Stepping into a new role as CMO in an unfamiliar industry and audience landscape can feel like navigating a labyrinth blindfolded. From customer expectations to the nitty-gritty of product details, every piece forms a puzzle that requires meticulous attention to solve.
I'm Yoni Solomon, the CMO of Uptime (Editor's note: At time of writing, Yoni has gone on to be VP of Marketing at Gympass), and I ventured into this challenge head-on. In this article, I'll share the lessons I've learned in building effective messaging and positioning at Uptime.
Whether you're a seasoned marketer or new to the game, these insights can help you better tune your messaging, deepen customer engagement, and bolster your brand's impact.
Why is messaging and positioning important?
The responsibilities of a CMO are vast and varied. From growing demand and launching new products to expanding the brand and forging partnerships, it's a multi-faceted job.
However, one element serves as the foundation for all these activities: the art of messaging and positioning. Without a clear and compelling story, all other marketing efforts are like building a house on shaky ground.
Having a background in product marketing, I firmly believe that mastering messaging and positioning is critical to a company’s success. This expertise lays the groundwork for everything we do in marketing, from rebranding efforts and product launches to training sales teams on how to talk about our products effectively.
Essentially, messaging and positioning give us a coherent and impactful way to convey the value we offer to customers.
Being in charge of your company's core narrative isn't just a job; it's arguably the most critical role a CMO can play. It's about being the vanguard of how your company communicates its value to the world. Therefore, understanding and honing this narrative is fundamental for any CMO who wants to succeed.
What is messaging and positioning?
The terms "messaging" and "positioning" often get thrown around together, sometimes losing their essence amid buzzwords and jargon. So, let's get back to basics. Messaging and positioning are fundamentally about defining who you are as a company – your identity, values, and unique selling points.
Positioning: Building your company's core story
One thing that has always irked me is that we often hear "messaging and positioning" instead of the more logical "positioning and messaging." Positioning serves as your internal guideline or "message house" that defines who you are as a company. This involves crafting your core umbrella statement, the value propositions that support it, and the proof points that back those up.
If you think of it like building a house, positioning lays down the foundation and constructs the internal framework. This is your company's core story. Then, you can move on to what I like to call "the messaging neighborhood" – your positioning documents for each product you sell and every feature within those products. Think of these as your strategic guidebooks, or "Bibles," if you will, on how to talk about every single aspect of your company.
Translating positioning into messaging
Once you've nailed down your positioning, you can then translate it into messaging. This is the part everyone sees and loves: the flashy ads online, the TV commercials, the billboards, and everything in between. It's your positioning turned into stories and visuals that resonate with the public.
In essence, the work starts internally with positioning and culminates externally through messaging. So, remember: it's not "messaging and positioning" - it's positioning first, and then messaging. This distinction may seem subtle, but it's critical to understanding the architecture of a solid marketing strategy.
Five-step process to nail messaging and positioning
Transitioning into a new role as CMO at Uptime – an IT-focused company – after coming from G2, which catered to a marketing and sales persona, was like stepping into an entirely new world. Different audience, different product offerings, different language. Yet, the foundation remained the same: the need to nail down messaging and positioning.
Step one: Understanding the product through research
The first few weeks of my role at Uptime were entirely dedicated to research. I knew that we had features and functionalities explained well on our website and sales materials. What was missing was the "why" – the real value we were providing.
To bridge this gap, I listened to every customer call recording available, and read case studies, testimonials, and even online reviews about Uptime. It was crucial for me to understand what the heck I was going to talk about before diving into messaging and positioning.
Step two: Clustering customer feedback into topics
My initial research culminated in a comprehensive messaging document. I transcribed impactful quotes and reviews from our customers and started categorizing them into specific topics.
Interestingly, I noticed recurring themes like "peace of mind" in our customer feedback. These themes essentially clustered themselves into five major topic areas that became the pillars of our messaging and positioning.
Step three: Identifying value propositions from topic clusters
These five topic clusters were not just recurring themes; they were also reflective of the value we provided to our customers. They turned into our value propositions.
For example, the cluster around "peace of mind" helped us define why we exist: to provide peace of mind to those responsible for monitoring website health, performance, and downtime.
Step four: Turning customer feedback into proof points
The beauty of this approach is that it wasn't me creating stories; it was our customers defining our story. All those reviews and testimonials became proof points to support our value propositions. Our customers spoke about the reliability of our alerts and the customization of our dashboards, and those became significant elements of our messaging.
Step five: Crafting the final messaging and positioning framework
The final step was to cohesively assemble these insights into a structured messaging and positioning framework. And voilà, we had a clear, customer-centric narrative that wasn't built in a silo but was instead a true reflection of what our customers thought and felt about our product.
For the last decade, I've consistently followed this customer-centric blueprint for messaging and positioning. The job of marketing isn't to sit in a silo creating narratives out of thin air; it's about listening to the customers. They tell us how they perceive us, the problems they're looking to solve, and what they think our value is. My role as a CMO is to polish these raw insights into a formulaic framework that we can then use for all our external communications.
Remember, messaging and positioning shouldn't be an afterthought or a buzzword. It should be your starting point, and it should always revolve around the customer.
Communicating messaging and positioning internally
Having a well-defined messaging and positioning framework is only the first half of the equation; the other half is making sure it's ingrained throughout the organization.
For me, building consensus was a crucial next step. Just three weeks into my role as CMO at Uptime, I hosted a meeting with co-founders and senior leadership, aiming for alignment and approval on the new direction.
I initiated the meeting by giving a comprehensive overview of the market we are in – its challenges, its opportunities, and its pain points. Next, I shared the topic clusters created from customer feedback, presenting them as an invaluable insight into what the market thinks of us.
The final part involved walking them through our proposed new brand story and vision, ending with our newly crafted big messaging statements. This set the stage for the eventual rebrand we were planning.
Dispelling preconceptions and myths
People across the organization had different perceptions about Uptime, and so it was crucial to address these. During my initial interviews, I'd often ask, "What’s your elevator pitch for Uptime?" The responses were illuminating but often focused on the 'what' rather than the 'why.'
I used this as an opportunity during the consensus-building meeting. By juxtaposing how internal staff described us – "We provide excellent monitoring tools and features at a great cost" – with how our customers felt – "Uptime gives me peace of mind so I can go to sleep at night," I exposed the gap between our self-perception and the emotionally powerful ways customers described us.
The difference was stark. On one hand, we had a description that was feature-driven; on the other hand, we had customer voices that painted us as indispensable lifesavers for their online presence. By doing this, I was able to promptly dismiss any preconceptions about our positioning, driving home the point that our story should be based on the unique value we deliver as seen through the eyes of our customers.
Messaging and positioning isn't a one-person job; it’s a whole-company mission. But as the CMO, it's my responsibility to take the lead in aligning everyone, to take those customer-driven insights and craft them into a compelling story that everyone in the company can stand behind.
This approach has not only built a strong internal consensus but has also paved the way for our ambitious rebranding project, driven by real customer insights and focused on delivering unmatched value.
The balance between emotional resonance and feature-driven messaging
It's a delicate dance between emphasizing the features and focusing on the emotional messaging. Many think of these as mutually exclusive, but they're not.
The example of Steve Jobs introducing the iPod as '1,000 songs in your pocket' illustrates this point well. It was a high EQ, value-driven messaging that struck a chord with the general audience. But for the tech-savvy, the details about storage capacity, battery life, and user interface were also critical.
That's where the concept of a "messaging neighborhood" comes in. In a well-thought-out marketing strategy, different messaging statements serve different purposes and audiences. For instance, your top-level messaging can focus on the emotional resonance and overarching value propositions. Meanwhile, core products and features should have their own messaging statements that are more feature-specific.
The trick is to combine these intelligently. Picture a landing page with a headline that immediately tugs at the emotional strings – 'We are your eyes,' it might say. But then, right below that, you list the technical features and functionalities that make you "the eyes" of the customer. This approach ensures that you're not just emotionally engaging your audience, but you're also providing the intellectual backing for why they should choose your product.
Keeping all stakeholders happy
No one wants to hear, "No one cares about your features." Especially not the development team that worked tirelessly to build those features. The idea is to strike a balance that serves multiple stakeholders – be it the end-user, the internal team, or business partners.
Striking this balance also plays a significant role in internal relations. Your development team should feel proud and recognized for their contributions. By giving space to feature-driven messaging in the right context, you're acknowledging their work and aligning it with the broader vision of the company. So it’s not just about keeping the customer engaged; it’s also about maintaining a healthy, collaborative environment within the company.
Effective messaging isn’t about choosing between emotional connection and feature description; it’s about marrying the two in a way that tells a compelling story. You need a high EQ to engage and a high IQ to substantiate. That's the crux of a successful marketing strategy that not only tells a compelling story to the external world but also fosters collaboration and pride within the team.
What to do with your messaging
Once you've crafted the messaging, it doesn't stay in the meeting rooms; it flows into every aspect of your company's external communication. Whether it's a full-blown rebrand or a product launch, the idea is to keep the story consistent across all platforms and touchpoints.
For instance, for a product launch, we develop a 'message house' – a single-page document that acts as the bible for that specific product. From there, it's a matter of extending this into various marketing materials like landing pages, Google ads, social media posts, etc.
The website is often the most pivotal tool for positioning and selling, especially if you're a product-led company like us. It acts as the anchor, the source of truth from which every other piece of content derives its substance. So it's crucial to make sure that the website encapsulates the narrative effectively. Once that is in place, other materials like sales pitch decks and email messaging can take shape more coherently.
Beyond marketing: Sales, customer service, and more
While people often think that the CMO is focused solely on marketing initiatives, the truth is quite different. The reach of the CMO extends far beyond just marketing campaigns; it also encompasses sales, customer success, and even product development.
As a CMO, you should ideally have influence over every aspect of the business that interfaces with the customer or impacts the brand. This includes not just what goes on the website or in marketing collateral but also the conversations that sales teams have with prospects and the language used in customer support.
Sales teams need to be trained and equipped with a compelling story, aligned with the overall messaging. Similarly, customer success teams must communicate in a way that echoes the brand's core messaging.
Good messaging keeps employees engaged and aligned with the mission, irrespective of the department they belong to. It helps the executive team navigate the company's journey more coherently, ensuring everyone is on the same page.
An often-overlooked benefit of strong messaging is its ability to attract investors. Good storytelling, consistent with your brand's mission, can be an invaluable asset during fundraising rounds. The influence also extends to product development. A cohesive and strong story ensures that new features or products are in sync with the larger narrative of the company.
In the grand scheme of things, your messaging isn't just your strategy – it's your identity, your value, your promise, and your direction. It encompasses all facets of your operations – from how you develop your product to how you market it, from how you sell it to how you support it.
Evolving your message
While it's crucial to set a strong foundation with messaging, it's a mistake to consider it set in stone. As markets evolve, products expand, and customer needs shift, your messaging should adapt accordingly. This is why I recommend a "spring cleaning" of your messaging frameworks at least once or twice a year, especially if your product roadmap is moving rapidly.
Listening to customer reviews, NPS scores, and especially direct customer interviews can offer invaluable insights into how your messaging might need to evolve. Sometimes, it's these conversations that deliver that "aha" moment that can pivot your messaging in a more compelling direction.
Messaging shouldn't be overhauled on a whim. Major changes can disrupt internal alignment and confuse the market. Your top-level, core messaging should remain relatively stable, only changing if there's a substantial reason like a shift in strategy or market dynamics.
That said, the details – those "a few levels under the fold" – should be continuously optimized. For example, the messaging around specific features or product offerings can be more dynamic. Product roadmaps often evolve quickly, and your messaging needs to keep up. Failure to update this level of detail can result in outdated or irrelevant messaging that doesn't accurately reflect what you offer.
While there's a danger in changing too often, there's also a danger in not changing at all or waiting too long to adapt. Stagnation can be just as harmful as constant flux, leaving you unresponsive to market changes and customer needs.
This is where analytics and metrics come in. Monitoring KPIs, consumer behavior, and market trends allows you to make data-driven decisions about when and how to adjust your messaging. This ensures that changes are deliberate and justified, not reactionary.
Messaging is a living entity – it should grow and evolve just as your company does, but it should do so in a way that is both strategic and considered. The key is to find the balance between consistency and adaptability, ensuring that your messaging is always aligned with your current goals and offerings.
Standing out with competitor analysis
The goal of competitor analysis here isn't imitation, but to identify opportunities for differentiation – essentially to "poke holes" in the competitors' offerings. This isn't just useful for messaging but equips your sales and support teams to effectively compete.
Copying competitors can easily lead to a commoditized market where price becomes the only differentiator. Three different companies saying "web monitoring made easy" do nothing to distinguish themselves and force a race to the bottom on price.
Take the luxury travel industry as an example. When everyone is marketing "luxurious marble baths," the only point of contention becomes the price. That's not inspiring marketing; it's a bidding war on features.
The ability to offer something distinct in the market is invaluable. Brands like Gong have set themselves apart not by reacting to competitors but by breaking new ground in how they position and message their offerings.
As markets mature, features tend to converge. Integration ecosystems, quality, and other functional metrics will be more or less similar across competitors. In such a landscape, the one remaining avenue for differentiation is storytelling. The ability to connect with customers emotionally, not just logically, becomes the pivotal factor.
In 2011/12, the average software company had two competitors. By 2015/16, that number jumped to nine. The figure is likely much higher today. This exponential increase in competition makes differentiation not just advisable, but necessary.
As the tech landscape rapidly evolves, everyone's tools are going to be good; they'll have similar features and high-quality offerings. The true differentiator will not be what your product does, but how you tell your story.
While competitive analysis is an essential part of the messaging strategy, it should be a catalyst for differentiation, not imitation. The goal isn't to mirror what competitors are doing but to understand where you can offer something different, something better. Ultimately, it's the brands that dare to be unique, those that craft compelling narratives, that will capture the market's attention and loyalty.
Emotional connection and community building in brand messaging
In today's world, particularly in the aftermath of the pandemic, emotional connection with brands has become crucial for consumers. This is not just a B2C phenomenon; even in the B2B space, emotional resonance has gained considerable importance.
Community building is a challenging feat in B2B, requiring a large user base and deep-rooted passion for the product. However, when executed well, it becomes an unparalleled asset.
The most successful communities are often those where users are so passionate about the product that they organically come together to share knowledge and experience. Brands like Marketo and HubSpot have nailed this approach, creating forums where users help each other with practical advice and solutions.
A brand can provide the space and awareness, while the product offers the common thread that binds the community. When these two elements align, the result is a powerful, engaged community that amplifies the brand's messaging and positioning.
Community as a feedback loop
Once a strong community is established, it becomes a valuable source of insight for brand positioning. These are the people who will be giving testimonials, leaving reviews, and speaking at your events.
A strong community begins to share the responsibility of messaging with the CMO. This collective ownership not only adds credibility to the brand but also makes it agile in adapting to customer needs and market shifts.
In the complex landscape of modern marketing, creating an emotional connection and building a strong community are not just nice-to-haves; they are imperatives. The key lies in striking a balance where the brand provides the platform and the product fuels the passion. This delicate synergy not only enriches the brand's story but also creates a feedback mechanism that keeps the messaging and positioning both relevant and compelling.
The balance of control and collaboration in brand messaging
It can be daunting the idea of letting go of control over messaging. It's natural to feel this way, especially when you've been in the driver's seat for so long. But here's the thing: the best marketing isn't one-sided. When customers feel that they have had a role in shaping the brand, they're less likely to leave. This fosters not just customer retention, but customer advocacy.
As marketers, our foremost duty is to listen, not assume. This is particularly important when marketing for a domain or product you've never personally used. I've never worked in IT, but that doesn't mean I can't effectively market to them; it means I need to listen more to understand their needs and tailor the messaging accordingly.
Statistics suggest that 68% of B2B customers would leave if they feel uncared for. The antidote to that is simple: curiosity and empathy. If your brand messaging and positioning can embody these traits, you're golden.
I often say that effective messaging and positioning are a blend of three equally important elements. The first is experiential knowledge – understanding the product's ins and outs. The second is analytical skills, which include leveraging data and metrics to gauge market response and needs. And the third is the anecdotal or qualitative feedback directly from customers, which can often provide insights that numbers alone can't.
When it comes to branding and messaging, there's no room for egos or assumptions. It's all about balancing control with collaboration, employing empathy and curiosity, and integrating qualitative and quantitative data to build a messaging strategy that resonates. This holistic approach not only amplifies brand credibility but also establishes a reliable and empathetic brand image in the long run.
Five lessons in building effective messaging at Uptime
Embarking on the journey at Uptime has been a major learning experience, especially given that I had to familiarize myself with an entirely new product and audience. Here are the top five lessons that I've garnered from this incredible venture.
1. Embrace humility and curiosity
One cannot overemphasize the importance of entering a new role with humility. The mantra "Assume nothing and stay curious" is not just an idyllic phrase; it's essential for success. Acknowledge that you don't know everything - doing so opens the doors for learning and empathy, cornerstones for effective messaging.
2. Elevate the voice of the customer
I always recommend starting with direct customer interactions. Whether it's through customer calls, one-on-one interviews, or even digging through customer reviews, this primary source data is invaluable. The direct voice of the customer will be your most reliable guide in shaping authentic messaging and positioning.
3. Recognize patterns, build frameworks
As you collect insights from customers and stakeholders, it's crucial to start organizing them. Bucket these insights into themes and through-lines, as they will lay the foundation for your overarching messaging and positioning framework.
4. Depth and breadth in messaging
Effective messaging goes beyond just a snappy tagline for the company. It needs to resonate throughout all your offerings, features, and even integrations. A holistic approach ensures that the brand's voice is consistent across every touchpoint, enhancing credibility and strengthening customer relationships.
5. Secure consensus early
Lastly, it's critical to build consensus within your team and broader organization as early as possible. Without an early agreement, you risk getting halted in your tracks when you're deep into execution. So, present your proposed messaging to the Senior Leadership Team yourself, secure buy-in, and go ahead with confidence.
Each of these lessons is a cornerstone in building an effective and impactful messaging strategy. With a focus on humility, an ear for the customer, a knack for pattern recognition, a comprehensive approach, and early consensus, any CMO can not only build but also sustain a powerful brand narrative.