.

Another important psychological aspect of a buyer to understand is that if YOU are the company that helps them realize there is a big problem, then YOU are the company they will turn to first to try and solve this newly discovered problem.

Types of Assets/Content: Whitepapers, Webinars, and Blogs are great early phase vehicles for helping educate the market on what problems they are facing and may not be aware of.

Phase 2: Exploration & Investigation of the Answer

“How Should I Solve It?”

Once a buyer realizes that there is a big enough problem and they are convinced it’s worth solving for, only then will they be ready to explore how to solve that problem. If you have done a strong enough job at uncovering the problem for the buyer, then they should be well prepared for this second phase and your narrative will flow very well for them.

The second phase is all about how your product/solution specifically solves for their needs and the problem you convinced them that they have. Get right to the point that your solution solves the problems of the prospect, and then get into how it approaches it differently from other answers. Remember, a potential answer to their problem is “Do Nothing”, so don’t forget to re-enforce why that is not an appropriate solution.

Types of Assets/Content: Product pages, Demos, Trials, and Datasheets help convey to the buyer how your solution solves their needs in a unique and differentiated way.

Phase 3: Justification & Selection of the Provider

“Who should I solve it with?”

In this phase we’re past the problem and past how we solve it, here we need to convince the buyer why our company is the better answer for them. In this phase, buyers are interested in your company as a whole and why they should trust you and go with you. They’re interested in the financial benefit of selecting you, the return on their investment, how this purchase is future proof, what does it look like to be a customer of your company, what does on boarding look like, what support level do you offer, and ultimately why should they choose your company over the competition.

Types of Assets/Content: Case Studies, ROI Calculators, Business Justification letters, and Customer References help your buyer decide that you are the company worth partnering with today and for the future.

Getting Buyers from One Phase to the Next

At each of the stages mentioned previously, a potential buyer will have questions & needs that they need to have answered. For example, for Phase 1 it could be something as simple as “Why shouldn’t we continue with the status quo?” If the buyer does not get these questions answered then they will either:

  1. Not progress to the next phase of the buyer’s journey or
  2. They will progress but get stuck, confused about why they’re looking at how your solution solves for something they don’t care about

This is where your messaging comes in to play. In Pillar 1 you uncovered the needs of the target buyer, and in Pillar 2 you became the Subject Matter Expert on your product. Now you can marry the needs of the buyer with the answers of your solution & company to help guide the buyer through their journey. Buyers will enter and exit these stages at different paces, and in some cases will even regress to an earlier stage if they’re not quite ready yet. Lastly, we talked about in the first pillar that there are different types of buyers involved in the purchase process (Buyers, Champions, and Users) and they all have different needs that must be met. This will rarely be a “one size fits all” messaging.

It’s important to note, your work is intended to capture the right target in the right market. This means your messaging should be precise and direct enough, that someone can instantly recognize it does not apply to them and remove themself from the funnel. This is important because it helps filter out “time wasting” prospects and allows Marketing & Sales to work on leads that have a much higher propensity to buy from your business.

Create As Much Messaging as You Can Action Against

When it comes to messaging, we’ve talked about 3 main buyer phases that you must align distinct messaging for and we’ve also talked about 3 categories of buyers. If we create a narrative along these dimensions that’s 9 distinct “blocks” of messaging. What about verticals? Let’s say we want to target Financial, Healthcare, and Human Resources: they all have different buyers with different buying phases. We’re not up to 27 blocks of messaging. What about company size, like Enterprise vs Mid-Market. That now brings us up to 54 blocks of messaging. Geography? North America, EMEA, and APA brings the total to a whopping 162 distinct blocks of messaging (assuming I’ve done my math correctly on that).

“Do I have to create all of that messaging?”

Yes… and No… The more precise and granular your messaging is, the stronger your message will resonate in that target market. Messaging created specifically for the CISO of a Healthcare company in Germany, is going to be very different from a System Admin of a Tech company in the US. They have different needs, different regulations, and cultural differences that require distinct messaging. However, the Healthcare market in Germany may not be well suited for your business. So while you can message against it, the result of it won’t move the needle enough for your business. When you create messaging you also have to keep it updated, because markets change, governments come out with new rules, and technologies advance.

When you conduct your target Buyer & Market research, you should be identifying who your primary buyer is, potentially a secondary buyer, and everything else is opportunistic buyers (don’t create distinct messaging for them).

So where do you stop creating granular and distinct messaging? When you and your company, can no longer action against it in a manner that greatly impacts your business. So start small. Start with one very specific target market and buyer that your company is best suited to win in. Find out who the Buyer, Champion, and Users are in that specific market, and craft messaging that aligns to the three main stages. This is 9 blocks of content for a single product.

This is going to be a lot for you to uncover and manage to start with, but when you do this, it will have a dramatic impact on your business.

Messaging Does NOT Equal Content

There will be another Template & Guide article around what a simple messaging document looks like, but I want to be very clear about something. You are working to create messaging not content. Messaging pieces are your answers to the questions specific buyers have at precise stages of the buying process. These messages are the “ESSENCE” of what your content needs to convey, they are not the entire piece of content itself. When you create a messaging document (and I’ll dive into this deeper in that Template & Guide article), you don’t want to create messaging that other people simply copy/paste into blogs and marketing emails. You want to create the nuggets, the foundation, and the building blocks that people can craft entire bodies of work around. This is the only way that you can scale your position.

Our #1 goal when crafting our messaging & narrative is to be able to provide something to 100 different people that they all create their own content off of, without requiring any review from you (although we still will), then you could lay all of the content out on a table, and it tells one amazing cohesive story.

When you can get your company to that point, you’ve successfully perfected Messaging & Narrative.

Related Posts

Stay in Touch