Message testing is a process used to assess the effectiveness and impact of specific messages or communication strategies. It involves presenting targeted personas with different versions of a message, often related to a product, idea, or campaign.

Market researchers can then gauge the reactions, comprehension, and overall resonance of the different messages to see which one is most effective. By analyzing audience feedback and behavior, organizations can refine their messaging to better align with their goals and connect with their intended recipients.

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Why Is Message Testing Important?

A product or solution’s messaging can make or break its success in the marketplace. Great messaging instantly captures a potential buyer’s attention and inspires them to learn more. It highlights relevant pain points that the solution can solve, embodies the voice of the customer, and includes a clear call to action.

To ensure great messaging, it’s vital to test it. Message testing research provides companies the data-backed foundation they need to develop effective content that resonates with buyers and inspires them to act. Specifically, message testing can help to:

GUARANTEE ROI ON MARKETING CAMPAIGNS 

The cost of message testing research is minor compared to the cost of failed messaging. By spending a small portion of your marketing dollars on research, you can ensure that the rest of your budget will be wisely invested.

Message testing ensures that marketing campaigns are built upon a messaging framework that was proven effective. The marketing assets of the campaign – such as landing pages, web copy, newsletters, social media, PPC campaigns, etc. – will get more clicks and conversions. This maximizes the return on investment for the marketing campaign, ensuring that every dollar spent delivers optimal results.

AVOID ALIENATING BUYERS WITH THE WRONG TERMINOLOGY

In B2B tech, a single term or phrase can elicit two completely different reactions from two different technical audiences. Message testing can help ensure you are using the right terminology for the right people. 

One example is the recent proliferation of no-code or low-code software platforms. While these solutions can enable a wide range of users to build applications and solve business problems, it can be tricky to message these platforms correctly. For example, IT and LoB professionals react to the phrase “no-code” in completely different ways. IT personas are typically very comfortable using this term in their everyday interactions. Because it’s standard terminology for them, including “no-code” in messaging geared toward IT personas is generally a safe approach.

For LoB professionals, however, the phrase “no-code” can elicit confusion. This is not a term that they would typically use in day-to-day interactions. Therefore, including “no-code” in marketing materials geared toward this audience would not be an effective strategy.

Message testing research can help you understand how each of your target personas responds to a key phrase in your messaging –  from the start.

ESTABLISH DIFFERENTIATION WITHIN THE MARKETPLACE

A strong B2B messaging framework requires differentiators that set your product or solution apart from the competition. Message testing can help establish these differentiators.

By testing different messaging approaches and comparing it to what already exists in the marketplace, you can pinpoint which features, benefits, or attributes resonate most with customers. This provides the basis for crafting messaging that highlights your solution’s distinctive qualities, making it clear to consumers why your offering is different or superior to others. 

ENHANCE CREATIVITY WITH RESEARCH-BACKED DATA

Innovative and imaginative ideas are often at the heart of marketing campaigns. Message testing allows marketers to validate these ideas by assessing how well they resonate with an audience. 

Because deeply imaginative ideas can sometimes appear disconnected from the preferences and needs of certain personas, message testing can help to align these ideas with the actual preferences and expectations of of customers. 

Ultimately, incorporating message testing into the creative process bridges the gap between imaginative ideas and real-world effectiveness. It ensures that marketers not only create creative messaging that stands out, but also that the creative direction is grounded in empirical data.

 

When Do Organizations Need Message Testing?

Message testing is beneficial for any organizations to ensure the effectiveness of their communication efforts; however, there are specific scenarios when message testing is particularly valuable:

LAUNCHING A NEW PRODUCT OR SERVICE

Message testing is a crucial asset when launching a new product or service. It can help serve as the compass to guide the product’s introduction to the market. 

By testing different messaging approaches, companies can pinpoint the most compelling way to position the product and emphasize its key features and functionalities. This process ensures that the product’s value propositions and differentiators are effectively communicated, increasing the likelihood of capturing the attention and interest of potential buyers. 

Message testing can also serve as a safety net, helping to mitigate risks associated with a product launch. Rather than embarking on a full-scale marketing campaign with untested messaging, teams can refine their strategies based on data, increasing their chances of success.

YOUR MESSAGING FEELS OUTDATED, IRRELEVANT, OR INEFFECTIVE

Is your messaging no longer resonating with buyers? Has it become so stale that it no longer reflects your focus, capabilities, or aspirations? Does it fail to activate current and future buyers?

When your messaging feels outdated, irrelevant, or ineffective, message testing offers a lifeline for revitalizing your communication strategy. It begins by identifying the precise shortcomings in your existing messaging, shedding light on what’s not working and why. By pinpointing these weaknesses, you can strategically refine and modernize your content, ensuring it aligns with the changing preferences and needs of your audience.

Message testing also allows you to experiment with fresh ideas and approaches, revitalizing your messaging strategy with evidence-based adjustments. This iterative process allows you to continuously adapt and optimize your messaging while staying in tune with the evolving market trends.

REBRANDING OR REPOSITIONING

During a rebranding or repositioning effort, messages need to convey the updated identity or value of the organization. Message testing helps to evaluate the effectiveness of new messages, ensuring they resonate with your target audience and convey the desired brand image. Ultimately, this ensures a smooth and successful transition to the updated brand while maintaining a positive relationship with your audience.

TARGETING NEW OR MULTIPLE PERSONAS

Organizations with diverse customer segments or stakeholders can use message testing to tailor messages for each group. It is incredibly difficult to address all your target personas’ needs in one set of messages. Message testing can reveal how to build out different messages for each persona you target.

For example, many messages in B2B tech need to be addressed to both IT and LoB leaders. However, these two personas typically want to know different things. IT leaders want to know what pain points you are solving and how it will work for them. Business buyers want to know what your solution looks like at a more conceptual level and the ROI of the solution. Message testing can help marketers create two distinct messages that resonate best with each persona.

NOT STANDING OUT IN THE SEA OF SIMILARITY

If you feel like your messages are simply mirroring the competition with limited or no differentiation, it’s time to dig in deeper with some research. 

A message testing research project will typically begin with a competitive analysis, analyzing the messaging and positioning of competitors in your space versus your own. This helps identify gaps in the market that your messaging can fill or opportunities to position your offering as superior or different. 

Once you’re better educated about the messaging of the market, you can begin to test your own ideas for unique selling points, value props, and differentiation. The research will help you identify which messages resonate most strongly with your target audience and set you apart from the competition.

LAUNCHING NEW MARKETING CAMPAIGNS

Before spending any significant amount of resources on a new marketing campaign, it’s a smart idea to conduct message testing research first. Message testing can identify the most persuasive and resonant messages to maximize the campaign’s impact and reach the intended audience. 

RECENT MERGER/ACQUISITION

When mergers and acquisitions happen, messaging may need to change too. It’s important for the parties involved to establish a unified identity, ensure consistency, clarify changes for stakeholders, etc.

Message testing can help to ensure the merged entity’s shared vision, mitigate uncertainties, capitalize on growth potential, and present a coherent and reassuring narrative to both stakeholders and prospective customers.

How Is Message Testing Conducted?

These are the ways in which market researchers conduct message testing from start to finish, including how they recruit respondents, gather responses, and analyze the data collected.

1. RECRUITING RESPONDENTS FOR A MESSAGE TESTING STUDY

Recruiting the right participants for a message testing study is just as important as asking the right questions. For B2B message testing projects, these are the types of people who are typically recruited and interviewed: 

  • Prospects
  • Current customers
  • Competitor customers
  • Decision-makers
  • B2B purchasing influencers
  • Sellers that used to work for competitors

To effectively recruit those participants, some strategies include finding potential respondents through: LinkedIn, Twitter, industry events and conferences, training centers, or online forums.  

To incentivize participants of a B2B message testing project, rates often need to be a bit higher than for a consumer study. While it is relatively easy to find consumers willing to answer a survey for reward points, a drawing, or a small cash incentive, business professionals value their time differently. Considering the industry, senority level, organization size, and incidence rate is necessary when deciding on incentives. 

2. GATHERING RESPONSES IN A MESSAGE TESTING STUDY

Message testing typically uses mixed methodology in research studies. Either at different stages of the project, or interspersed throughout, both qualitative and quantitative research methods are commonly used to answer research questions. 

Quantitative methodologies like surveys and questionnaires are used quite frequently as a way to collect and aggregate large amounts of responses. Quantitative surveys are a great way to measure or validate certain ideas, thoughts, or questions you may have.

Message testing surveys should ask such questions as: 

  • How many people respond favorably to to Message A vs. B?
  • What messaging resonates best with a given type of buyer persona?
  • How can we quantify the impact of one messaging strategy vs. another?

More information about quantitative methods can be read on B2B Quant: Not Your Average Survey

Qualitative methods like focus groups and In-Depth interviews (IDIs) should also be used conjunction with quantitative research. Qualitative research allows companies to dig deeper and collect more in-depth information like key themes, drivers, and motivations. With message testing, it’s critical to to not skip the qual, and to go beyond quant to get the right insights

Some questions researchers may ask during a message testing focus group or an IDI are:

  • What about our website led you to call/email us?
  • Was there something about our company or offers that wasn’t clear?
  • Who else are you considering at this point? (So you can look at their messaging.)
  • Does Message A vs. Message B resonate with you? Which one positions us as a thought leader, a better choice, a better value, etc.? 
  • Which of these proof points matter most to you as a buyer?

Questions like these can lead to a great deal of discovery and insight for a company. While quantitative research helps companies collect responses to more straightforward questions, qualitative research can uncover deeper context surrounding those answers. 

3. ANALYZING THE DATA FROM A MESSAGE TESTING STUDY

Once responses from both qualitative and quantitative data have been collected, market  researchers must then analyze the data, draw conclusions based on that data, and present the findings. 

For quantitative research like survey responses, researchers utilize a diverse toolset to analyze the data and connect the dots between different questions and segments. Reports should deliver real insights, not just charts for each question.

For qualitative research like IDIs and focus groups, researchers must review transcripts and recordings to search for commonalities or themes that have been discovered throughout. It’s helpful to have project goals and Key Intelligence Questions (KIQs) in mind while reviewing the transcripts and recordings. 

Once the data is analyzed and findings become clear, researchers must then find a way to present that data in a way that is ethical and responsible. It’s also important to incorporate visuals and graphs while telling a story throughout the report. Message testing research findings typically start with an executive summary then dig deeper into analysis.

Researchers should then show strong and compelling recommendations for a company to change their sales, marketing, or product development efforts based on the research findings. Some research firms may even go one step further by not just delivering recommendations, but actually helping to activate them.  

How Can Message Testing Work For You?

Message testing can provide value to a number of different roles within an organization. Below, we’ve broken down how brand research can work for different functions. 

MARKETING LEADERS

Marketers play a central role in message testing research projects. As the leaders responsible for developing and executing an organization’s marketing strategies, they bear the responsibility of ensuring the messages they communicate are clear, concise, persuasive, and resonate with the intended recipients. 

Message testing provides the data-backed research that marketers need to successfully execute on a messaging launch. By revealing the specific language that is most impactful with their target personas, message testing empowers marketing leaders to build more successful assets and campaigns.

SALES LEADERS

Sales leaders are another significant stakeholder of a message testing effort. Message testing research empowers sales teams to communicate more effectively, shorten sales cycles, and ultimately increase conversion rates. 

By tailoring their communication to match what resonates with target personas, sales professionals can engage prospects more successfully and gain a competitive edge in their markets.

C-SUITE

C-Suite leaders need to ensure that their messaging aligns with the company’s mission, vision, and long-term objectives. Message testing helps verify that the messaging aligns with the brand’s identity and resonates with the intended audience. 

Additionally, message testing offers data that C-Suite leaders can use to inform pivotal strategic decisions regarding their company’s marketing and communication strategies. These insights help in making informed choices that align with the company’s broader goals and vision.

PRODUCT LEADERS

Product leaders play a pivotal role in shaping the development and success of products or services. A key factor in a product’s success lies in how it is communicated and positioned within the marketplace.

Message testing can help determine the most effective way to position a product in the marketplace, identify which features and capabilties to highlight in marketing materials, and show product leaders what matters most to customers.

PARTNER/CHANNEL MANAGERS

Product leaders play a pivotal role in shaping the development and success of products or services. A key factor in a product’s success lies in how it is communicated and positioned within the marketplace.

Message testing can help determine the most effective way to position a product in the marketplace, identify which features and capabilties to highlight in marketing materials, and show product leaders what matters most to customers.

Case Studies: Real-World
Message Testing Lessons

Having spent more than 15 years conducting message testing research projects for B2B tech clients, we’ve encountered a wide range of scenarios. Here are three examples of real-world message testing case studies and their key takeaways.

LESSON 1: QUANTIFYING MESSAGE RECEPTION IS A BALANCE OF METRICS

The Context: A SaaS incident response company needed to refine their messaging for a new platform offering. They wanted to evaluate how well their messaging pillars resonated with IT decision makers, which would then inform their marketing and sales strategy. 

In addition to gathering insights from the focus group discussion, we also polled participants on their favorite and least favorite messages. That way, we could stack rank them to show the client which ones performed the best, which ones needed edits, and which ones they should consider de-prioritizing.

During testing, some of the pillars evoked a lot of interest and engagement but received negative feedback for things like improper sourcing for proof points or the use of a buzzword that lacked clarity. In other words, the ideas resonated, but the delivery needed tweaking. This is a common problem in message testing. 

So, to show the a more complete picture of participant sentiment, we use two key metrics for the polling: Engagement (the total number of responses) and sentiment (the number of positive responses minus negative responses). 

Lessons Learned: Both engagement and sentiment need to be evaluated during a message testing project. Here’s why each is important.

Why engagement matters: When a message elicits a high number of responses, it indicates the message made participants feel something (even if it’s negative). Oftentimes, that negativity stems from the frustration of reading a message that makes promises without proof, like when a company says their tool helps customers reduce TCO but doesn’t have the stats to back it up. With some adjustments, these poorly rated messages have potential to resonate. 

Why sentiment matters: Favorability indicates a better quality message that is received better by the intended recipient. However, it’s important to balance that favorability with engagement when stack ranking the final message contenders. For example, say a message gets two positive votes and no critiques — so Engagement Score (2), Sentiment Score (2). Should that message be ranked better or worse overall than a message that gets 8 positive votes and 6 negative votes — so Engagement Score (14), Sentiment Score (2)? 

Such polarity can indicate interest and inform better targeting. For instance, maybe the message performed better among one audience segment over another in the focus group. In that case, this message would be more appropriate for an industry- or role-specific webpage or other assets to engage this persona separately. 

Thus, message testing not only shows you which messages perform best in general — they can also indicate which messages resonate with certain audiences and why. Although some messages you test may not end up in your general solution messaging, they can still be highly effective in other more targeted assets. 

LESSON 2: LONG-FORM CONTENT TESTING REQUIRES STRATEGIC PRESENTATION

The Context: A cloud provider with a robust content stream had no idea how their assets were actually landing with target audiences. They wanted to test various short-form and long-form content pieces, such as one-pagers, reports, ebooks, etc. to see if and why buyers valued these assets enough to share with other stakeholders.

However, we knew that testing long-form content could be risky. Having focus group participants read an asset of this size doesn’t allow for enough meaningful discussion time, and it can induce participant fatigue. One of the content pieces this client wanted us to test was a 30-page report. 

We also understand the difficulties associated with sending the asset out in advance of the focus group because we can’t realistically expect participants to do a pre-read. The stimulus must be able to be consumed within the focus group’s time constraints. 

Lessons Learned: Ultimately, testing long-form content requires a strategic approach. First, present only specific pieces of the asset: the intro, the table of contents, a section that highlights key value props. Ask if that piece would make the participant inclined to want to read more. 

Or, if you want to present the whole asset, use a heatmap tracking tool. Give participants a limited amount of time to read the asset, and see what they do with that time. A heatmap tool can show you which pages they spend the most time on or if they click on any links within the piece.

LESSON 3: GOOD CONTENT ISN’T POSSIBLE WITH BAD STRATEGY

The Context: One of our clients needed messaging to fuel their GTM strategy for their new hybrid multi-cloud services and hardware program. They wanted to test messaging pillars among buyers from various industries. 

Many of the messages fell flat among focus group respondents because they lacked differentiators. This client didn’t have the level of experience their competitors did in the cloud services space. Thus, because these services were more nascent, they lacked the depth and/or specialization that would matter to customers. 

Of course, this is true for any company building a new service area. But the problem was that our client was set on targeting new prospects for these generic service offerings, instead of focusing on existing customers who already knew and trusted them. 

Lessons Learned: The message testing revealed that they needed to change their strategy to focus on expanding existing accounts first and build up compelling case studies and proof points with customers who already appreciated their partnership. Then, they could have the experience and leverage they needed to target new customers.

Cascade Insights & Message Testing

Cascade Insights is a market research and marketing agency that works exclusively in the B2B tech sector. We specialize in producing B2B market research and B2B marketing, including message testing. Visit our B2B message testing page to learn more on how to build your reputation with custom market research and market assets. 

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