Message Maps, Frameworks, and More: Decrypting the Differences for the B2B Marketer
It’s typically standard practice for B2B marketers to lead the development or enhancement of an organization’s messaging. What’s not standard, however is how marketers label a messaging development effort. In our experience we’ve seen tech marketers use any or all of the following when attempting to describing a messaging creation effort.
- Message map
- Messaging framework
- Message house
- Message architecture
- Messaging matrix
- Messaging hierarchy
- …and more
With so many different terms all used in varying degrees, there is the potential for some initial confusion. What distinctions are there between these terms and approaches? How significant are those distinctions?
Given how often we see this confusion we thought a short primer that can help decrypt those differences would be useful. In this article, we’ll take a look at all the different ways a company can organize its messaging, and exactly what a marketer will focus on when approaching the problem form a particular point of view – message map, message house, etc.
Finally, we’ll dive deeper into the specifics of how to develop great B2B messaging – regardless of how it’s structured.
The Rundown: Different Options For Structuring Messaging
A message map lays out a company’s positioning for their product or solution in the format of a map. It will typically start with a key value prop, followed by key messaging points and supporting details that explain the benefits of the product or solution to a specific buyer persona.
The supporting information can include examples, proof points, or even customer quotes. Some marketers may prefer to keep those supporting details in an appendix that are ready for external use.
Pros + Cons: Message maps offer a great visual representation of an organization’s messaging. It allows for a quick snapshot of the core value prop, followed by key and supporting points. However, it may not provide the space necessary to provide a detailed and strong set of supporting points.
A messaging framework lays out an organization’s key value prop(s), messaging pillars, and supporting proof points in more of a grid-like format. Messaging frameworks generally offer more space to be descriptive and detailed.
Messaging frameworks can be flexible about which details make most sense to include. They will typically include specific personas, industries, and company size segments. They may also include elements like short and long-form positioning statements, customer pain points, and the brand tone to use.
Pros + Cons: Frameworks provide the room that’s needed to include thorough and comprehensive copy, allowing marketers to get into great depth with each framework element. However, this copy-heavy format many not be as scannable as other potential formats.
As the name suggests, a message house organizes an company’s messaging in the outline of a house. At the top of the house is the roof which contains an “umbrella message” that is meant to convey the primary value proposition. The three columns each have a supporting pillar message. The foundation includes the supporting details such as proof points, examples, and testimonials.
Pros + Cons: Similar to a message map, message houses are also great for creating a more visual impact. The structure of the house provides a strong visual indication as to how each message component supports the company’s main message. However, an additional appendix may be needed to provide the additional depth needed for certain audience segments.
A message architecture addresses the key messages each persona or stakeholder needs to hear, based on their needs and how the product or service will benefit those needs.
Additionally, a message architecture will outline key objections or concerns that each persona is likely to have and your company’s responses to those objections. Those responses should be persuasive, well-reasoned and include supporting proof points such as case studies, third-party research, and more.
Pros + Cons: A messaging architecture offers a more persona focused way of organizing your messaging. This format may be particularly helpful for sales teams; however, it may not provide overall, foundational messaging that marketers need that crosses all of the company’s target personas and solutions.
A messaging matrix is a chart that allows companies to create distinct messaging by persona and channel (email, social, paid ads, etc.). This is particularly useful when developing content to reach prospective customers at different stages in the buyer journey.
Pros + Cons: Similar to message architecture, a messaging matrix concentrates less on the behind-the-scenes internal messaging that guides an organization. Instead, it focuses more on how to activate it that messaging. Messaging matrixes are great for developing a plan that effectively targets personas and the channels they pay attention to. However, this approach has the same flaw as a messaging architecture in that it doesn’t typically provide overarching messaging for the company as a whole.
The Verdict: How Should B2B Marketers Structure Their Messaging?
Each messaging format provides a different visual representation of an organization’s messaging. Although very similar, there are differences in how they can be best utilized.
Message maps, houses, and pyramids are all similar in the fact that they are very visual in nature and can provide a clear snapshot of an organization’s messaging at a quick glance. They can be very useful when an organization is misaligned on it’s messaging efforts all up. At the same time, more visual approaches like message maps limit the amount of information that can be effectively conveyed at a glance. This can be a problem for more complex solutions or for companies who target a number of different verticals, solution areas, or personas.
Messaging frameworks give the space needed for marketers to delve deep into the specifics of each messaging pillar and supporting points. This added depth makes it easy to keep various marketers, and sales teams aligned, when it comes to in-depth customer facing messaging. However, such a format can lose the forest for the trees, in that a clear understanding of a single clear brand promise, tagline, or top line messaging pillar can be harder to connect with.
Message architecture and messaging matrixes focus more on how an organization would go about activating these messages and how to use different messages while targeting different personas via different channels. These are helpful for marketers who have already established their organization’s foundational messaging, and are thinking about the best ways to activate that messaging.
Ultimately, any marketer needs to make a choice when it comes to these formats. Is it more important for me provide detail and direction or vision. Once that decision is made, the choice of model – or at least a category of models – becomes that much easier.
B2B Messaging: How to Make a Significant Impact
Aristotle once said, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This insight can apply to messaging efforts as well. While all of the models discussed previously provide a way to structure the parts of a messaging effort, the parts themselves only add up to so much. A great messaging development effort ultimately focuses on how all of the messaging will impact customers over the buyer’s journey. It is this “sum of the whole” that marketers need to keep their eye on.
As a way for marketers to stay focused on this end goal, we developed a checklist to help determine if 1.) they’ve met the baseline of what’s essential to any set of messages, 2.) they’ve elevated their messaging into the realm of being highly effective, or 3.) their messaging actually contains some red flags.
Table Stakes B2B Messaging: What’s Essential
These are the critical components that need to be included in any B2B organization’s messaging:
Key Value Proposition/Brand Promise
Critical to any organization’s messaging is their key value proposition. A brand promise or similar, describes, in a nutshell, what is most important about your organization and what sets it apart from competitors.
Organizations use messaging pillars to elaborate on their key value prop. Messaging pillars branch out and expand upon the different key messages that target personas care most about.
Proof Points, Facts, Etc.
Some claims made in a messaging pillar or value prop will need to be supported by an outside, third party source. For example, if a messaging pillar includes a reference to your technology solution being “number one” or “industry-leading” in a certain area, that needs to be backed up by independent research of some kind. Without those proof points, marketers won’t be changing any minds. Worse yet, they could actually be alienating potential customers with claims they consider to be dubious.
Elevating Your Message: How to Make it Truly Resonate
To elevate the content of your messaging so that it captures the attention of prospective buyers and inspires them to act, marketers should ensure the messaging is:
Tailored To Specific Personas, Industries, And Company Size Segments
Messaging that speaks to the right person is the first step toward delivering a message that will resonate. Once you’ve identified which role at a certain sized company and in a specific industry that you will be targeting in your messaging, then you can speak to that person’s specific fears, risks, and challenges they face within their roles. You can speak to the meaningful career goals your solution can help them achieve, and highlight the exact features of your solution that they would care most about. This level of specificity is the crucial first step toward building out messaging that will motivate them to learn more.
Great B2B messaging requires differentiators that actually stand out. This seems obvious. But unfortunately in B2B tech great differentiators are hard to come by. To ensure your messaging is truly differentiated, it needs to be:
Unique from competitors
Before crafting your own messaging, perform an analysis of your competitors’ messaging. Do you notice any gaps that your offering can cover? Are there certain features or benefits that your competitors don’t have or that they are not highlighting? Are there certain areas where your offering could do something better or improve upon what a competitor is offering? Those are opportunities for you to message something that’s different from what’s out there.
Avoid copy that could be considered generic and vague. Your messaging should be explicit in explaining exactly who the solution is intended for and how that will benefit them. Furthermore, the messaging should make clear the types of customers, organizations, or personas that it would not be a good fit for.
Valuable to the buyer
According to the B2B Elements of Value pyramid, B2B buyers have a spectrum of priorities, beginning with table stakes elements like price, capabilities, and features. Higher needs like their own personal fears, risks, and challenges, however, is where differentiation begins to occur. If your brand or solution is tied with a competitor on table stakes, your peak elements of value might get you over the line with your buyers.
Backed By Research
Market research helps to set a strong foundation for which effective messaging can be built upon. For example, buyer persona research can help to identify which roles in the buying teams carry the most influence, what they care most about, and how your solution could potentially benefit them. Message testing can help make clear which messages resonate best with which audiences. These kinds of insights can provide the information that’s needed to build effective messaging that’s rooted in fact, not intuition.
B2B Messaging Red Flags: What to Leave Out
Does your messaging contain any of the following problems? Unfortunately, much of B2B tech messaging is flooded with these common mistakes. Take a look and see if you may be turning buyers away with:
People-Pleasing: Trying to be all Things for all People
B2B messaging should always clarify what the product or service does not do. Being upfront about your solution’s limitations saves buyers’ time and reduces confusion. Forcing buyers to dig through your website looking for what you don’t do leaves them frustrated. They know that before their organization invests a significant amount of money into this purchase, they’ll need to know what the limits are of that solution. Making that easy to find builds trust; making it difficult to find leaves a sour first impression.
Worse still, glossing over limitations leads to frustrated customers later when they realize they didn’t get what they paid for. That leads to churn and bad reviews, which turns other prospective buyers away.
Conversely, clearly laying out your solution’s limitations gives buyers an accurate picture of how best they can utilize it. The majority of buyers want to understand the cons of a product or service before purchase. Filling in the information gaps for them can only be mutually beneficial.
What do phrases like “digital transformation”, “robust ecosystem”, or “scalable” all have in common? Well, they’re used constantly in B2B tech messaging, yet they don’t really mean a whole lot to buyers.
The problem with these terms is that they don’t provide any real, concrete descriptions or examples of what they will do for buyers and how they might benefit from them. On top of that, competitors are all using these same terms, so you’re losing your ability to differentiate.
Inauthentic Or Unsubstantiated Claims
It’s tempting to develop a messaging strategy that overemphasizes the inspirational, uplifting, and idealistic aspects of your brand. However, sometimes marketers may take it too far, moving into the realm of inauthenticity. B2B buyers are inherently cautious and skeptical of this type of messaging.
B2B buyers also have a dim view of any marketing boasts they see that don’t come with proof. Making claims like being the “fastest” with no statistics and competitor comparisons provides no useful information for your buyers. Worse yet, it can mislead and/or turn them off if they try to gain clarity by googling to figure out if your boasts are true and it turns out that they are unsubstantiated by any reputable third party sites.
Moving Beyond the Message Map
American writer Richard Bach once said “Judge not by the form of the messenger, but the form of the message itself.”
B2B messaging can come in a myriad of forms. However, how that messaging is organized internally – whether it’s through a message map, or framework, or house, or anything else – is typically of less significance than the impact of the messaging.
Effective messaging will instantly capture the attention of the desired persona and inspire them to learn more. Free from buzzwords, people-pleasing, and inauthentic claims, great B2B messaging stands out from the competition.
If that sounds like something you’re interested in, then give us a call. We can organize your messaging in a way that makes sense for your organization. Most importantly, however, we’ll deliver targeted, focused, and differentiated messaging that inspires action.
This blog post is brought to you by Cascade Insights, a firm that provides market research and marketing services exclusively to organizations with B2B tech sector initiatives. Want to learn more about the specific messaging that we deliver? Our B2B Messaging services can help.