If you’re in B2B marketing, your messaging is, quite likely, a mess. Forrester recently declared, “B2B marketers must step up message management,” while a McKinsey report took B2B CMOs and their like to task, saying that they routinely “talk past their customers.” Based on my experience, the majority of B2B companies focus their messaging on themselves – not on the customer. In addition, they allow different business units, functional groups and individuals to create (and put in market) their own individual messages, contributing to the mess.
Part of the problem is that B2B companies often communicate without a messaging strategy in place. The result? Mixed and misaligned messages within the organization and out in the marketplace, confusion and misperceptions among employees and customers, and, ultimately, missed sales opportunities.
4 Things You Must Understand about B2B Messaging Strategies
You can avoid making a messaging mess by taking the time to understand and create an effective messaging strategy. This vital step will not only align and help your communications be more clear and compelling, but it will also help you leverage the power of selling on brand and value proposition (rather than getting stuck in the traditional B2B trap of pushing only products and features).
The answers to the following questions – culled from decades of experience helping B2B marketers create compelling strategies and the messages that bring them to life – will set you on the right path toward creating, managing, and maximizing a coherent message strategy.
1) When should a messaging strategy be created?
A messaging strategy should be created any time there is an important topic to communicate or market – independent of the topic being enduring (e.g., brand position) or ephemeral (e.g., a change in product pricing). Taking the time to develop a messaging strategy greatly increases the strength, efficacy, and consistency of any communications effort.
- Your value proposition
- Your purpose and promise
- Your company values
- Your products
- New product launch
- Rebranding and repositioning a company
- Communicating a merger or acquisition to customers, press, and investors
- Launching or supporting a marketing campaign
- A change in leadership or organizational structure
2) What is a messaging strategy?
Messaging strategy is often a skipped step because its very nature is misunderstood, and executives and marketers are often too eager to jump right into copywriting.
But a messaging strategy is not final copywriting – it does not spell out exactly what you are going to say in marketing and communication tactics. Instead, much like a blueprint guides a carpenter, a messaging strategy defines the “Who, What, and How” of what you communicate, ultimately guiding your content development and copywriting, and even the design and experience of your marketing tactics and touchpoints.
The basic elements of a messaging strategy include:
- “Who” is(are) your target audience(s)?
- Who are your audience segments? Are their communication needs different, similar, or the same?
- What does each of your audience segments already know, think, and feel about your company, product, brand, or the topic you will be communicating about?
- What are they looking for, what needs and concerns do they have, and what problems are they trying to solve?
- “What” are the parameters, value, and objectives of what will be communicated?
- Parameters: What is and isn’t included in the scope of your communications? (For example: our brand story is included, but not specific products.)
- Value: What are the key benefits, value proposition and proof points to communicate to the audience? (i.e., answer the question: “What’s in it for me?”)
- Objectives: What do you want the audience to know, think, feel or do after receiving your message?
- “How” will the message be communicated?
- How will you prioritize and/or sequence your messages? (This is sometimes called a “messaging ladder.”)
- What is the tone and manner of how you will deliver the message?
With these foundational elements of your strategy clarified, you’ll have a clear and actionable guide that helps to ensure anyone who develops communications is clear, compelling, and consistent. It keeps your entire organization, and any partners who communicate on your behalf, “on message.”
Take a real-world example, from the merger of two B2B companies in the food space. The communication and marketing campaign to announce the newly combined entity to employees, media, and customers needed to clearly define and answer several questions:
- What was/is the purpose behind the merger?
- How does it impact and benefit each of the audiences?
- What is and isn’t changing for both internal and external audiences?
- What is the priority and sequencing of the messages that need to be communicated?
Only with a clearly defined messaging strategy could effective and consistent marketing and communications begin. The result of this strategy-first approach was a smooth, well-accepted merger integration internally, and a powerful launch of the new brand externally.
3) How is a messaging strategy different from a creative brief?
A creative brief reports to the messaging strategy. The brief includes all the necessary information to guide the development of marketing and communications tactics – such as tactical objectives and outcomes, timing, budgets, brand parameters, detailed audience insights and profiles, creative direction, and more – and, therefore, should include relevant elements of the messaging strategy.
4) And finally… Why are messaging strategies so much more difficult in B2B than B2C?
The simple answer? Because marketing to businesses is inherently more complicated that marketing to consumers. Your messaging strategy must envision more than clever advertising, impulse-inducing point-of-purchase displays, or snappy social media posts. It has to explain complex products and service offerings, serve longer sales cycles, and function on multiple levels of detail for a wide range of gatekeepers, influencers, and decision makers.
However, even though it is complicated, B2B messaging doesn’t have to be a mess. All your messaging needs is a little strategy. A little structure. And then a whole lot of work to bring it to life in a clear and compelling manner.
Image source: Pan Xiaozhen