[Podcast] Messaging and positioning for SaaS – how to get it right with data

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In this podcast episode, join special guest Peep Laja, Founder of Wynter, CXL, and Speero, and host Claudiu Murariu, CEO and Co-Founder of InnerTrends, as they dive into the importance of successful messaging and positioning in order to convert customers.

Here’s what they talked about:

  • Why product roles should care about messaging and positioning;
  • Strategies for improving messaging and positioning;
  • What good messaging looks like;
  • Questions you should be asking when testing messaging;
  • How long it takes to start seeing results from improved messaging.

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Episode excerpts:

Why should product roles care about messaging and what can they do to improve it?

Let’s say I’m a product person, I see that I have a low onboarding rate, or marketing is bringing the wrong kind of people to the app. How do I get involved in the process of writing better messages?

[P]: If you’re not converting enough people, or you’re converting the wrong kind of people inside of your apps, it’s possible there is a messaging problem.

Let’s assume the problem is with messaging. The number one thing to remember about solving any type of messaging issue is understanding what the problems of your target market are, because you can only fix a problem that you know exists.

An A/B test does not tell you what the problems are; an A/B test is a measurement methodology. It tells you whether B is better than A, and by how much, but it doesn’t tell you what the problem is.

What you need here is a form of qualitative research. Qualitative research, essentially, is talking to people. Your messaging is designed to influence your ideal customer. So that means that the group of people that you need to survey or interview are people representing your ICP.

Message testing is a form of qualitative research. The whole point is that you get your messaging in front of your target audience, and you ask them questions about it. Questions that help you uncover friction, questions that help you understand what’s unclear, or what they had doubts about, etc. And once you understand where the problems are, you can start coming up with ideas of how to fix those issues.

[C]: So if you have an idea for an A/B test, you should first test the message by putting it in front of an audience and asking them questions about what they think of the message, and observing how they react to it before running the actual A/B test.

Product does not normally own messaging – depending on the team structure – but they can be involved in the process of honing the message and can go to marketing with product insights that can tell them where the problem lies, and then fix it together with marketing.

What are the questions you should ask when testing the messaging?

[P]: We need to distill messaging down into smaller components; what does good messaging even look like? What does it consist of? 

Somebody signing up for your product is the effect, and messaging, for the most part, is the cause.

If there’s somebody who’s a warm referral, they might not even read anything, and just sign up. But if it’s cold traffic, they’re going to read, and messaging does most of the work when it comes to increasing their motivation to take action.

The key components of messaging that matter the most are: clarity, relevance, value prop, differentiation.

Let’s break them down:

  1. Clarity – Do you understand what it is? What’s the product? Who is it for? What do I use it for? What problem do you solve for me? What’s the desired outcome? If the clarity is poor – If the customer doesn’t understand what your product is or if it’s for them, they’re never going to buy it.
  2. Relevance – Meaning the content on the homepage or landing page is aligned with the customer’s priorities and challenges they’re facing. The customer might understand everything that’s written on the homepage, but if it talks about a problem the customer doesn’t have, they won’t buy or sign up.Value proposition – How much does the customer want the value that’s being communicated? They understand your product, it’s relevant, and they need the product you’re selling. How compelling is the pitch?
  3. Differentiation – For most products, you have alternatives. If you’re Mixpanel, and you don’t point out how you’re different from Amplitude, Heap, or InnerTrends, the customer might not buy. So you need to lead with what makes your product unique.

So to go back to the initial question – the questions you should ask when composing your messaging should revolve around these five components.

For clarity, you might ask: “After reading our homepage’s content, what’s still unclear about our product?” 

For relevance, you might ask: “Is this aligned with the customer’s priorities and challenges?” Or you might do a separate qualitative survey asking customers what their challenges and priorities are.

For value proposition: “What’s holding the customer back from signing up right now? What are their biggest doubts about it?”

Once you can identify the answer to these questions you can start making changes to your product.

[C]: That’s very aligned with the framework that we use at InnerTrends. We say that everything regarding what you do in your product is linked to the promise you make. And the promise needs to be clear. If it’s not a clear promise, the customer won’t be sure of what they’re signing up for. It also needs to be relevant to their situation.

What strategies would you suggest for somebody to improve messaging?

[P]: It’s 100% an iterative process – you might have an idea in your head: “If I say it like this, it’s going to be really clear and compelling now.” But then you put it in front of the target audience, and they’re left confused.

There’s this old saying: “The problem with communication is the illusion that it happened.” So in my mind, I’m communicating in a very compelling fashion. But really, I’m not.

So unless you get data that your headline is falling flat, you keep it. Which is why most companies leave the copy or messaging on the website the same way for years. Because who said it’s bad? It’s your opinion against mine. So it’s absolutely an iterative process, you need to keep testing your messaging.

My recommendation for how to go about the process is to start with a survey of your target audience. Maybe you use your own email list or people who aren’t customers yet. And you want to try to determine what their biggest pain points are when it comes to whatever your product solves. What are their desired gains? What metrics are they looking at to measure that success? What are their general priorities, and how do they think about things?

That information should shape your information hierarchy. All of those blocks should mirror the priorities of your target customer.

Obviously, different companies in B2B settings have different priorities. But for the most part, there’s usually a significant overlap. For example, all conversion or optimization people want to increase the conversion rate and revenue per user, but the little details might vary.

So once you understand what they want and what their priorities are, you do the messaging test and you understand the problems – “This headline isn’t working,” or, “This paragraph doesn’t represent it accurately.” There are infinite ways to rephrase it.

There’s also a test we call preference testing – you write three versions of the headline, paragraph, etc. And have people that are unfamiliar with your business read the three versions and tell you which one they like best, and why. It might be hard for you to find people who are your exact ICPs, but your messaging should be so clear that anybody can understand it.

How much of what your product or company does should be in your messaging?

[P]: Oftentimes, we try to say too many things. So the key aspect of working with messaging is asking yourself: what are the top three to (maximum) top five things our target customer should absolutely know about us? And you want to focus on those key messages.

You want them to know:

  • What it is,
  • Who should use it, and
  • What it should be used for.

You’ll have a lot more things you want to say, but you don’t want to put everything on your key landing page or homepage. So you have multiple pages. Because the main idea is that if you pique someone’s curiosity and interest by speaking to their pains or desired gains, they’ll be willing to invest more time going through the sub-pages.

[Large, well-known companies have the luxury to not follow this pattern, because they don’t need to explain what they are and who should use their product. They can get creative about their messaging, but the rest of the world needs to tick these boxes.]

What do you do when you have a very competitive market? How do you craft your messaging?

There are some markets out there that are very competitive. And pretty much everything you want to say one of the big players says it already. So how do you address that?

Messaging cannot fix your positioning and differentiation problem.

[P]: If you have a fundamental differentiation and positioning problem, then words on your page are not the fix. That’s a core aspect of the business strategy.

So if you are like any other CRM, and maybe you have one more feature, that’s just a bad place to be in.

And I understand that differentiation is hard. So what you can do is build a vision of how you could become totally differentiated through innovation or go for very specific target segments.

For instance, in helpdesk software, Zendesk was already huge when Gorgias came to the market. And they said: we cannot beat Zendesk at their game.

So what they did was focus on e-commerce. And they built product features and so on, specifically solving e-commerce use cases and pain points. And now they’ve actually become better for e-commerce. Any new startups joining the space can’t say they are serving e-commerce anymore, Gorgias is owning that market.

You gotta zoom in even more: I am Helpdesk for automotive parts ecommerce stores. Now, of course, you need to do your own calculations, if that market is big enough to feed you, but that’s just an example of a way to position yourself differently and then solve the very particular use cases and problems of that niche market. So if your target is everybody, it’s a very hard life.

How long does it take to establish solid messaging that works? How many iterations and resources should be put into that?

[P]: For the key messages – let’s say you’re working on your homepage – in my experience, after a survey and four or five iterations, you’ll arrive at a very good place.

After a survey and four or five iterations, you’ll arrive at a very good place.

Perfection is a moving target, but you can get to clear and compelling messaging in a couple of weeks depending on how fast you can iterate on the messaging.

And obviously, you might have multiple products, and therefore multiple pages to work with. You might have multiple ICPs, and different ICPs might need different messaging, because they have different pains, different priorities, etc.

Design is also important as it assists in better communicating that message and the hierarchy of the page.

Final thoughts

Here are the key takeaways from this podcast episode:

  • Messaging, positioning and differentiation are fundamental aspects of your business and marketing strategy; marketing and product teams should work together towards honing them.
  • Messaging is an iterative process – and message testing is a great qualitative research method that helps companies get it right faster.
  • Your messaging should convey what your product is, who should use it, and what it should be used for.
  • The key components of messaging are: clarity, relevance, value prop, differentiation.

About Peep Laja

Peep Laja is the Founder of Wynter, CXL, and Speero. He’s totally into B2B strategy, messaging, positioning and differentiation. He is also the host of How to Win podcast.

Wynter is a self-serve B2B messaging and buyer intelligence platform that lets you launch a test in minutes. Learn about it here: https://wynter.com/

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