What the writer wants from a product messaging document

My last post highlighted the top 5 reasons to create a product messaging document. But I neglected to say what should go into that document.

The actual form and scope of a product message document can vary. I’ve seen 100+ page PowerPoint slide decks created by marketing consulting companies as part of a ‘positioning’ engagement. I’ve seen 10-page word documents in table formats completed by internal staff. And I’ve written simple 4-5-page Word documents for startups just starting to create their content.

This is not the place for a thorough discussion of product messaging, which properly belongs to the product marketing discipline. In a sense, the messaging document is a drill down into your product positioning statement. If you’ve done that work, the rest is easy.  If not, you have some work to do.

What the writer needs

Here are the points that I, as a freelance writer, like to see in a messaging document for a product I’m going to write about. This  information  will make me more successful creating content for the product:

  • Target markets/buyers and the key influencers for those buyers
  • Key business pains that your target market faces – what problems are people trying to solve when they turn to you?  What are they doing now to solve those problems?
  • Top benefits of your product for this audience addressing these pains (please note that features and benefits are different things!)
  • Competitive differentiators – what’s your unique value proposition? What do you do differently than your competitors?
  • List of key features – what are the most important features in your product? Any technical differentiators?

And I’m really happy if the list also includes the search-related keywords you want to target, so I can create SEO-rich copy that will help your organic search performance.

You can then dive as deeply as you want into each of these areas, highlighting the benefits or features most important to each target buyer.  You can develop detailed buyer personas for different buyers. How deep you go is up to you. But the time you spent on this up front effort will simplify and accelerate your content marketing efforts down the line.

And a few more things that would be nice

While we’re at it, here are a few other recommendations for your messaging document:

  • Make sure it’s easy to share and update internally.  That 100+ page Powerpoint file, thick with graphics, was a bear to mail back and forth, and everyone always seemed to be working off a different version.
  • Treat it as a confidential document. While it fuels external content creation, there’s no reason to give your competitors the roadmap to your positioning.  (Of course, freelance writers work under nondisclosure agreements.)
  • Don’t set it in stone – the positioning and messaging will no doubt change over time, and you should plan to revisit this document regularly.

Product positioning resources

Here are a couple resources for building positioning statements, in case you want some background:

The Positioning Statement as a Marketing Tool from the Dark Side Marketing blog

Building a well-constructed positioning statement from Mike Gospe’s blog

And an older article from Ford Kanzler on the MarketingProfs site:  The Positioning Statement: Why To Have One Before You Start Communicating

Top 5 reasons to create a product messaging map

I was talking with a client the other day, who told me that he’d gotten some pushback for creating a product messaging document.  Some people didn’t understand why he was spending the time creating an internal messaging document rather than diving right in to creating the outbound content.

It may seem that I am stating the obvious in this blog, but sometimes the obvious needs to be stated!

So, with no further ado, here are the top 5 reasons for creating a product messaging map—and getting consensus on that messaging—before beginning content development:

5.  A message map makes your marketing team more efficient.

When product marketing gets agreement on key messaging, the marketing team does not have to re-invent the wheel every time it sits down to create new content. The document informs everything from big pieces, like white papers or webinars, to blog postings and press releases.  It also helps with the many tedious small tasks like filling out partnership forms, online marketplace profiles, award applications, and directory listings that ask for the same information in slightly different ways.  With approved messaging and wording for essential benefits and features, everyone will work much more smoothly, with less review required.

4. It makes it easier to use freelancers.

Need to hire freelancer writers, webinar creators or others to build out your content? With a messaging map, they have the guidance to create material that supports and elaborates on your essential positioning.  Your freelance relationships will be more effective, giving you more bang for your freelance buck.

3. A message map keeps the sale team in line.

If marketing cannot give sales everything they need, enterprising sales staff will make up what’s missing. I’ve seen some really interesting emails from individuals in sales–and not always interesting in a good way.

You can discourage improvisations by giving the sales team the essential guidance they need in a useful, accessible and approved messaging document.  Ideally, the document should make it easier for the sales team to create any one-off presentations, individual letters or emails that they might need.

2.  [Corollary to #3]: It’s a great place to collect sales input.

Some of the sales team’s improvisations are worth keeping.  They are interacting with your target audience. They understand the buyer. They may discover information about business pains and buying factors that you did not have before.

By maintaining a common ‘message map’ and soliciting sales input on the messaging up front, you can integrate sales input into the overall marketing strategy.  It will make everything else that flows from it better.

And, finally, the top reason to use a message map:

1.  A message map accelerates content creation and content marketing.

Any time spent up-front in developing the message map will be repaid in full during the content creation cycle.  Content creators don’t have to spend time figuring out which are the most important benefits. Reviews won’t get stuck on messaging issues, but will focus instead on execution.  With fewer iterations and faster development cycles, you can more easily develop what you need to support a successful content marketing initiative.

Those are my choices for the top 5 reasons, but I’m sure there are others. I’d love to hear them in the comments! Maybe we make it a Top 10 list instead.