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Message Map: What Is It and Should You Do It?

By Suzy DeLine

When I was a marketing manager at large corporations, we would typically kick off our year-long campaigns with a multi-day meeting with our agency du jour. One of the first deliverables they would bring back was a “message map.” This consisted of our agreed upon value proposition, reasons to believe (RTB) said value proposition, in-depth descriptions, and customer-ready copy in various lengths.

The last was very valuable — it would get used in almost all marketing executions; first and foremost our web pages. (Management would say, “Suzy does messaging very well.” I would say to myself, “Yes, I have a talent for cutting and pasting professional copy — as opposed to writing my own on the fly.”) In their defense, not many of them actually read the final messaging. It was quite wordy compared to the visual elements, which got a lot more attention.

Must-Have: A Compelling, Up-to-Date, Message Map

So, “Should you do it?” The answer is, “Yes, you must.”A lot of great ways to look at the value of this exercise can be found in this excellent blog post.

In my recent work with start-ups, producing message maps has been a valuable exercise. While every company gets to it in their own way, there are many common elements. I thought it might be helpful to describe the process we recently went through, and to share our template. (Believe it or not, it did not come from Hubspot.)

First, The Process

Currently, I’m working with a venture-funded company that has very compelling technology and was generating excitement among pilot customers. However, the VP was dissatisfied with the wording on the homepage. It was nearly identical to the wording on five other competitors’ websites, which new pilot customers had also considered. He didn’t think he had a “me-too” product! We needed to get clear on:

Why had they chosen us?

What made us special?

As they say in real estate, your house is worth what a buyer is willing to pay for it. In this case, their solution was special for the specific reason pilot customers said we were. Here’s the process we took to clarify our messaging.

(Pardon me for not being able to speak in specifics about the company. The solution is not yet publicly launched — still working with carefully selected pilot customers.)

1. Whiteboarding. We sat in a room (not for multiple days, but for a good two hours) putting up on the whiteboard everything that new customers liked about us, both in terms of features and benefits, but also how our product was making them feel.

(This I can tell you… We made them feel like they were in control of their destinies, as opposed to being reliant on scarce internal resources. Who doesn’t want that?)

2. Categorizing. Those bullet points got put into a template that contained the categories below. The wording came straight from the company management, with a bit of facilitating from me as to what I heard in the customer’s words.

3. Secret Saucing. Our team’s copywriter also happens to be an ace headline writer. Years of writing web copy and banner ads had honed her ability to make short phrases shine. She used powerful words. Phrases with balance and tempo. And words that our SEO goddess (our other secret sauce) knew that could bring our website up to the right searchers.

Then, The Result

As mentioned above, the elements of a message map should contain the following:

  • A succinct (10 words or less) distinctive value proposition (DVP)
  • Three to five Reasons To Believe that back up the credibility of your value/distinctiveness
  • A 30-word paragraph that describes your product, the pains it solves (and for whom), and in a nutshell, how it solves them
  • A 75- to 100-word description like the above, but with an extra paragraph on how exactly it does what it does

Now, what’s not contained the above output — but is included in the template — was the initial exercise where we took this information off our competitors’ websites. We needed to ensure that our unique value was being presented.

Our New Mission

With this in hand, we are now tasked with freshening web pages (and re-doing the SEO, much as a talented designer might redo the colors of your house). Then, we’ll update solution briefs, and prep case studies and demo videos.

Armed with our approved copy and our crisp, compelling RTB bullet points, we are well prepared for the task.

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About Suzy DeLine

Suzy DeLine is a digital marketing consultant specializing in both inbound and content marketing. She is a huge marketing geek and gets very excited when she sees things being done well, or innovative stuff being tried out. (She also loves beagles.) She hails from a Wisconsin dairy farm by way of Northwestern University (go Wildcats).

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