Friday, January 02, 2009

messaging: aligning the top-down with the bottom-up

April over at Rocket Watcher wins points for Messaging Botox - A Quick Fix for Saggy Messaging in the "Best Choice of Stock Photography".

But I'm going to have to disagree with her claim that there is a quick fix for stale messaging. Unless. . . your messaging is very "product-centric", in which case it's OK. Unless. . . a change to your "product-centric" messaging breaks your "market-centric" messaging, then for G-d's sake, do the whole thing at once.

"What?"

Here's how I see it. "Market-centric messaging" starts with your audience, their problems, and explicit statements about what customers can expect to gain if they let you help them address those problems. It validates the urgency of those problems by putting them into context with the other things the audience might be thinking about. It does not talk features & benefits, it does not talk pricing. At the highest of levels it doesn't even get into alternatives. It presumes the existence of products & services that can deliver the promised returns.

Another way to think of this is "top-down" messaging - you begin with people, explore their problems, choose one, and assert expertise in solving it. Your top-down messaging is designed to lay claim to a specific place in the mind of the buyer that will be validated by your product-centric messaging.

"Product-centric messaging" starts with capabilities, and connects them to problems and from there to an audience and the market(s) those audiences inhabit. It is heavy on the benefits that individual features or feature sets bring. It draws stark distinctions between products and alternatives.

This is "bottom-up" messaging - you assemble capabilities and benefits that match the needs of a specific audience.

Done correctly, these two messaging sets will align, harmonize and support each other.

Here's the trap - "product-centric messaging" gets stale, generally because the product has evolved and there are new features and benefits to talk about. By all means, update this messaging as your products mature.

But if the audience(s) those products are designed for has also evolved, or if their needs are substantially different than they were when the products you sell them were first envisioned, then perhaps you will do more damage by updating bottom-up messaging independently of your top-down messaging.

When your product messaging is disconnected from your market messaging, you lose credibility.

When your value proposition and your product claims don't line up, bad things happen.

And the worst part of all of this is that the people who update product messaging tend to be much more prolific than the people who update the market messaging.

So April, great post, great idea, but please be careful. Messaging is equal parts art and science, and requires constant vigilance on the part of the CMO and all of his or her evil minions.

1 comment:

April said...

Hi!
Thanks for the link, and the insightful post. I agree with you that messaging should start with customer problems and not product. The thing is though that those problems shift over time and companies (startups with no dedicated marketing in particular) often don't update their messaging to keep up with the market shift. For example, a company I met with last week has 3 year old messaging that addresses the customer problem of "How do I reach a broad audience without the expense of travelling?". Today most folks know they can do Webcasting. Their problem today is often "How do I improve the effectiveness of my Webcasts to get more leads?" The old messaging was about convincing customers to try webcasting as an alternative to face to face seminars. The new messaging needs to be more around how to do better webcasts.
April