A messaging framework is a structured approach to communicating an organization’s messaging and positioning for a particular solution. The framework helps organizations be consistent and effective with their messaging across all communication channels.
B2B marketers are typically the ones responsible for developing and disseminating the messaging framework to ensure they, sales, product teams, and external partners and vendors are all aligned when they write or communicate about a platform, product, and/or service.
There are several variations of a messaging framework, i.e. a message map, message house, messaging matrix, and so on. But all of them address the same key questions, including:
- Who is the audience for the solution?
- What do they care about?
- How do you echo those interests back to them as value propositions?
- What proof points best support your value props?
Ultimately, a well-designed messaging framework will serve as a reference guide for all stakeholders, ensuring alignment and consistency in their messaging to buyers.
Why is a Messaging Framework Important?
Messaging frameworks play a crucial role in shaping an organization’s communication strategy. They help to provide consistency, clarity, and alignment across all channels and stakeholders.
Additionally, messaging frameworks give organizations the space to articulate their unique value propositions and key selling points, helping to set them apart from their competitors.
Consistency is key in all things — but especially in messaging. A messaging framework unifies company communications, campaigns, and assets with a compelling and cohesive story.
Everyone in an organization, from the C-level suite to customer-facing teams, should be able to deliver a unified message that reflects the organization’s values, mission, and goals. Messaging frameworks ensure this consistency, building trust and strengthening the organization’s brand in the process.
B2B messaging, particularly in tech, is notorious for excessive acronyms, jargon, and buzzwords. It often fails to clearly and concisely explain complex ideas and information in a straightforward way. Key messages, value propositions, and differentiators get buried in technicalities and habitual hedging to the point of meaninglessness.
A messaging framework helps organizations to more clearly define their core messaging. This clarity ultimately enhances their ability to engage and connect with target personas.
Align Your Entire Organization
Within an organization, different teams and departments may have various objectives, but they should all align with the overall organizational goals.
A messaging framework serves as a reference point for all stakeholders, ensuring that messaging is aligned with strategic priorities. It helps teams to communicate effectively and work towards shared goals.
Messaging frameworks help to support an organization’s brand positioning and identity. They help organizations articulate who they are and where they fit into the competitive landscape. How are they differentiated? What are their key selling points? How do they address the needs of their potential customers?
Frameworks also allow the space to communicate their brand personality, style, and tone. By aligning messaging with the organization’s brand, the framework ensures that the organization’s voice is consistently reflected in all communication efforts.
Seamlessly Train and Onboard
Messaging frameworks are valuable resources for training new employees. They provide guidelines and examples that help new hires quickly grasp the organization’s messaging principles and adapt to the company’s communication style. This consistency in messaging also aids in maintaining a strong organizational culture.
How to Create an Effective Messaging Framework
Developing an effective messaging framework involves several key steps, many of which take place before a marketer begins to build out a messaging framework. But by doing your due diligence and research prior to crafting the framework, you ensure a solid foundation upon which the message can be built.
1. Conduct Background Research
Your research can come from various sources. But your ultimate objective is to understand your place at the macro (the competitive landscape) and micro (customer perspective) level. The best places to start collecting insights are:
- Industry analyst reports – Get a general sense of the key players in your space and how they’re winning.
- Competitor websites and social channels – Learn how competitors talk about themselves and their solutions on their website and other digital channels.
- Sales conversations – Have sales reps collect and document customer feedback in a more formalized way.
- Review sites – Peer-to-peer business review sites like G2 help to provide a comprehensive and unbiased view of how different solutions and products in your space are being perceived by the industry.
- AI generative tools – ChatGPT, Google Bard, and other similar generative AI tools can help bring you up to speed quickly on both the competitive landscape and your target personas.
Evaluate the Competitive Landscape
As you get a lay of the land at the macro level, here’s what you should be able to identify for the messaging framework:
- Which competitors currently dominate the landscape.
- What they offer and what they say about that offering.
- Whom they target, by persona and/or industry, for their offering.
- Whether their success is due to a good message or a strong reputation.
The last bullet raises an important point. You may find in your research that the top competitors in your space don’t have great messaging or have messaging that sounds just like everyone else’s (what we call the Sea of Similarity). Yet, they are still successful.
Some solutions are only successful because they come from an established market leader. However, market leadership doesn’t guarantee great messaging. In fact, we find that many B2B tech Fortune 500 companies have messaging that’s littered with cryptic value props, tired buzzwords, and gratuitous jargon and acronyms that inspire little more than an eye roll from buyers.
Smaller and newer companies don’t have the luxury of a prominent reputation to fall back on. What they lack in experience or brand awareness they must make up for in specificity and differentiation.
As a way to keep track of your top competitors big and small, you may consider creating a spreadsheet or database that assesses them on the points in the list above.
Understand Your Target Personas
After you’ve analyzed the competitive landscape, the next step is to better understand your target personas. Who are the people who will be buying your solution? What are their pain points, their motivators, and their jobs to be done ( JTBD)?
As you think about how your messaging framework can speak to your target personas, keep in mind that they need to be the hero in your solution story — not you. Sure, your product or service enables them to alleviate a pain point, address a JTBD, or achieve a business objective. But every customer, even in B2B, has #MainCharacterEnergy. Your organization and all the products and services it provides are just the supporting cast.
It may sound like we’re conflating business with personal priorities here. But the efficacy of your solution in addressing their needs very well could impact their job and, in turn, their life. For example, according to the B2B Elements of Value pyramid, B2B buyers are less concerned with values at the base of the pyramid that are more functional. Instead, they care more about the elements of a purchase that will get their individual needs met, such as reputational assurance and reduced anxiety.
How Your Buyers Feel in Their Journey
To further illustrate, business management expert David H. Maister talks about the emotional side of the buyer’s journey in his book “Managing the Professional Services Firm.” Here are all the feelings a buyer experiences, according to him:
- I’m feeling INSECURE. I’m not sure I know how to detect which of the finalists is the genius, and which is just good. I’ve exhausted my abilities to make technical distinctions.
- I’m feeling THREATENED. This is my area of responsibility, and even though intellectually I know I need an outside expert/solution, it’s not comfortable to put my affairs in the hands of others.
- I’m taking a PERSONAL RISK. By putting my affairs in the hands of someone else, I risk losing control.
- I’m IMPATIENT. I didn’t call in someone at the first sign of symptoms (or opportunity). I’ve been thinking about this for a while.
- I’m WORRIED. By the very fact of suggesting improvements or changes, these people are going to be implying that I haven’t been doing it right up till now. Are these people going to be on my side?
- I’m EXPOSED. Whoever I hire, I’m going to have to reveal some proprietary secrets, not all of which are flattering. I will have to undress.
- I’m feeling IGNORANT, and don’t like the feeling. I don’t know if I’ve got a simple problem or a complex one. I’m not sure I can trust this vendor to be honest about that: it’s in their interest to convince me it’s complex.
- I’m SKEPTICAL. I’ve been burned before by these kinds of vendors. You get a lot of promises: How do I know whose promise I should buy?
- I’m CONCERNED that this vendor either can’t or won’t take the time to understand what makes my situation special. They’ll try to sell me what they’ve got rather than what I need.
- I’m SUSPICIOUS. Will this vendor be those typical professionals who are hard to get hold of, who are patronizing, who leave you out of the loop, who befuddle you with jargon, who don’t explain what they’re doing or why? In short, will these people deal with me in the way I want to be dealt with?
Your buyers are professionals, yes, but they are human above all else. Great solution messaging keeps customers at the forefront.
It may sound simple. But this is where most organizations, even the market leaders, miss the mark. They may do a good job of explaining what their solution is and how it works. But in order to hook customers and get leadership buy-in, they need to start with why their solution matters. The why tells the customer how the solution fits into their story and brings the individual and inspirational value that they are ultimately seeking.
What Happens When Companies Don’t Put Customers First
Here are the common pitfalls we see with companies that don’t prioritize customers in their messaging:
- They focus on features and capabilities over desired outcomes. One of our clients had a well-known flagship incident response product that they wanted to bundle with other offerings into a platform solution. Historically, this company had a product-led focus that emphasized features and capabilities. Yet, they lacked an understanding of their customers. They were still able to find success for the flagship product because its purpose was straightforward enough. But without a clear understanding of customer needs, pain points, JTBD, and how customers were currently supplementing their product with other competing offerings, they didn’t know how to market the platform in a meaningful way.
- They lead with the wrong value proposition. One of our clients had been successful among B2C audiences and wanted to adapt their messaging to break into the B2B market. The problem was that — since they were so successful in B2C — they thought they could use the same tagline for B2C and B2B audiences, with the only difference being to add “at scale” for B2B. We conducted message testing for them and found that this approach wouldn’t work for a few reasons:
○ The tagline used a buzzword that B2C audiences would be more forgiving of but repelled B2B buyers.
○ Scalability is table stakes in a B2B tech solution, so to use “[any value prop] at scale” as a tagline fell flat among respondents.
○ In general, the tagline didn’t cover the full scope of what their platform offered.
- They target the wrong people. Many companies don’t have a clear understanding of how organizations explore, purchase, implement, and supplement solutions like theirs. They may be appealing to the wrong people in the purchasing group or not appealing to those in the purchasing group at all. One of our clients wanted to target marketing and IT leaders for their Martech platform. However, our research revealed that it wouldn’t make sense to target IT. Although this persona was the gatekeeper and enabler for solutions like theirs, IT already felt that they managed too many Martech tools and would be looking for more reasons to veto a new solution than to approve.
- They don’t make customers feel special. Even when companies have a lot of experience with a particular type of customer, they need to avoid presumptuous messaging. We saw this issue with one of our client’s competitors. This competitor, a big player in the MSP space, has decades of experience serving hundreds of thousands of customers. Touting their expertise, their appeal quickly slipped into arrogance. In their website messaging, they said something to the effect of, “We’ve worked with so many companies like yours, we already know your environment.” Every organization is unique in its structure, its challenges, its goals, and its infrastructure journey. Good messaging should respect and reflect that.
2. Build the Messaging Framework
Once you have a thorough understanding of the competitive space, who your target personas are, and what these audiences value, it’s time to start crafting your messaging framework.
Messaging Framework Best Practices
Let’s start with some general parameters of what you should and shouldn’t include in your messaging.
Here are best practices we’ve compiled from our client messaging projects over the years.
|Messaging Dos||Messaging Don’ts|
|Aim high on the B2B elements of value. Even in B2B, buyers have personal motivations reducing anxiety and inspiring hope. Make your like solution meaningful by hitting those higher-level values. For example, if you have an automation solution that minimizes grunt work, don’t just focus on the time savings benefit. Talk about what buyers can do with that time, i.e., how it enables them to achieve their vision.||Don’t make table stakes and lower-tier values your raison d’être. Compliance, scalability, cost reduction, and even innovation — these are all lower-tier values. Yet, so many B2B tech companies fall back on them. For example,
Google Bard shows that the word “innovation” appears 110 times on aws.com and 173 times on azure.com. Of course, some of these values are worth a nod in your messaging, but they shouldn’t be the centerpiece of your solution story.
|Use plain, direct language that focuses on business outcomes. Most personas want a solution’s high-level messaging to focus on business outcomes over the technology itself. Even for highly technical audiences like developers, they often need the C-suite to sign off on their purchases. So, providing clear and straightforward messaging that focuses on the business value of your solution can help to streamline the purchase process.||Don’t overuse jargon and acronyms. Excessive use of jargon, acronyms, and buzzwords makes your messaging sound like everyone else’s and tends to create more ambiguity than clarity for buyers. To hold yourself and your colleagues accountable, consider this funny suggestion from one of our clients: anytime someone talks or writes about “digital transformation,” they have to add money to a swear jar.|
|Call out your target audience in your messaging. Don’t leave your buyers guessing whether or not your solution is for them. Tell it to them straight. Say upfront, “This solution helps [target persona] achieve [specific business objective].”||Don’t message to everyone. People pleasing is a bad messaging strategy.Don’t sell a B2B solution “for every problem solver in search of a solution—and every innovator with a dream” When you aim for everyone, you neglect the people who matter most.|
|Present pain points judiciously. Solutions exist to solve a problem. But leaning into the problem too heavily may come off as scare tactics. Balance the copy by presenting the pain point briefly and objectively for context. Then, move into the positive of what companies stand to gain from the solution.||Don’t amplify negativity more than necessary. There’s a fine line between making audiences feel understood in their challenges and making them feel pressured and defensive. Find a way to state the truth in a way buyers will accept.|
What Should be Included in a Messaging Framework?
We’ve talked a lot about why a messaging framework matters and what you need to do to build one. But, what does a messaging framework actually look like?
At its most basic form, the framework has three to five messaging pillars — each of which include a headline, a value proposition, and proof points — and then one topline message that serves as the overarching solution statement.
The messaging pillars are the essential elements of your solution story. Each one includes:
- A HEADLINE– Think of this like a tagline, a snappy distillation of the value prop you cover in the body of the pillar.
- A VALUE PROPOSITION– This is the meat of your pillar where you describe how your solution solves a unique pain point for your target audience to achieve a specific business goal.
- PROOF POINT(S)- This is the evidence you use to reinforce your value prop. It can come in the form of an industry stat to highlight a pain point, a success metric from one of your case studies, or any other proof that: (a) the problem you’re addressing is real and relevant, and/or (b) you’re the right organization to solve it.
Here’s an example of what a messaging pillar looks like, as published on our client’s website:
HEADLINE: Maximize Accounts Payable Efficiency with a Platform That Learns
VALUE PROPOSITION: Never deal with an invoice exception again. The Transcepta Platform delivers an intelligent and intuitive AP Automation solution that evolves as it learns more about your organization, processes, and workflows. Every invoice feeds the platform more data, ensuring each new invoice is more likely than the last to arrive in your ERP ready to pay. That way, AP teams can get ahead, optimize cash flow, and earn more early payment discounts.
PROOF POINTS FOR THE TRANSCEPTA PLATFORM:
The topline message is like the elevator pitch of your solution. It’s the roof above the messaging pillars. We recommend having different variations of the topline message: a short version (25 words), a medium version (50 words), and a long version (100 words). That way, those disseminating the message can adapt it as needed to keep it high-level or go in-depth for customers.
The topline message has the same elements as the pillars, with the main exception being that it includes more than one value proposition in the body. It should be a fusion of the most important messaging pillars and is thus the final piece of the main framework.
The messaging pillars and topline message are the core components of the framework. But you can also customize it with other elements. For instance, we’ve had some clients want us to incorporate things that you might see in a sales playbook or a battle card. Here are some examples of additional elements you can add to your messaging framework:
- Customer pain points, qualifying questions, and value statements – Prep your sales team with talking points for the most common types of customer interactions. You could even make this like a rude Q&A.Here’s a hypothetical example of what this could look like for a boutique managed services provider (MSP), let’s call them ButiqMSP (note: this is not a recommended name), that specializes in the financial services sector, is based in Australia, and only serves the Australian market.
|Target Customer Scenario||How ButiqMSP|
|Qualifying Questions for Sales|
|Regional and industry regulations for data management||Due to changing regulations, my organization needs to move our data to a facility in a different location. I need a vendor who specializes in my industry and is an expert in Australia’s and privacy laws who can help us devise a strategy to make the move quickly to avoid fines.compliance||ButiqMSP’s team of expert DataOps engineers operates exclusively in Australia and specializes in your industry to build a strategy that will produce fast, effective results for better compliance.||Do you have confidence that your automated deployments are industry and geographically compliant? Is "compliant by default" baked into your DevOps processes?|
- Segment-specific messaging – You can have various sets of messaging pillars organized by persona, industry, JTBD, company size, etc. For example, say your primary target persona is a LoB leader. Your main messaging framework should first be written to them. However, IT leaders are oftentimes a secondary persona that also need to be addressed. In this case, tweaks will need to be made to those pillars so that they resonate better with an IT leader’s JTBD and address their core needs when speaking with them.
- Exclusionary statements – By defining what you don’t do and audiences you don’t serve, you help sales vet prospects more effectively to focus on the right people and boost conversion rates. For example, at Cascade Insights, we make it very clear on our main market research page that we only serve B2B tech – we do not serve B2C companies, nor do we serve any B2B companies outside of the technology industry.
- Differentiation statements – Identify how you’re different from competitors with differentiation statements that you can use for a battle card.
You can combine and organize these elements any way you want. But here’s a simple yet effective way to lay it out, with examples from our hypothetical ButiqMSP:
|For||For Financial services organizations that are based in Australia.|
|Who||Have highly niche or complex issues that require creative, custom infrastructure solutions.|
|Provides||Bespoke hybrid multicloud services delivered by a talented team of experts who will fully immerse themselves in the client’s organization to learn about their infrastructure and devise the best strategy to achieve their unique business goals.|
|Unlike||Unlike The cookie-cutter solutions that come from big MSPs.|
|Only||For organizations already working in a hybrid multi-cloud environment, especially those using infrastructure as code (IaC)
|Not||For first-time cloud migrators and any non-Australian, non-finserv organization|
These are only a few examples of how you can customize your messaging framework. You can make it more robust for internal education purposes, or streamline it for immediate activation in customer-facing assets. The point is your organizational needs and the information at your disposal determine what your messaging framework should look like.
3. Test and Refine Your Messaging
To ensure your success, you’ll want to test out your messaging framework prior to activating it. You can do that via a research effort, which may include either a series of in-depth interviews (IDIs) or focus groups.
After developing your initial messaging pillars, put them to the test by asking your key personas how they feel about each one. This may be in the setting of a focus group consisting of a small group of people, or through several one-on-one interviews where you can explore each messaging pillar in-depth.
The suggestions and sentiments of your respondents will help to give you invaluable insights that help you to revise the framework and, really, all of your marketing efforts. With their feedback, you can make refinements for a better iteration of the messaging to serve it up to the market confidently and entice buyers.
You can continue to refine your messaging framework as needed when you roll it out. Start with a soft launch, testing it among smaller audience segments or specific communication channels to see if these factors impact performance.
4. Activate Your Messaging
Once you finalize the messaging framework, it’s time to communicate and train your organization on how to apply it at scale. Conduct training sessions or workshops to educate employees and team members on the framework’s principles. You’ll need to act as the go-to person to provide ongoing support.
Finally, remember that developing an effective messaging framework is not a one-time task. It requires regular review, updates, and adaptations to reflect changes in your organization, industry, and target personas. Stay flexible and responsive to ensure your messaging framework remains relevant and impactful over time.
When Do Companies Need a Messaging Framework?
A messaging framework is necessary for consistent, effective, and strategic communication across an organization’s internal and external channels at all times. However, there are specific use cases in which a framework is particularly important.
Launching a New Solution
Before launching any new product or solution, messaging frameworks first need to be established to ensure effective brand positioning and unified communication.
What are the key features, benefits, and value props that target personas would care most about? What is the top-line messaging to be conveyed? How is this new product or solution differentiated? These are the questions that a messaging framework helps to answer.
A clear and compelling messaging strategy also helps to provide sales teams with the resources that they need to sell a new solution prior its launch. They will need have a strong talk track, email sequences, and more. Messaging frameworks that are backed by real market insight can help to support these sales assets.
Onboarding a New Partner
When collaborating with other organizations or forming partnerships, a messaging framework helps to align messaging, values, and goals. It ensures that both parties present a consistent message to stakeholders and target audiences.
For example, a messaging framework for a joint solution provided by two or more partners helps to explain each partner’s role in the offering. That includes how they complement each other from a technological and business standpoint to serve a market segment, solve a pain point, and/or satisfy a JTBD.
Targeting a New Market Segment
Any time a company enters a new market segment, it’s crucial they can clearly articulate their unique value propositions and differentiate themselves from the competitors in the space. B2B sellers need to be equipped with the research-backed messaging that will help them to close deals. A messaging framework can help to provide that.
Establishing or Reevaluating Differentiators
Establishing your solution’s differentiator is an essential first step to its success. But it shouldn’t stop there.
To stay relevant, it’s crucial that you reevaluate your differentiation to account for changes in the market. Maybe there’s a new startup that offers similar features as yours. Or say a massive company that didn’t used to be in your space starts to shift their focus in a way that poses a greater threat. Keeping informed on the competitive landscape will help you to see when it’s time to update your messaging framework.
Who Can Benefit from a Messaging Framework?
The following teams are typically the stakeholders in the development of an organization’s messaging framework. Once created, an effective messaging framework can then go on to benefit marketing, sales, and partner/channel teams in the following ways.
Marketers are ultimately responsible for developing a messaging framework.
Once marketing teams have developed the framework, they can go on to use it as a foundation for a variety of assets they are typically responsible for creating. For example, messaging frameworks can help provide the core language that marketers need to create website copy, solution briefs, social media content, advertising campaigns, and more.
Although message creation starts with marketers, marketing leaders should work hand-in-hand with sales to develop an effective messaging framework. After all, who knows what resonates with customers better than the people talking to them every day?
An additional benefit of having sales closely involved early on in the development is that they can conduct their own message testing in conversations with customers. B2B sellers are essentially conducting their own never-ending qualitative research project every time they engage with potential customers. They are gathering from their prospects what messaging resonates most with them, what they care most about, what turns them away, etc.
After assisting with the creation of the messaging framework, sales teams can go on to use it in a number of different ways. Messaging frameworks can help them develop the right language for the email campaigns and sales call outreach. Additionally, it can help them in the creation of the sales playbooks, proposals, and competitive comparisons that they use.
Many organizations have a partner or vendor network through which they sell a solution. This fact makes it especially important for a company’s marketing and sales teams to focus on proper partner enablement.
For example, a messaging framework can be customized to accommodate key partners. Then, each partner could have unique messaging that fuses their own strategy with yours. Or, you can keep the messaging focused on your organization’s value propositions alone. But either way, the messaging framework ensures that there isn’t a communication dissonance between what your partners and vendors say about your solution and what you say.
The framework can then be used as the basis for many of the marketing assets that partners utilize, including product decks, webinars, playbooks, web copy, and more.