Strategic Communication: Product/Market Fit Cannot Exist Without Message/Customer Fit

Myk Pono by

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from an article originally published to Medium on the essentials of strategic communication. It has been edited and condensed for clarity. This particular post provides a primer on the importance of strategic messaging and how to find message/customer fit. Over the coming weeks, we will publish additional content around strategic messaging featuring practical and actionable approaches to help you design messaging that works for your target audience.

Strategic communication is essential to building an open and honest dialogue with your target market and ultimately, winning deals. While the concept of strategic communication hasn’t been lost, many of the marketing concepts and strategies that go into building a viable communication plan are today overlooked. However, the basic principles of positioning and marketing apply to software companies today just as much as they did 50 years ago to companies selling low tech consumer goods.

Defining your company’s strategic advantage through messaging and positioning is more important than ever before as we reach near saturation across segments of the SaaS market.

So, what exactly is strategic communication, strategic messaging, and positioning? With so many related buzzwords, it’s often not clear how each specific term is used, how it is defined, and what it stands for. The terms “strategic communication” and “strategic messaging” are used interchangeably throughout this article. Feel free to use the term you identify with most.

The following should give you a great starting point for developing your strategic communication initiatives. Tune into OpenView Labs in the coming weeks where we’ll share actionable and practical advice to help you develop your own specific product messaging.

Why You Should Care About Strategic Messaging & Positioning

Strategic messaging and positioning are often overlooked by tech companies. It’s difficult to quantify the impact of bad messaging. And it’s just as difficult to present any accurate ROI for implementing or changing the approach of how we talk about a company or product. Think about Gary Vaynerchuk’s response to a client who wanted to know the ROI of social media. He asked her, “What’s the ROI of your mother?” (check out the video). And in some respects ROI on messaging and positioning is as difficult to quantify.

Messaging is a key part of building any great company. Every business organization has a purpose and vision which leads it to develop products that solve the pain of specific types of customers (or create such customers). As Peter Drucker pointed out – “there is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer.” The process of creating a customer is a process of communicating your vision and values to the right set of customers in the market. Strategic messaging facilitates this communication. Customers never buy just a product, they evaluate its value/utility and buy your vision.

If an organization exists – it communicates. Every company uses messaging and positioning. Whether or not it’s effective is another question. But all organizations communicate their vision and product value in one way or another.

Before we discuss how to define, evaluate and design your strategic messaging (we’ll get to that in future posts), let’s look at specific business areas and see how strategic messaging impacts all internal and external communication in your organization.

Product/Market Fit Also Means Message/Customer Fit

We all know about product/market fit, which is essentially finding sufficient demand for your product in a big or growing market. What we often forget is getting to product/market fit means getting to message/customer fit as well. Convincing early customers to buy is essentially testing not only how a product solves a customer’s pain, but also how its value is communicated.

Product/Market Fit = Message/Customer Fit

In order to find sufficient demand in the market, a company not only needs to solve a real pain for target customers but it also needs to find an effective approach to communicate its product’s value. Product/market fit does not exist without message/customer fit. The right message needs to repeatedly reach the right customer in the right market to validate the startup’s existence.

Company/market fit might be a better framework for us to use. Company/market fit is a combination of product/pain (or problem) fit and message/customer fit. When we only talk about product/market fit, we often overlook an important component in this process – strategic messaging.

Company/market fit is difficult to achieve without clear strategic messaging. Getting to the right message is as important as getting to the right product. The main reason why it makes more sense to talk about company/market fit rather than product/market fit is that it is not just the product that satisfies market needs and customer pains. The right organizational structure and vision are also needed to fit a particular need in the market.

To paraphrase Peter Drucker, it is not about searching for the right organization, it’s about management needing to learn to look for, develop, and test the organization so that it fits the task. There is no right or wrong way to organize a business. But there is a right organization for specific problems or market needs.

LEARN MORE: Check out this very detailed post by Steven Sinofsky on corporate organizations.

Fundraising and Investor Decks

Strategic messaging is an essential part of your fundraising efforts. Your investor deck can describe a problem, vision, value proposition, positioning, target customer, and market opportunity. And to be successful in planting your message you have to create an interesting and easy-to-follow story. A successful investor deck is a strategic message packaged in an interesting story.

There are already a few great resources on creating a pitch deck, so let’s not spend much time on this topic here.

LEARN MORE: Check out this TechCrunch article, “Lessons From A Study of Perfect Pitch Decks.” If you’re interested in learning more about effective pitches, Andy Raskin has written many interesting articles on this topic – The Greatest Sales Deck I’ve Ever Seen.

Sales

My earlier article, How to Design Lead Nurturing, Lead Scoring, and Drip Email Campaigns, points out that identifying a prospect’s PAIN and FIT is a critical step in the sales process. FIT corresponds to the target customer profile. And PAIN (or problem) is how prospects perceive product value. Both target customer profiles and values are irreplaceable parts of strategic messaging.

Selling a product to multiple stakeholders involved in the decision-making process complicates and prolongs sales cycles. Each target customer involved has different pains and values they are trying to get from your product. Therefore, where there are multiple stakeholders, strategic messaging is even more critical, since different messages need to address the different personas in the buying process.

Your prospect will already have perceptions about your product and its value even before your qualification call or demo. This judgement will be made based on your website’s content and your communication materials including ads, PR, blog articles, and cold sales emails. If expectations are wrong, or the product value is misinterpreted, it will take your sales team much longer to change this perception.

The further the prospect’s perceived value is from the actual value you want to convey, the more likely the deal is to be lost. It takes effort to form a perception about product and it takes an even larger mental effort to change perceptions once they’re formed. That’s why it is so difficult to convince people once they have an opinion. Additional facts aren’t very helpful in changing people’s beliefs and perceptions once they’ve been formed.

Looking at this idea from the sales perspective, do you see how difficult the sale can become if a prospect’s perceptions have been formed inaccurately?

Companies with great sales organizations all have clear sales playbooks. Sales playbooks describe in detail such things as sales pitches, competitive landscapes and how to address differentiation questions, target customer profiles, typical product offerings and descriptions, and customer success stories. Strategic messaging impacts every single weapon in your sales team’s arsenal.

Coherent and consistent communications in the sales organization depends on the effectiveness of your strategic messaging.

Marketing

The goal of marketing is to control perception and to change behavior. This is a simple and accurate definition of marketing. All marketing activities and every aspect of marketing falls under the goals of controlling perception, changing behavior, or both. Try to think of a marketing activity that doesn’t fit this goal. And ask yourself: can you truly change someone’s behavior without changing their perception?

Here are a couple of examples. Awareness content enlightens prospects and customers on industry trends and important issues. The goal is to control the perception of what your target audience should pay attention to. Running paid acquisition campaigns initiate an action by a prospect which leads to conversion – behavioral change. Buying and using a product requires a change in behavior.

Strategic messaging is how companies control perception in the marketplace. It is the responsibility of the marketing team to ensure that the message a company uses is consistent across all marketing channels as well as  across all assets and communications.

Recruiting

Recruiting is about selling your vision and your values as an organization. The founders and CEO should never stop recruiting, and need to dedicate a significant portion of their time to their recruiting efforts. Recruiting is nothing more than selling your company to a prospect. Strategic messaging will help you organize your vision and your values so you have a simple message and story that sparks interest in those who share your values and who are inspired by your vision.

It is hard to imagine anything that has more impact on your organization than messaging, and how you communicate internally with your team, externally with the marketplace and your target audience. We have only discussed a few critical examples, but this list can be expanded. Now, how do we know if our current messaging is effective or needs a revamp? We’ll discuss this and more in our next post.