Building Better B2B Messaging in 6 Steps
Many B2B companies struggle to develop marketing messages that are clear, concise and compelling – typically because the exercise gets off on the wrong foot. In this post, I’ll break down a classic 6-step B2B messaging framework that can help ensure you start the messaging journey productively.
The B2B messaging framework itself is well known and simple, and looks like this:
- For [target audience]
- Who [statement of need or opportunity],
- [Name] is a [category]
- That [statement of key benefit].
- Unlike [primary competitive alternative],
- [Name] is [statement of primary differentiation].
That’s it. Six lines. Simple, right? Nope. Often organizations struggle to get consensus on this basic framework, and if you can’t get agreement here then the rest of your B2B messaging will be erratic across marketing, PR and comms. There’s a reason these simple lines are challenging. Distilling and capturing the core essence of messaging, and clearly and simply communicate why someone should care about what you have to offer is hard.
When you look at the best branding, it’s usually simple. Yet many companies, especially in the B2B space – and especially in the technology space – take the “more is better” approach to positioning. However, more is NOT better. More is confusing, and the people most confused are the ones that add all that extra messaging baggage. It’s your job to get them to drop that baggage at the door. Considering the tips and questions in this framework should help you overcome some of the B2B messaging challenges. Let’s dive in.
Step 1: For [target audience]
Who are you selling to? You’d think this would be obvious, but I can’t tell you the number of B2B companies that get this basic pillar of marketing wrong. A common error is to confuse the buyer (your target) with the needs of others in the foodchain, such as the user. Similarly, personas may be appropriate to identify nuances among customers (executive “approvers” vs management “purchasers” for example). But while these supporting messages are important to understand, they need to be captured and communicated separately.
The key is to make the core message broad enough to encompass your target audience, but narrow and specific enough that prospects can quickly see themselves in your message.
Here are some key considerations during this step of the messaging session:
- What single audience most directly contributes your organization’s success? Make them the focus of the story.
- How targeted can you be? Within reason, the more targeted the better (“manufacturers” vs “companies” for instance)
- If needed, it is okay to do multiple iterations of this exercise (and segment your messaging appropriately) rather than make the audience too broad.
Step 2: Who [statement of need or opportunity]
Need identifies a current problem, while opportunity describes a future opening. These are not mutually exclusive (and in many cases are highly complimentary), but if you have to choose one, focus on the need. The need must be immediately recognizable, and compelling enough to get a prospect to act. You want them thinking “I too have this challenge, it’s a real problem for me and I wish there was a solution.” You are not offering the solution yet, your goal is instead to create the space needed to see themselves in your offering.
Key considerations during this step include:
- Your target is the hero of the story, and this is their challenge. They are living with this pain even if unrecognized.
- The statement should imply a cost. It can be monetary, but typically isn’t.
Step 3: [Name] is a [category]
What is your product or service called? Put it here. (And if you need help on naming, just search “how to name a product”.) Now the important part: what is your offering or market space? Is it part of an existing category that the buyer is familiar with? Or is it something new? Neither of these choices is inherently better, and each has pros and cons.
If you’re part of an existing space or product category, you’ll need to put greater emphasis on the differentiation against competing offerings. If you’re breaking new ground, you’ll have to spend effort educating the buyer on why this space exists. But in either case, new or existing, you want the category to be recognizable. Now is not the time to confuse with lingo or techno-babble – be targeted enough so people can quickly determine if you’re offering a round or square peg, but not so deep in the weeds they can’t see the hole to begin with.
Here are some key considerations:
- Creating a new category is time consuming, expensive and not always successful; give this careful thought before proceeding.
- It is okay to be descriptive with the category (“a new type of…”)
Step 4: That [statement of key benefit]
Now we come to the crux of the matter: how does your product or service meet my need? How is my world better once I have it? If there is one area that most messaging exercises fall down, this is it. This needs to be a single, short statement, not a paragraph. You’re not trying to describe every advantage your product brings, you’re distilling everything down to its essence so prospects can quickly recognize the solution to fit their need. If you’ve done your job to this point, your prospects will gladly stay around to learn more.
- Make sure your statement reflects a benefit (for instance, saves time) not a feature (easy to use).
- The benefit must convey clear and compelling value. The more marginal the improvement over the status quo, the less likely you’ll make the sale.
- A benefit that’s less than compelling may indicate a weak product value proposition; but it may also indicate failure to capture the fundamental need/opportunity above.
Step 5: Unlike [primary competitive alternative]
Another common error is thinking you’re done once you’ve stated the benefit. But, we’re going to take things further for one very good reason: there are other solutions out there that meet these same needs. What are they? We’re not looking for a company or product name here, but rather a description of the alternative – even if that alternative is to build it myself (or do nothing). Whatever the primary alternative is, describe it in its simplest terms. And if you think there is no alternative, revisit your need/benefit statement because you’ve probably made it too narrow.
Things to think about on this step:
- Focus on the primary alternative (or at most the two competing alternatives). This cannot be a list.
- It is absolutely desirable to loop in the sales team for this step. What do they most run into when talking with prospects?
- If you can’t complete this step, STOP. You need to do more research to understand your customer.
Step 6: [Name] is [statement of primary differentiation]
This is the real reason we weren’t done after stating the benefit: is your message generic enough to apply to the competition? If a customer can use something other than what you’re offering, why shouldn’t they? If there is ever a time to include a phrase like “first” or “only,” this is it. Tell me in the clearest possible terms why your solution is unique and different and better than the alternative, and make it miles better, not inches.
- Again, this should be a succinct statement, not a list.
- Revisit the need/opportunity. The differentiation should make it clear you are offering a better solution for that challenge than the competition.
Congratulations, you’re done (for now). At Voxus, we use this B2B messaging framework at the start of messaging exercises to get everyone on the same page before diving deeper, and after the fact to pressure-test current messages. In either instance, we’ve found its deceptive simplicity to be immensely valuable in ensuring we understand the message in its most refined form. From here it’s a short step to building elevator pitches, boilerplates, home or landing pages and more. Give it a try and you’ll soon be on your way.