Marketing Fundamentals – Start with a Message Map/Architecture

Whenever I ask how I can help the latest crop of PIE companies, the answer is usually, “they aren’t ready for marketing help yet.” I get it. I do. You’ve got to build the product, then get someone to test/buy it, then support it, fix it, build enhancements, sell some more, keep supporting it and hiring a marketing person just isn’t the top priority. That’s ok in the beginning, but you still need a marketing foundation to support all your efforts.

Once you’ve figured out what your product or service is, I strongly encourage you to take the time to create a message map/messaging architecture. This is a 1-2 page document that clearly states your key messages. It seems easy, but I guarantee you if you do it right, it will take far more time than you expect. And since, as David Packard once said, “Marketing is too important to be left to the Marketing Department,” (and as we established, you probably don’t even have a marketing department, anyways), get all founders and key employees involved.

My advice to expedite the process and make the meetings more productive is for each individual involved to create a draft on his/her own before coming together. This will give you something to start from, avoid one strong individual dominating and drowning out other good ideas, and ensure more buy in across the team for the final product.
There are a number of different templates you can use (I’ve provided a couple examples below and there are others available online), but I’d start with a general one that answers three basic questions:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • How do you do it?

You should be able to answer each of those questions in one sentence. Once you get those sentences down, write down 2-3 supporting messages that clarify your main message. Watch that you aren’t simply restating a message from a different cell using slightly different language. And think about how what you are saying differentiates you from competitive products and companies. If you think your competitor could say the exact same thing, you need to keep working. Finally, if you have any proof points, list those. For example, if you say industry leaders have adopted your technology, list those companies. If you say you are a “recognized leader” and an analyst firm has named you a cool company or added you to some list, put that down. In the beginning you probably won’t have many proof points, but these are important, because they give reassurance to people who are receiving your messages that there is substance behind the words.

If you’re really ambitious, you can go a level deeper, and create a message map for your product(s) – this will be more specific than the company one, but should follow the same guidelines. What is the ONE thing you would want a prospective customer to know about your product if you were only allowed to describe it in one sentence (Main message)? If they then granted you the ability to explain further, what 2-3 sentences would you want to say (supporting messages)?

I’ve gone through this process at every company I’ve worked and with a number of non-profit organizations. In every case, we’ve gone back and forth, debating nearly every single word. And almost every time we’ve had to pause, let it sit and come back a few days later to resume and polish. It’s exhausting, but in the end, totally worth it. Because the final document will provide the foundation for every communication vehicle going forward – your website, elevator pitch, sales presentation, collateral, etc. You’ll find that you and your team are consistent in how you describe your company and product(s) and clearly articulate what sets you apart from others in the market.


sample templates

Bill Piwonka is the CMO of Exterro. Find him on Twitter: @bpiwonka


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