Core Messaging: The Surefire Way To Align Product, Sales, and Marketing

by Jeff Foley –

A product marketing function is responsible for all outward communications about the product offering. Whether it’s guiding content creators, generating a story for sales, or translating developer-speak into business terms, you’re at the nexus of an array of cross functional activities. The best way to ensure success is by creating a core messaging document that aligns all forms of communications to reflect consistency of message

Over my career, I’ve created hundreds of versions of these core messaging documents to explain how to position and pitch the product to your target buyers. Though the elements may seem very “mom and apple pie,” it’s the behind-the-scenes fist fights that these encourage (what do we actually deliver? who’s our target? Is this really why we’re different?) which make it a worthwhile effort.

Elements of a core messaging document

  • The offer, plainly described. This is not the time for marketing fluff or superlatives. Start off by clearly distinguishing the offer to avoid confusion with similar offers. Is it licensed software? A services offer? Hardware? Consultants? Or a package combining them all? Get alignment on what’s in and what’s out.
  • The problem you’re solving. Express the problem statement from your buyer’s perspective. What can’t they do fast enough? cheaply enough? efficiently enough? What metrics are going south? What global or industry trend is pressuring them to catch up? Narrow the scope as much as possible to tee up everything else.
  • The value proposition. Here’s where you define a clear positioning statement: “For target audience, offer is a product category that delivers key value so you can enjoy key benefit(s).” I’ve sometimes added that “Unlike competitors, who can’t problem, offer can features/unique selling point(s) so you can key benefit(s).” These components encourage critical thinking to drive strategy discussions. It can take weeks of iteration, depending on the complexity of the offer and the number of stakeholders involved.
  • The key benefits. Explain the “so what?” outcomes for the buyer. The list is preferably three bullets, but definitely not more than five. The benefits themselves don’t have to be differentiators, but you should tie them into how you provide those benefits. You can also start with an overall benefit (e.g., improve customer experience by quantifying customer feedback) and then provide three supporting bullets (e.g. reduce human error, save time with automation, and answer executive questions faster). Make sure any features mentioned support the key benefits, and do not merely project usability (e.g. buyers care that it adapts to your specific workflow, not that it has a fully customizable interface).
  • The unique selling points. The benefits section alone may be table stakes — outcomes expected for any vendor in your category. In this section, list 3-5 differentiations that answer the question, “Why your company, and not alternatives?”
  • The most demonstrable features. Any product demonstration runs the risk of becoming a random display of unrelated features. To prevent this “feature carnival,” decide on which 5-10 must-show features really ram home the point of the benefits and unique selling points to pique the audience’s interest. The list also keeps eager demonstrators on script.

Constituents sometimes ask for other sections as well. Copywriters often want 100/50/25 word boilerplate text. Product managers or sales engineers may appreciate a list of requirements or dependencies, such as implementation services or flagship products, if the product doesn’t stand alone. Expect your document to expand, but make sure to keep it within 1-2 pages so that it actually gets read and used.

Hammering out this document first — before you try to write that datasheet, web page, or script — inevitably saves a lot of flip-flopping, and backseat copy editing down the content creation road, and becomes a vital input to everything from go-to-market plans to product roadmap discussions.

About the author:

As an MIT engineer-turned-marketer, author Jeff Foley has enjoyed over two decades of aligning sales, marketing, and product organizations around new technologies. (@jjfoley)

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