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How To Build Product Messaging and Positioning That Stand Out

Messaging and positioning work together and should be the North Star for any product launch. If done well, they will set you apart from the competition.

A photo of Salesforce's Ally Johnson, who knows about product messaging.
Great product messaging requires a deep knowledge of the customer, the market, and the competition.

It’s a familiar scenario: You know you have a product that adds value, but it’s a crowded market and your competitors have great products as well. How do you share the special advantages of your innovation with the audience that could benefit the most? The answer: strong product messaging and positioning. 

I’ve been at Salesforce for nearly a decade, and our messaging and positioning have come a long way during that time. I’m excited to share some things I’ve learned. 

But first, let’s get on the same page with some quick definitions. Messaging and positioning are often considered the same thing, but they are actually different. (Don’t stress – I used to make this mistake, too.)

Positioning is the internal framework your team uses to pinpoint what makes your product special. 

Messaging is the external words and visuals that convey this product positioning to customers. This can be on your website, in email marketing, TV commercials, magazine ads – you name it. 

Positioning is the internal framework your team uses. Messaging is the external words and visuals that convey the positioning.

Product messaging and positioning work together and should be the North Star for any product launch. If done well, they will set you apart from the competition, win new customers, and build trust with existing ones. They will also help your overall brand awareness and reputation, which in turn will  attract top talent.

Sound good? Read on to learn about how Salesforce uses messaging and positioning to bring products to market —  plus four tips to hone your own. 

How Salesforce builds its messaging and positioning

In the Salesforce marketing department, we think of messaging and positioning a little differently than some other marketers do. Because we sell customer relationship management (CRM) tools, our mission is to help our customers connect with their customers in new and interesting ways. 

Great positioning requires a deep knowledge of the customer, the market, and the competition. You need to know all these things inside and out:

  • The customer’s wants and needs (sometimes before even they know)
  • Their pain points
  • How they measure success 
  • What’s happening in your market, including new regulations and trends 
  • Your competitors’ products, pricing, and the way they talk about themselves

We believe great product messaging is simple, differentiated, memorable, and inspires action. It’s the billboard you saw on the freeway and find yourself thinking about days later. Or the marketing email that feels like it’s speaking to you personally. The messaging makes you lean forward, want to learn more, and sometimes, if you’re a softie like me, even cry. (The new Google commercials get me every time!)

Remember, no one wants product pitches that are full of technical jargon and hyperbole about how great your brand is. Customers are busier than ever and have a low tolerance for nonsense — not to mention a short attention span. They want something that’s worth their time and can either entertain them or solve a problem.

Here are four tips to help you improve your messaging and positioning:

1. Create a workflow to organize your messaging and positioning process 

There’s a lot of fun to be had in strategizing, interviewing people, and brainstorming ideas. But you also need a thoughtful workflow to make sure the right stakeholders are accounted for. 

Ask yourself these questions: 

  • Whom do I need to collaborate with? 
  • At what point is it best for stakeholders to provide input on ideas? 
  • Which format do they prefer? 

Create a project timeline with a RACI model so everyone stays aligned and on deadline throughout the process.

If you’re familiar with Salesforce, you may know that Einstein is the brand name for our artificial intelligence capabilities. But what you probably don’t know is that when we launched it in 2016, the Einstein business had two general managers (GMs). 

That meant every time we had new messaging around “intelligence,” it would need to be vetted with both of them. We built those approvals into our RACI. 

We often tried to get the GMs in the same room together, so they could hear each other’s feedback. That was really productive and reduced the number of revisions, so we could finalize the messaging faster.

2. The best tool for positioning research is your ears

Great positioning begins with listening. You must listen for your customers’ pain points, fluctuations in the market, and moves made by your competitors. You can do this in the form of focus groups, surveys, and message testing. 

Before we launched Einstein, we did a listening tour with potential customers.  

These conversations helped identify use cases for our product, hone our descriptions of key benefits, and even find out which product names they liked best. 

We pinpointed these features that stood out:

  • Discover hidden insights and patterns in your data
  • Predict outcomes for every function and industry
  • Recommend the best action, offer, or engagement
  • Automate business processes and workflows

3. Tailor your product messaging for specific audiences

Once your positioning framework has been approved, it’s time to start crafting your message. This is a chance to show how well you know your audience. How do they want to be spoken to? Which channels are they on? What do they care about? 

This is the fun part! Let loose and get creative. I recommend having different types of product messaging, depending on the audience and channel. Just make sure the messaging always ladders up to your product positioning framework.

Let’s go back to our Einstein example. Artificial intelligence and analytics can be used to help almost every business – but in different ways. Our challenge was taking these complex topics and making them tangible for our various target audiences. 

We created tailored messaging for different personas, roles, and industries to address specific pain points in the language of our buyers. 

We created tailored messaging for different personas, roles, and industries to address specific pain points in the language of our buyers. 

For Sales, for example, the message was “Which leads should I focus on?” Service asked, “Which cases are highest priority?” For Marketing, it was “Which email content will best resonate?”

4. Messaging is always a work in progress

Your position doesn’t change, but your product messaging is flexible. Keep testing, getting feedback, and listening to your customers. Your messaging will evolve along with new product launches, market conditions, competitive offerings, and more. At Salesforce, we like to say “better, better, never best.” This is the perfect mindset to adopt when approaching messaging.

At Salesforce, we like to say ‘better, better, never best.’ This is the perfect mindset to adopt when approaching messaging.

When we launched Einstein, we led with a pretty technical message about our AI models and how we approached machine learning differently:

Everyone’s Data Scientist

It was very under the hood. We quickly learned that Salesforce users (sales reps, service agents, marketers) just wanted to know how AI could help them work better, smarter, and faster. 

Our new message was:

Your Smart CRM Assistant

So we made a pretty drastic decision to overhaul our message about six months after launch. We switched to simpler messaging focused on pains and solutions, with use cases to support the story. We noticed a big change in how our message was absorbed and this ultimately led to more sales and more happy customers — a win-win. 

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