Composite photography with a notebook with the word 'B2b messaging' overlaid together with a conceptual 'product functionality' image and an arrow showing business to business customers by JEM 9

Articulating Your Value: A Product Messaging Framework

B2B product messaging, the verbiage used to describe your offer, helps prospective customers understand your solution. Populate this B2B Product / Solution Messaging Framework in this handy hierarchy of information for everything you need for website, presentations and other communication needs. Become acquainted with and avoid common B2B messaging problems. Understanding your B2B value proposition is a critical pre-requisite.

While we use the term ‘product’ here, this applies equally to solutions, services and tiers of offers. Firstly this article briefly reviews initial considerations, then moves on to the B2B messaging framework and finishing up with a checklist of problems to avoid.

Initial Considerations For Good Messaging

Crafting Messaging Requires Linguistic Skills

Communication skills are also required. At best, use the same language that your customer uses. Choose words and phrases focused on the problems you solve or opportunities your solution enables. Avoid internal jargon and abbreviations. Be aware of the language that competitors, industry analysts and market leaders use. Clever and catchy is nice but not at the expense of clarity. (Messaging also benefits from visual communication skills.)

B2B Product Messaging Considers Typical Market Language

Consider for a moment the language used in different market segments. The construction industry has a different set of jargon from the retail sector. The market for HR software differs from survey software.  Different geographies also use different terms. In Europe in English the (currently) dominant term is ‘recruitment’ whereas the North American continent uses ‘hiring’. Obviously different places speak different languages but it is not only the language that is different. For example, each market segment has a style of visual communications and other established ways. So, an understanding of your market space provides necessary grounding to develop messaging that will ‘land’.

B2B Product Messaging Considers Your Product Vision

Related to emotions is an aspect called product positioning or value proposition. These related to how you envision your place in the market, both the current product and future iterations. It’s a precursor to developing messaging as it requires an understanding of; your product, your customer needs, and other alternative offers that customers might choose. It’s about making choices within a given market segment.

B2B Product Messaging Considers Your Multiple Customer Persona

In the B2B technology market, the solution is often used by more than one person within an organization. The sales cycle often includes multiple customer persona, some who will use the product and others who control the budget. Each therefore has different information needs, requiring different messaging. (Learn more about understanding customers here.)

B2B Product Messaging Considers Emotion

At a minimum you need to convey reliability. Classic technology examples include: “No-one ever got fired for buying IBM” and “Apple – Think Differently”. Other key concepts in B2B technology markets include (increasingly) data / cyber security and environmental considerations, and (decreasingly) system availability / uptime. Establishing trust is also critical.

B2B Product Messaging Framework – A Hierarchy of Information

Once you’ve thought about the considerations above, it’s time to get practical and start populating the framework with messaging that prospects can easily absorb.  Expect a lot of iteration.

Working Bottom-Up: Some people prefer to start at features (see below) and work their way up. This works very well and can results in intuitive feature groups / buckets. It is also a way to reconsider, what does the product really do – what problems does it solve.

Working Top-Down: Other people’s brains work more top down: Let me scope and think about the big buckets or the product vision. What is this tree about? What is the main core? Then work to put more branches and leaves on the trees.

  • Product Name or Product Family Name ~3-5 Words (always present)
  • Short Positioning Statement ~10 Words (typically present)
  • Long Positioning Statement ~100 Words (may replace the short positioning statement)
  • Features & Benefit
    • Core / Shared Benefits – Relevant To the Entire Solution / Offer
    • Feature Groups / Buckets – Aligned To Your Different Customer Persona
  • Trust – Awards / Customer Testimonial / Third-party Reviews

We will now step through the first 4 items above, the core offer messaging aspects. As the graphic shows, messaging is best ‘wrapped’ in your branding.

Product Name Starting with the product name (or the name of a family of closely-related products), each level down provides more detail. Not everyone will get down into the detail. That’s fine: You are not trying to help every organization on the planet. Aim to provide further, and more detailed information on how your solutions provides value, as you go down the levels. These lower levels of details won’t be read in isolation so aim to complement and expand on, not replace, the product name and either short or long positioning statement. The skills here are eloquence and succinctness. (Do not be tempted to dumb it ideas down: This is a fast way to undersell your solution and insult your prospective customer – not a winning approach.)

It might be helpful here to think in terms of headlines on a webpage or brochure. The product name will be in largest font and most prominent at the top. The short positioning statement is then one font size down and ‘fits’ underneath the product name. And so on down the page. At each step down the page/messaging, you are answering customer questions. At each point your prospect is asking themselves; ‘does this sound like a solution, or fit, for our situation?’

As the messaging ladder schematic suggests, final messaging will always include the product name. Not everyone will make it up the ladder to your feature cloud: That’s okay, we’re not trying to sell to the whole world.

Short positioning statements are typically short phrases that get at the essence of the product. They sometimes include emotional/overarching positioning words. Compare “A global leader in survey software” versus “Make Powerful Forms In Minutes, i.e. SurveyMonkey versus TypeForm.

Long positioning statements will be familiar to many as the ‘elevator pitch’. They are typically less than 100 words, one or two short paragraphs that provide more detail than a short positioning statement.

These three elements, product name, short and long positioning statement, apply to the entire product. They typically appear together. They introduce the product so need to be insightful, targeted and build on your feature groups (i.e. product functionality). Examples of where they appear include above the fold on a website page or towards the front of a printed brochure.

Organizing Your Features – How to Get Started

Look for similarities in the benefit each feature provides. Stay focused on your prospective customer by cycling through each customer persona in turn. By definition different customer persona have different needs. They may also have overlapping needs. Expect a lot of rewriting and moving up and down the ladder of abstraction at this point.

The feature group on the left brings together individual features based on the core ‘job to be done’. The feature group on the right focuses in on the different situations of use calling out the functionality for a desktop user as against a mobile app user.

Feature groups may also be more conceptual. For example: ‘These all help our customers to collect customer feedback data reliably’, may results in a feature group called ‘Collect Data Reliably’ or you have have a bunch of features that enable integration with existing technology=> Easy Integrations

In addition, consider these examples:

  • Following a typical user workflow, perhaps diagrammatically.
    • For research software this might look like
      • Identify questions to answer -> Identify sample cohort -> Ask this cohort to answer the questions -> Wait for answers to come in -> Send a reminder -> Validate data received -> Export data to analysis -> Report on data.
  • Exploring functionality on the basis of frequency of use by daily, weekly or monthly activities can be enlightening.

Name Each Feature Group

Individual features may bubble up to become the name for a feature group. Each may include a description. Often, overtime, there is an image or icon associated with each feature bucket.

Examples might include: Data Analytics for Sales Leader, or Foot Protection for Long-distance Runners

Putting Your B2B Product Messaging Together

  • Do a spell check (For those serving both American and British customers, you’ll have a decision to make.)
  • Be grammatically consistent (e.g. Start with an action verb or Capitalise Each Word.)
  • Be correct and accurate. Avoid vapourware and overselling. (Consider what you will want to say when you release future versions).
  • Do customer persona language check. Ask yourself or internal colleagues if the verbiage selected will be understood by prospects.
  • Do market place check (see below).
  • Completeness is a judgement call based on market knowledge.
  • Review the common B2B messaging problem below

Market Place Check

At this point you might try googling those key terms terms, the name of your feature group. Do you get the search results you’d expect????

Apart from Google (and other search engines), another important market segment considerations are your peers and other market players. Within your target market segment, compare your features and feature groups to your aspirational and direct competitors. You don’t have to align with the market place. Innovation comes from difference. But if every other vendor organizes around a particular concept think carefully about the pros and cons of going a different route.

Most Common B2B Technology Messaging Problems

Messaging often suffers from these specific problems.

  1. Using Internal Speak
    • This problem is so common that if you don’t “see” it in your own messaging, be sure to get additional eyes involved. It also manifest in some of the examples below.
  2. Using Acronyms / Abbreviations
    • Watch out for acronyms which create a barrier for prospective customers.
    • Example: getting started with CRM – Customer Relationship Management. Actually much of the functionality in this market sector is for not for managing existing customers. Rather its about working with prospective customers!
    • Example: ATS – Applicant Tracking System are a subsection of HR hiring (or is it recruitment) software? ATS software is often categorised within: company software / HR software / recruitment software / ATS software. Those unfamiliar with ATSs need to navigate 4 layers down. This is a standard term so use it but drop the abbreviation.
    • Example: MES – Manufacturing Execution Systems. In practice this is a very niche term. Yes you can google it (although finding a large enough segment in AdWords may be challenging). But it is not (currently) used in even very large established manufacturing sectors. You won’t find it in the food processing sector nor in industrial machinery manufacturing. So in practice this is an invented term so niche that explanation will always be required. Or alternatively, ditch it altogether and choose something more familiar to prospects.
  3. Generic Descriptions
    • This is terrible => ‘Best software for data collection’. (Not even the tech gods knows what that means.)
    • This is much better => “The only wart specifically designed for a dog.” (attributed to Neil Rasmussen, APC Corp). This is a silly example but makes the point beautifully.
  4. Architecture Moonlighting as Features
    • User Management – every technology product ever has ‘user management’. Only rarely should this kind of functionality make the feature list. Typically it is better suited to user guides. If your approach provides a particular benefit of key interest, such as visibility for the whole team versus financial confidentiality, that fine. Otherwise remove this from messaging.
    • Nearly every piece of software has a database, export capabilities and some form of presentations of information. Typically these kinds of terms/verbiage should not appear in messaging.
  5. Me / Us / We
    • Your messaging is not about you. It’s about the problems you solve for customers. Review, remove and rephase sentences that focus on you.
  6. Conceptually Disorganized
    • This often manifests as a random list of ‘stuff we do’. That is not how prospects think. Work to group things conceptually based on your understanding of customer needs. As things evolves, you will need to review your conceptual organization.
    • Cart before the horse. Early messaging needs to address opening / early questions. Does this product potentially address my needs? I don’t yet care about how you will help me migrate or how wonderful your post-sales support is. As customers proceed along the journey you need to answer more focused questions.
  7. Product Specification Focused
    • Yes you may need a product spec sheet stating, for example how many users are supported or the number of survey exports in this pricing tier. But a random list of features is difficult to navigate.
    • Spec sheets often serve as a detailed comparison checklist later in the decision process.
  8. Mixing Levels of Abstraction 
    • Example – ‘Exotic Blue-Shell Fountain Pen with interchangeable nibs’ versus ‘pencils’.
    • Example – ‘Inventory management’ versus ‘product sustainability QR code’.

Further Resources on Crafting B2B Solution Messaging:

About Jane Morgan

With 20+ years high-tech marketing & product development experience from Boston to Billund, Berlin to Bangalore, Jane has managed teams and tech products with millions of installs, and millions of revenue (annually). She's researched and developed market strategy for global markets, and established the blueprint for product management in many new teams. As an intrapreneur turned entrepreneur, she changed vowels in 2014 and founded JEM 9 Marketing Consultancy. Today she works with CEOs & business leaders to assist them in understanding and reaching customers. Speaker on market research, technology marketing and product management.