When it comes to advising the High Alpha portfolio, messaging and positioning is one of the most requested topics. Why? Getting it right is critical to the success of any SaaS company because it lays the foundation for your entire go-to-market strategy.
On Thursday, July 15th, 2021, we hosted our first Messaging and Positioning Master Class for leadership across the High Alpha portfolio. This event was the latest edition of the High Alpha Master Class series, an ad hoc workshop series that brings together portfolio companies and subject matter experts.
Our speakers included positioning consultant and author April Dunford and Terminus CMO Daniel Incandela. Daniel, x3 CMO with deep knowledge of messaging frameworks, shared his expert advice on creating a messaging house and getting buy-in from your CEO. April, author and positioning consultant, unpacked the framework from her best-selling book, Obviously Awesome, laying out a guide to effective positioning based on her experience launching 16+ software companies.
While there were a lot of learnings to pull from our speakers, below I outline my top five takeaways that you could implement at your own startup:
1. You don’t need to create a category.
According to April Dunford, creating a new category is the most challenging path to position your early-stage startup. This challenge does not exist when you position yourself as a new competitor with a unique take on an existing market category. For example, say you want to start a new cola company. It would be extremely difficult to take on the entire cola space. Instead, you could make a cola company for children. Maybe it’s a healthier cola that gives you the same great taste but removes the guilt of giving it to your kids.
There is no existing market leader within this subsection of the cola industry, and now you don’t have to compete with the heavy hitters like Coke or Pepsi. This niche position in an established market gets your foot in the door and allows you to expand your business from there.
“When you create a category, you have to convince someone they need a solution to a problem that they don’t know they have. That’s really difficult.” – April Dunford
2. Build relationships along the way, so you get what you need.
According to Daniel, the most frustrating part of messaging is working to build it out only to have it rejected at the end. That’s why it is incredibly important to get cross-functional buy-in for your messaging. Work with sales, marketing, and product teams to ensure messaging is consistent and backed by data cultivated through conversations with your customers. Without working together, your new messaging could miss the mark and fail to get the buy-in you need to move the project forward.
“Being able to tell the CEO that you believe in your marketing plan and that you worked with the lead product manager throughout the process will give them confidence.” – Daniel Incandela
3. Talk to customers, employees, and potential customers to direct your positioning.
As a marketer positioning your product, it is your job to talk to your happy customers to figure out the trends in who they are and why they are happy with your product.
Ask them how they use your product or listen to sales calls. If your customer’s perspective matches how you talk about your product then that’s a good sign. If your product is featured in a different way than the value your customers articulate, then it’s your job to change the positioning.
4. Repeatability in messaging is important. Stick to no more than three messages.
Repeatability is crucial with messaging. When Daniel talks to his company, he says the same three things over and over. If you do more than three, your message gets muddled. Customers are not able to connect with more than that.
Limiting your core messagings makes it more memorable. It also ensures that the key members of your team have uniform answers to questions about your business and product.
5. Messaging is never going to be perfect.
This is especially true for early-stage companies. According to both of our speakers, it is ok to pivot your messaging and, in fact, you should probably revisit it often. Use data and analysis to get as close to perfect as you can.