Ever wondered why some companies hit the mark with their messaging while others seem to miss the target altogether?

The answer is message-market fit, a principle whose power I've seen firsthand in my role as Founder and Marketing Strategist at Deepstar Strategic.

In this article, we're going to dive into the world of message-market fit and explore why it's crucial for the success of any business. We'll unravel the mysteries behind aligning your message with your market, share practical insights on measuring message-market fit, and discuss when it's time to reassess and fine-tune your messaging strategy.

So, buckle up and get ready to discover how to unlock the true potential of your messaging and captivate your audience like never before.

What is message-market fit?

You’ve almost certainly heard of product-market fit – people are always throwing around that Marc Andreessen quote about customers buying the product just as fast as you can make it (although there's more nuance to it than that).

However, people don’t always attribute the same level of importance to message-market fit – and that’s a huge mistake. Product-market fit is kind of irrelevant if you don't get message-market fit right first. After all, it doesn't matter how great your product is if no one sees it.

So, what is message-market fit? Well, it’s all about making sure your message is hitting the mark. How do you know if you're delivering the right message? Clarity, relevance, value, and differentiation are key factors. Does your audience understand what you're offering? Is it tailored to their needs? And crucially, what sets it apart? Even today, marketers still strive to show that their product is better than its competitors.

Forget being better – what counts is being different.

In my experience, great messaging can compensate for some product gaps. It's not a silver bullet; you still need a good product. However, if your messaging is aspirational and presents a compelling vision, people can overlook minor product flaws. If your product delivers nine out of ten desired features, but your messaging resonates, you’ll be forgiven.

Improving your messaging by 20% can have a more significant impact on your ROI than a 20% improvement in your product. When your messaging resonates, more people will see your product, giving you the opportunity to showcase all its strengths.

Why is message-market fit so important?

We’ve seen two major shifts that have changed the game and made message-market fit more important than ever before. The first change is customers’ increased access to information. We used to rely on libraries and encyclopedias, but now we can gather multiple viewpoints from an unlimited number of sources thanks to the internet.

The second shift is the emergence of the buying committee, which has fundamentally altered the way customers make purchasing decisions. Nowadays, committees evaluate and disqualify companies before even officially engaging with them. In fact, customers are typically only actively considering options for about 12% of their buying journey. Once they start actively considering options, it’s like there’s blood in the water – it’s super competitive.

Herein lies the challenge. With such an abundance of information and offerings, how can customers decide if one product is truly better than another? They both look good on paper.

This is where investing time in crafting the right message and achieving message-market fit becomes crucial. By focusing on category awareness and generating demand, you position yourself as the trusted source of education for the customer.

And you don’t want to focus all your efforts on that short window of time when prospective customers are actively weighing up their options. You’ll have a much better shot at success if you make sure customers are aware of you during the 79% of their buying journey where they’re aware of their needs but not ready to take action. That way, when customers eventually reach the decision-making stage, you’ll be top of their list.

Take the CRM industry as an example. There are countless options available, but when people are evaluating CRM systems, they tend to go straight to HubSpot and Salesforce.

How to measure your message-market fit

When I’m helping clients assess whether they’ve found message-market fit, there’s a process we typically go through, which involves applying some of the most foundational product marketing skills and tasks.

First, we examine historical metrics, conduct interviews, and perform sales analysis. Next, we evaluate competitors and alternatives (competitors are who you perceive as competition, while alternatives are what the buyer considers comparable options – and sometimes the alternative can be as simple as an intern armed with a spreadsheet). Then it’s time to collaborate with product, marketing, and sales to assess how value and differentiation are being communicated.

I also highly recommend conducting a specific message test with a cohort that the client believes represents their ideal customer profile (ICP). Surprisingly, it often turns out that the client’s perception of their ICP doesn't align with their actual buyers.

We often find that companies are managing to reach buyers in spite of their messaging and not because of it. That might not sound great, but it’s good to know. It provides an opportunity to expand the serviceable market or to narrow the focus and concentrate on specific segments.

All this evaluation often leads us to a storytelling and narrative design process. Typically, it involves a lot of prep followed by a half-day to a day-long workshop, which is ideally held off-site to foster collaboration, even if remote work is the norm. The objective is to align all the different units, not just marketing. We want the core business identity, brand, the purpose for existing, the solution offering, and the go-to-market strategy to line up.

Once all the components are aligned, we conduct message testing using the updated ICP and the new narrative. We put a lot of emphasis on message testing because getting answers from a target customer cohort within a week is way more efficient than spending six to twelve months in the market, wasting resources on campaigns and creatives.

One of the most rewarding experiences I've had going through this process came when I was working with a small startup that had just raised seed funds. They were profitable, had a great product, and were getting good MRR (monthly recurring revenue). However, they realized they had reached their limit and needed outside help. That's when they reached out to me.

It was interesting because the head of engineering initially didn't fully grasp the value of marketing. But as we guided them through a storytelling framework and narrative design, they had a realization. They discovered that they were not actually solving the problem they initially thought. Instead, they were addressing a different problem for a different user. That clarity sparked a huge change in their approach.

Whether you refer to it as business strategy, marketing, or messaging, the key was bringing all the teams together and crafting a clear, concise, and coherent message around some fundamental questions: Why are we here? What problem are we solving? Why is that problem worth solving? And who are we solving it for?

Now, that startup isn’t just winging it anymore. They’ve hired 15 new people and the team is incredibly excited. Their growth trajectory is inspiring, and it's a testament to the power of aligning their message and purpose.

When to reassess your message-market fit

Finding message-market fit isn’t a one-and-done activity. Every now and then, it’s going to need an update. Working closely with your product team and demand team, you want to keep an eye on both leading and lagging indicators so you can see when your messaging is no longer hitting the mark.

Sometimes, the signs are pretty obvious, like when customer acquisition costs start rising or there's a drop in trial signups or other easy entry points to conversion. Take a close look at the different stages of your adoption journey. See where things change or where you have room to make iterative changes that can have a big impact.

If you're making significant changes to your product, that's a strong signal that your messaging may need an update, too. And if you're having interviews with prospects who fit your ICP and they consistently feel that the product isn't for them, that's another sure sign that your messaging is off.

I highly recommend regularly testing your messaging. You can do this through focus groups, targeted test campaigns, and, of course, ongoing conversations with customers and ideal prospects.

Key takeaways

In conclusion, understanding and achieving message-market fit can make all the difference in how your business communicates with its audience. Let's recap the key takeaways from our exploration:

🎯 Message-market fit is just as important (if not more so!) as product-market fit in ensuring the success of your business.

🌟 Clarity, relevance, value, and differentiation are the cornerstones of effective messaging.

💡 Compelling storytelling and great messaging can compensate for certain product limitations.

💻 Customers now have more access to information than ever before, making it vital to be the source of education and stand out in a sea of options.

🚀 Aligning all teams and having a clear, concise, and coherent message creates a strong business identity and brand.

📊 Regularly measuring and testing your messaging helps you stay aligned with your customers' needs and adapt to market changes.

Keep these key takeaways in mind as you fine-tune your messaging strategy and embark on a journey to captivate your audience and propel your business to new heights – and good luck!