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8 min read

How to nail your product messaging

Content marketing

There’s a fine line between mediocrity and greatness, with product messaging continuing to play a pivotal role in customers’ perception of whether a product is awesome, or just "OK."

Sure, you may have a product jam-packed with some sweet features, but your masterful creation could well fall under the radar if product messaging hasn’t been put in place.

Sarah Din, Director of Product Marketing at SurveyMonkey, treated Product Marketing Alliance to the pearls of her wisdom and gave her advice on how to create content messaging sure to resonate with your target audience.

Q: Our core product targets three different personas. We have different messaging sets for each which we use without fail in email, social media, paid campaigns, etc., but the area we struggle with is the website. Our product is at the forefront of our homepage and we have one main product page which branches off into what it is, the benefits, etc., but because both these pages target all three personas, it's hard to make each persona communicate directly. How would you recommend overcoming this? We've toyed with the idea of separate product pages for each but worry the site may get confusing, and more than one homepage is a no-go.

A: Great question! SurveyMonkey is similar in many ways because we sell to so many different personas, and to add more complexity to the mix, we also have multiple solutions for each persona, so there are multiple potential permutations for messaging here. But you are right, a website is where it gets tricky because you have an audience with a limited attention span and it's difficult to try to appeal to everyone. There are a few different solutions you can think through that I have seen work, each has its pros and cons.

  • Option 1: Have solution pages by persona in addition to your product page. In this scenario, the product pages can be more about features/benefits at the highest level (what we call our corporate messaging) and then have solution pages that talk about Product X for Marketers, vs Product X for HR, and so on and make them more focused on the problems you solve rather than features first. This is something we currently do at SurveyMonkey and it works out well, especially when we have specific campaigns and need a landing page to point people to.
  • Option 2: Don’t focus on personas on your website. While it's important to have persona-based messaging for certain marketing campaigns, I think it's more useful to have use-case-based messaging on channels like your website. Think of the problems your product solves and focus your messaging on that instead of the personas - for example, you can be in the product team or the marketing team, and looking to solve the same problem. And when people search online, they search for how to solve their problem, not to find tools based on their functional role. This is something we are trying to shift to as well.

Q: How do you validate your messaging with prospects and customers?

A: There are a few different ways you can validate messaging with both prospects and customers.

  • Quantitative research: When we revamped our messaging at SurveyMonkey recently, we ran several different concept testing surveys. Concept testing enables you to put multiple concepts (visual or copy, or both) in front of a certain audience (you can target a specific audience via a panel) and gather input on different factors like believability, trust, uniqueness and so on, in addition to asking for preference.
  • Qualitative interviews: A great way to supplement your quant research with more insights is running a few qualitative interviews - I recommend doing this for different personas if you have multiple, and doing this with both prospects and existing customers.

A/B testing across multiple channels: Once you have enough data to narrow down your messaging, you can leverage several marketing channels to run A/B tests - for example, an SEM ad is a fairly quick and easy way to test very specific TOFU messaging. You can also test via emails, in product, paid or social ads, etc. If you are B2B, you can also work with the sales team and pilot the new messaging on a few calls and use the feedback to refine your sales pitch! In general, the best thing to do is to create a test plan and map out the channels you want to test in, and then think about which channel is ideal for different parts of your messaging.

Q: How do you communicate your messaging internally at SurveyMonkey? Do you have set templates or frameworks? Also, how do you ensure the relevant teams are using your messaging?

A: This is a great question, and a lot depends on how large your company is (it's easier if you are smaller), but here are a few things I recommend.

The key is to treat it like any other external product launch - you need to leverage multiple channels, make it fun, and show people what’s in it for them.

  • Single source of truth: First, make sure that people have a place to go to as a single source of truth. For us, this is our wiki page everyone in the company has access to. Our documents are all in Google Docs that are "templatized" so it makes it quick and easy for people to read through.
  • Internal roadshow: Secondly, you also want to do some sort of a roadshow and do readouts with several teams across the organization and allow people to ask questions and provide feedback.
  • Launch day: Maybe launch it at a company’s all hands, or SKO? You want to make it exciting for people.
  • Training materials: You can create things like videos of your executives delivering your new messaging, live or recorded training sessions, etc. However you do it, the important thing is to repeat it and repeat it in different ways until people start to absorb the new messaging across your org.

Cross-functional partnership: And if you are a larger org, you will want to work with XF teams like sales enablement, comms, HR or L&D to make sure the messaging is part of all corporate content such as new hire onboarding, ongoing product training, etc.

Sales enablement: For certain teams like sales, you will want to go a step further and deliver actual sales materials leveraging that messaging so you are giving them something more tangible they can use.

Q: Have you ever had to deal with having to tweak or change your product messaging for different levels or types of customers? How did you address this?

A: Absolutely. Messaging often has many layers - for us at SurveyMonkey we have our brand messaging, then we have our corporate-level value proposition, messaging for multiple use cases and personas, messaging for multiple products, messaging for top industry verticals, and messaging by different international markets.

It's important to identify your top buyers and top use cases and create different permutations of your messaging for each. The process of developing messaging does not change for any of these, the only thing that changes is who you speak to, the words you use, and the audience you test it with. I recommend using the same templates and tailoring them as you need for the different versions.

Q: Of course, product marketing is a very cross-functional role. How do you specifically work with brand teams and lifecycle marketing, if one exists in your organization?

A: Product Marketing is indeed a very cross-functional role. At SurveyMonkey we work very closely with both teams on a variety of projects, but I can focus on how we work together on messaging with them.

  • Brand team: Our content strategy team is very involved in our messaging process. We collaborate with the team on things like research and developing elevator pitches to test. We also work with our content and design teams to develop creatives that we use to test the different types of messaging. Our brand team also owns our brand-level messaging so we work to ensure that we have a cohesive narrative everywhere.
  • Lifecycle marketing: We collaborate with this team to test messaging for different email campaigns, as well as work on optimizing messaging for various email campaigns based on results.

Q: I have a buyer behavior survey that was going to be administered in person during various trade and industry events. However, given the current environment, that’s no longer possible. We've tried emailing the survey with little success (we even offered a donation to local food banks for respondents). Do you have recommendations? The survey is to help shape our product messaging.

A: I’m curious to understand who this survey is going to - existing customers, or a panel? Because the incentives and the process can be different for each. There are a few things to consider...

You mentioned email as your distribution channel, but based on your audience, maybe another channel is more effective? Have you thought about perhaps using SMS or posting it via social media channels, or embedding it on your website? It depends on who your audience is.

If email is the best channel, then I would check where your respondents are falling off. For example, is it that they are not opening the emails, or are they opening them, clicking on the link but not completing the survey? Based on the answer, you can figure out if you need to optimize your email or the survey itself - there are a lot of best practices to ensure you have an optimized survey to drive increased response rates - if you are interested I can point you to a few resources.

I love the idea of a donation-based incentive, especially with what is happening around the world today.

You can also use online panels (we use our own called SurveyMonkey Audience) where you can target a certain audience and a certain number of respondents and the survey fields until that criteria is met, so that sort of guarantees that you get the responses you need to help shape your messaging. This is helpful if you are just looking for validation via Market Research.

Q: I see on the SurveyMonkey website you've used a very generic story on the homepage and separate pages for HR, Marketing & Customer Experience. How do you make sure to maintain consistency in messaging? Is there a framework you use for storytelling and messaging?

Also, on what all metrics do you track for product marketing at SurveyMonkey? What specific metrics do you follow, to make sure your story/messaging is working?

A: I always stress the message: consistency is key.

The best way to ensure your messaging is consistent is to develop your corporate-level narrative first, and as you develop the different layers for different use cases, personas, etc. make sure they all tie back to the main value proposition of your company/product. We do have a framework we use that remains consistent for all our messaging documents. We just add certain elements based on need.

KPIs are always interesting for PMM, and honestly, these changes are based on the project. For messaging, one of the things we look at, especially on the B2B side of our business is sales confidence in delivering a value-based pitch. You can drop a survey to the sales team before your launch and then post-launch and measure this every quarter to determine how your enablement efforts are helping drive confidence in the sales team.

For the consumer side of the business, one of the things we measure consistently is our brand, and adding questions in your brand tracking study to measure the effectiveness of your messaging can be another way to measure success.

Want to learn more?

Sign up for Messaging Certified: Masters course to gain the best possible knowledge on the strategy. The certification is taught by Bryony Pearce, Head of Education at Product Marketing Alliance.

By the end of the Messaging Certified: Masters you’ll:

  • Know how to build foundations for solid messaging and customer engagement,
  • Be able to get maximum impact from your messaging frameworks,
  • Be a pro at drafting, layering, and reviewing your messaging,
  • Understand how to work more effectively with copywriters,
  • Know how to validate your messaging with prospects and customers, and
  • Understand message synching and why it matters.

Written by:

Lawrence Chapman

Lawrence Chapman

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How to nail your product messaging