Sometimes, even though you have happy customers and your demos convert, you run ads that don’t fill your pipeline. You’re confident that you have product-market fit, and your customers confirm it. The problem may lie in your message-customer fit.
Message-customer fit is how you articulate your product or service to your target audience to compel them to buy. While product-market fit ensures that a product will serve the customer’s needs after purchase, message-customer fit identifies the critical pain point that will compel your customers to purchase your product. This forms your core messaging to build your marketing around.
If you don’t find message-customer fit, you may never scale your business. So let’s look at how to identify it, and how to use it as a powerful weapon in your arsenal to scale your business.
Why you need message-customer fit.
Everyone talks about getting product-market fit to be able to grow your startup. And it is critical. But if you’re struggling to grow your business, your product might not be the problem. It might be that you don’t articulate the benefits of your product in the right way.
Most customers will come via personal networks or referrals in the early stages of your start-up. So, the people you’re speaking to give you more time. In addition, these customers become co-creators of your product while they help you develop it for their needs (and companies like them). So, you never really have to “pitch” your product to others.
This is ideal for ensuring product-market fit, where your solution meets the industry requirement of a niche segment.
However, usually, after your Series A or B funding, where you have a market-ready product, you look to invest in marketing to scale your business.
Sometimes, this goes seamlessly. By being in tune with the market, your customers, and your network, you might perfectly understand what makes your customer sit up and listen.
However, for more start-ups, this isn’t the case. You run ads for your target audience with messaging that perfectly summarises your product.
Alas… just the empty chirp of crickets.
So, you increase the budget or try a different audience. Alas… different crickets…
You may draw a prize this way, but often at such a high Customer-Acquisition-Cost that you question if it’s worth it.
How to find message-customer fit.
The thing is that great messaging doesn’t need to summarise your product. It needs to tap into that deep-seated pain or motivator inside your target audience that makes them realise they can’t do their job without your product.
And that’s much harder. It’s rarely a summary of your product but a specific part of your product that solves a need.
For example, in a world of generic ERP systems for generic furniture manufacturers, you may have developed an ERP system specifically for bed manufacturers. You could run ads saying that. It might compel them to buy.
But what’s more likely to work is if you create messaging around a specific thing that generic furniture ERP systems don’t do, that is critical to your ERP for bed makers. Maybe they no longer have to log the bed type (ottoman, devan or traditional) on a separate database, so all their data’s aligned.
Your messaging could be: “Sleep easy knowing all your bed data is stored together”.
Ok, so that was terrible. But I’m a little tired, so hopefully, you can see past this abysmal example.
You find this via a combination of customer interviews, some creative thinking and some testing.
1. Interview your customers about the before-and-after of using your product.
The first step is to interview your existing customers. Prepare a few questions like the following to understand the value they get from your product.
- What challenges did you face before using the product?
- What’s your favourite feature of the product and why?
- What has the product enabled you to do that you couldn’t do before?
- What’s the biggest difference that using the product has made to your business?
- If you had a friend in a similar situation that you were in, how would you describe it to them?
- What has the product helped you with, personally? (A promotion, less stress, leaving home on time).
These questions get your customers to think about their challenges before and compare them with what they do now and how their life is better.
You can also identify what is important to them personally. Is it spending time with family? Career progression? or something else. This will help you with your messaging later.
The final question is a great one to describe the situation using their language. Sometimes, you can lift this straight out for your creative work. And don’t feel limited by the questions here; use probing questions to dig deeper and uncover the real answer.
2. Develop creative ways to communicate the message.
Sometimes an ad is as simple as regurgitating what your customers have said. And that’s a place to start.
Unfortunately, people like to figure things out for themselves rather than just being told something directly. I was always taught that effective marketing is like encoding a message. The below diagram explains it in the context of a TV ad.
- So you start with your message. This is what you want people to think after seeing your ad.
- Then you design a story or advert that is more entertaining or engaging but includes the message.
- Then you give the encoded message to your customer via a channel.
- And they decode it to realise the message you want for themselves.
- You can evaluate if it works by interviewing people after they saw your ad and checking that they received the intended message.
You can think of it as the moral of a story. The moral is rarely told explicitly in the story (except maybe in Holywood movies), but people understand it from context. That’s what a great ad does.
3. Testing different messages to identify what resonates.
Of course, with multiple customer insights, you might have a few messages you want to try. And some variants of the creative execution.
Ideally, you want to have 3 different ideas and 3 variations of each idea to trial.
You can run a focus group with prospective customers, test outreach with prospects, or run paid ads to your ideal customer profile.
If you have the budget, running ads is ideal as you will reach the greatest number of people and derive much better insights from the experiment.
However, testing cold outreach, interviews, and focus groups can be good indicators if you don’t have the budget for paid ads.
It can be easy to lean towards your favourite, but be impartial, listen to the data, and get fully behind whichever idea wins.
How to tell if you have message-customer fit.
While running tests, be sure to monitor the responses of people. Did they have the intended reaction? Did they manage to decode your message accurately? Were they compelled to learn more?
They can have a demo later. For your message customer fit, you just need to know which message compelled them to learn more about your product or service.
If it made them feel good about your brand, too, that’s even better.
Once you figure this part out, your ads will begin resonating with your audience. Your Cost-per-click will come down. And that’s how you know you’ve found it.
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