One of the important roles product manager has is to help craft the ‘messaging’ for their product. By ‘messaging’ I am referring to the set of messages a company puts out there to influence how customers perceive its product or service. Those usually take the form of website content, datasheets, presentations, advertisements, etc.

I used the phrase ‘help craft messaging’’, since in some organizations messaging is the responsibility of a separate ‘product marketing’ and/or ‘marketing communications’ team. Regardless of the formal organizational structure, I believe that a product manager must be intimately involved in the process of positioning and messaging. But before we get too much into organizational dynamics, let’s discuss what ‘positioning’ actually means.

So what is ‘positioning’? While there are several definitions for the term ‘positioning (marketing)’, most agree that it is something that happens in the customer’s mind. Specifically, it the way the customer perceives your product vs. other products in the market.  If you are looking for a simple, yet powerful explanation of positioning, I highly recommend you read a book called “Positioning – the battle for your mind” by Al Ries and Jack Trout. It is an easy read and full of examples that illustrate the concept.

I realize the concept of positioning sounds a bit elusive, so let me try to illustrate it through a simplified perception model. I’ll use car models as the ‘product’:

Let’s assume that customers take into account only two attributes when choosing a car: price and performance. In order to establish their opinion of a particular model, they mentally ‘rank’ each it based on these attributes. A customer who evaluates two car models – Toyota and Porsche, may rank them as follows (see Figure 1).

Positioning Diagram

Figure 1: Perception grid

In the above example, the ‘positioning’ of Toyota is low price – medium performance, while Porsche’s is high price – high performance. Each car occupies a different ‘position’ in the customer’s perception grid.

While positioning ultimately happens in the customer’s mind, marketers strive to influence it. In our little example, the Toyota marketer may strive to increase its perceived performance, while the Porsche marketer wishes to decrease its perceived price. They both try to do it through ‘messaging’ – namely the set of messages a company puts out in order to inform and influence customers.

As stated, this was a simplistic example. Often there are more than two attributes a customer takes into consideration when establishing their view of a product. In such cases, we are talking about a multi-dimensional perception grid. The basic positioning principle still holds: 1) understand the key attributes your customer cares about 2) figure out how your (and others) product ranks 3) “map” the products on a multi-dimensional grid.

When dealing with hi-tech products, especially in the business-to-business (B2B) space, there are multiple attributes that influence the ‘positioning’ in customers’ mind. Examples for such attributes are:

       Price: how cost effective is the product? How does it compare to similar or alternative solutions in the market place?

       Performance: what is the “performance” of the product compared to others? Performance is obviously defined based on the product category, and may actually be broken down to multiple sub-attributes.

       Quality: how reliable is the product? What is its failure rate, or MTBF (mean time between failures)? What do other customers say of the product reliability?

       Functionality: what are the key functions the product provides? Depending on the product category and the market landscape, there may be multiple key functions that customers take into account when ranking a product in their mind.

       Support: how is the product supported? How dependable is the service? What are the costs and schedules associated with repairing the product?

       Company: how solid is the company that offers the product? What is their financial longevity? Who are its key management personnel? What is their market share?

But before delving into complex multi-dimensional perception grids, let’s not be quick to discard simplistic positioning models. In the “noisy” communication environment we all live in, it could be effective to focus on just a handful of attributes. The messaging efforts would focus on establishing your product positioning along these few attributes.

A classic example is “market leadership”: all things being equal, customers prefer to pick a “market leader”. If you can substantiate a ‘market leader’ positioning, it may be the primary message you emphasize with customers. If we go back to the “car models” example, then consider for example BMW’s positioning – “The ultimate driving experience” – which emphasizes one “attribute” in customers mind, their driving experience.

Figuring how your product ‘positioning’ is framed in customers’ mind is just part of the task. You also need to develop the ‘messaging’ that will reinforce, evolve or perhaps change your product positioning. The ‘messaging’ of a product, or a company for that matter, manifests itself through any form of communications the company puts out there, for example:

       Presentations: overview of the product, its features and use cases

       Datasheets: outlining product functionality and key benefits

       Whitepapers: how to apply a product to benefit a customer

       Success stories: how a particular customer benefited from the product

       Website: sections that deal with specific products, or solutions

       Press Releases: contain news about the product, or uses of it

       Interviews: conversations with news editors, analysts, etc.

       Blogs: containing specific references to the product

       Social media: posts that reference the product or its use cases

Ideally, the underlying key messages in every form of communication should be similar, or at least consistent. To achieve that, a “messaging document” must be developed with all the key messages. The messaging document should be reviewed and approved by all the relevant stakeholders before any communication piece is developed, let alone distributed. Unfortunately, due to constraints and deadlines, there is a tendency to “skip” the messaging exercise and jump straight to creating the content at hand. The outcome is inconsistent messages which may lead to a sub-optimal or even incorrect positioning. 

There are many different formats and templates out there for “messaging documents”. Frankly, doing the exercise and thinking thoroughly about the messaging and the desired target positioning is far more important than the actual format you choose… But just in case, I am enclosing a potential template for a messaging document below.

I.        Background information:

Setting the Stage
Purpose Statement This document provides overall ‘to-customer’ messaging and positioning for the company solution. This message framework should be used as a guide to develop consistent marketing communications by internal marketing teams, by agencies, and whenever the company solutions are referenced in customer-facing communications. This document is for internal use only and is not intended for distribution to customers or partners.
Summary of Customer Needs Summarize what the key customer needs are in your space.
Market Landscape Describe the market landscape: what are the key trends that influence it? Who are the key players?
Target Audience Who is the target audience? What type of companies are you aiming for, and what type of individual positions/roles you wish to target?

II.            Positioning Statements:

To-Customer Positioning

Positioning Statement

 

 

 1.     Fordescribe the audience within your target customers.

 2.     Whowants to <describe their key needs>

 3.     What describe what the company does for its customers.

 4.     Howdescribe how it does what it does, including unique technologies.

 5.     Competitorsoutline key competitors

 6.     Differentiators outline key differentiators:

  •          Differentiator one: details
  •          Differentiator two: details
  •          (3-6 differentiators in all)

 

Customer-Facing Statements

100-Word Description

Description of what the company does, customer benefits and key differentiators, in no more than 100 words.

50-Word Description

Subset of the above, in no more than 50 words.

25 Word Description

Subset of the above, in no more than 25 words.

 III.           Supporting Pillars:

Pillars

Pillar 1 

Pillar 2

Pillar 3

Audience Focus

Describe the audience

Describe the audience

Describe the audience

Pillar Benefit Statement Pillar key benefit statement  Pillar key benefit statement. Pillar key benefit statement 
Pain Points – Customer pain point(s), related to the pillar

Customer pain point(s), related to the pillar

– Customer pain point(s), related to the pillar

 – Customer pain point(s), related to the pillar

Customer pain point(s), related to the pillar

– Customer pain point(s), related to the pillar

 – Customer pain point(s), related to the pillar

Customer pain point(s), related to the pillar

– Customer pain point(s), related to the pillar

Support Points

Supporting point 1

– Details of the supporting point.

Supporting point 2

– Details of the supporting point.

Supporting point 1

Details of the supporting point.

Supporting point 2

– Details of the supporting point.

Supporting point 1

Details of the supporting point.

Supporting point 2

– Details of the supporting point.

 

Completing the first section – Background Information – should be straight forward. I assume a product manager has full understanding of his/her target market. However the purpose of this section is to help get other marketing related teams (e.g. Marcom team, PR agencies) on the same page.

The second section – Positioning Statements – is where the hard work begins. And this is also where most of the time will be spent in the messaging exercise. The message creation process is broken (sometimes artificially) into several steps. Multiple iterations of those steps may be required until convergence is achieved. Let’s go back to our simplistic example of car selection and attempt to fill the details on behalf of the Porsche product manager:

For: upper middleclass customers

Who: wish to enjoy performance driving on everyday roads

What: our company offers performance cars at affordable price

How: based on our unique automotive technology tested on challenging race courses

Differentiators:

  • Acceleration: sub-5sec acceleration from 0-60mph
  • Transmission: 7-speed gear; 1-6 with sports ratio; 7 with fuel-efficient ratio
  • Electro-mechanical steering: extremely precise yet comfortable at high speeds

The next challenge involves building the integrated positioning statements – a long, medium and a short one. Use the text crafted in the For/Who/What/How/Differentiators sections as building blocks. I suggest you start with the 100 words statement and then prune it down to get to the 50 and 25 words ones. As I stated before, the process will be iterative, and you will have to go back to earlier parts and continue to refine the positioning statements.

Finally, the Supporting Pillars are just that: they outline the more detailed proof points that support the positioning statements above. Each pillar includes a benefit statement, the related customer ‘pain points’, and supporting evidence to the pillar benefit claims. When dealing with more complex sales, there are often multiple audiences, each interested in different benefits. For example technical buyers interested in features/functions, and financial buyers interested in costs/ROI.  Going back to our small Porsche example:

Audience: car buyer

Benefit: top performance, at affordable price, on everyday roads

Pain point: enjoy high performance driving on a daily basis, yet at reasonable cost

Support Points:

  • Highly efficient, state-of-the-art engines <details here>
  • 7-speed manual gearbox <details here>
  • Electromechanical power steering <details here>
  • Efficiency enhancing measures <details here>

I hope the simple example illustrated the general structure of a messaging document. But don’t let the simple structure deceive you. Converging on few, powerful and consistent messages can be a challenging process. It requires participation from key stake holders, and involves multiple iterations till agreement is achieved.

It might be tempting to skip the seemingly trivial task of messaging document creation, and go straight to marketing content writing. Resist that temptation! Go through a messaging process first, and trust me, the payoff will be very high. And the extra bonus: your marketing content will be consistent and far more effective. 

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