The Overlooked Use Case of Messaging

One of the most universally accepted responsibilities of Product Marketing, something that has arguably become ubiquitous with the position, is the ownership over messaging. Data from the Product Marketing Alliance shows that 92% of PMMs cite the pair of messaging and positioning as two of their key responsibilities—I’m honestly wondering what the other 8% are up to.

The need to have individuals strategically craft narratives that uniquely convey the value of a product or service has never been more critical. Consumers and business-to-business (B2B) buyers alike have never had more options for the SaaS solutions they adopt. Consider the marketing technology landscape, with over 8,000 products that promise some variation of the same value proposition. Markets are marred with competition and buying patterns are changing. In a survey conducted by Forrester, 74% of B2B buyers said that more than half of their procurement research is done online. Having a resonant, differentiated, and concise message at every stage of the buyers’ journey is a hefty responsibility PMM’s own to drive conversion, accelerate deals, and close business.

Though messaging is often linked to go-to-market (GTM) efforts, it can equally play a critical role in the discovery of new value creation for customers earlier on in the product development process. By bringing this inherently unique PMM skillset into the fray, ideas can be validated with a broader breadth of market insight to support the success of a product.

Validation Managers

I often joke that Product Managers (PM) could easily go by the title of “Validation Managers” since a significant part of their job is to confirm the accuracy of assumptions related to the viability of their products. Whether for an early-stage startup seeking to create a new offering or an established enterprise company improving on an existing solution, product validation is a pivotal activity that can account for 20 – 30% of a product’s overall development cost.

Though that might seem like a significant chunk of funds being directed towards hypothesis testing, the truth is, it might not be enough. Over 90% of SaaS products will inevitably fail to reach product-market fit and slowly die off. Most PMs are all too familiar with this stat which is why problem discovery and product validation have become so ingrained into the culture of modern product teams. 

Not only is there more knowledge around the importance of these topics, but companies are increasingly dedicating more and more resources to support PMs with insights that can help quickly and meaningfully identify value creation opportunities. Community, Voice of Customer, and User Research are a few vocational areas that are becoming common in SaaS companies that have, in part, a focus on funneling customer data into the business. Additionally, there’s been a rise in software to support PMs throughout the product lifecycle. Tools such as Gainsight, Pendo, and ProductBoard give PMs visibility into user behaviour and can help prioritize roadmaps. 

With so much intent around data-driven decision-making in product development, why do most products still fail? My untested hypothesis (see what I did there) is that the current approaches to validation, though insightful, fail to gauge a customer’s purchase intent. After all, you might validate your audience, problem, and solution but still be left with something that you cannot monetize, limiting your ability to grow into a business.   

Say Vs. Do Interest

There’s a big difference between what customers say versus what they will actually do; the Hawthrone Effect is a well-documented phenomenon that supports this. Apropos that, when it comes to purchase intent, the distinction between the two is critical because traditional validation techniques often involve collecting feedback from a customer in a controlled setting through interviews or surveys. In other words, they assess user behaviour based on what they say, which we know, alone, is not the most trustworthy form of data. 

Product teams can tap into common marketing tactics to supplement say interest to quickly and effectively validate their solutions. Running paid ads on social media platforms against a specific audience or spinning up a landing page with a call to action are both excellent ways to glean do interest from the market. The best part about this approach is that they gauge a customer’s interest in a product in the wild. In a sea of distractions, if something you drafted catches the attention of a prospect, earns their click, and secures a sign-up, it’s a clear signal from the market that you might be onto something. 

In this regard, PMMs can be an ally to product teams early on by using their market knowledge to wordsmith the right message and facilitate learning around do interest. And while some might gawk at the role words play in representing a product, their importance cannot be undermined. Just as engineers bring the product to life through feasible code and UX teams bring the product to life through usable design, Product Marketers bring the product to life through marketable messaging. 

A Real-World Case Study: The Unbounce Smart Builder 

Content like this can be easily interpreted as hyperbole, especially when it’s not rooted in a legitimate example. Fortunately, during my time at Unbounce, I had the opportunity to put theory into practice.

For those unfamiliar with Unbounce, it’s the OG landing page builder designed to help marketers convert prospects into leads. It’s been around for well over a decade and is a loved product by its community. Over the past year, they’ve been repositioning themselves as a Conversion Intelligence platform and, in doing so, have embarked on the journey of category creation. As part of that strategy, my PM and I were tasked with bringing to market a new landing page building experience to support marketers’ needs at small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that would eventually replace the current building experience. 

For six months leading up to the launch, my PM and I engaged in a slew of discovery and validation activities that gathered say and do insights from our target market. While it was a lot of work—seriously, our calendars were a nightmare—the activities we engaged in were critical to better understanding the problem space, our customers, and the differentiating value of the Smart Builder. For your consideration, I’ve summarized our key activities below: 

Activity #1: Market Teaser Research

Learning Objective: Test thematic concepts with both visual and written language that would support the theme of the Smart Builder launch   
Approach: Panel feedback based on creative mockups 

Activity #2: PPC Test 

Learning Objective: Split test messaging and gauge do interest from the market 
Approach: Paid ads on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn 

Activity #3: Messaging Test  

Learning Objective: Split test messaging and validate roadmap items 
Approach: Landing page variants on Wynter presented to 50 individuals, followed by a survey 

Activity #4: Concept Testing 

Learning Objective: Assess the key value proposition used to represent Smart Builder at launch 
Approach: 1:1 interviews with our ideal customer profile where concepts were presented 

Additionally, and I can’t stress this enough, what made this endeavour manageable was that we had a fantastic team that supported us. From an executive level, we were given a high degree of autonomy within which to operate and treat the Smart Builder as our own business. My fellow PMMs and GTM team members backed the strategies put forth with a fervent desire to win. And most importantly, my PM and I were in lockstep from day one, aligned on our goal to ship a new Unbounce landing page building experience. 

As a result of the team’s efforts, Unbounce delivered the Smart Builder to the market in the summer of last year to great avail, with subsequent launches that added additional value to the Conversion Intelligence strategy. 

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. We’re Product Marketers. We have a vested interest in the product and, therefore, a vested interest in delivering value to our customers, the market, and the business. By bringing us into the fold early, we can validate products with a richer foundation of insights that will ultimately support growth opportunities. After all, talk is cheap, and action is expensive.

Seek out do interest. 

Key Takeaway: Though often thought of as solely a GTM activity, messaging can play a crucial role in the discovery of new value for customers. PMM’s can support development teams in gleaning do interest from the market.

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