Yep, they’re not just for the public relations team

Hearing the phrase ‘key messages’ takes me back to my (not so distant) past in public relations (PR). But now I’m back in product roles, I realise this wonderful assets are overlooked or handed off to the comms/ PR team and rarely seen or used again. This is really unfortunate.

Photo by Camille Orgel on Unsplash

Key messages are a keystone in product marketing – holding together all your collateral from value propositions through to demos, sales decks and even media interviews. Key messages always kicked off our PR communications toolkit development and guided all the other campaign materials. But they’re often absent or overlooked in product.

It’s time to reconsider the value of key messages in product teams

A quick scan of the product blogs reveals some disparaging comments about key messages…outdated, irrelevant or gathering dust on the shelf. However this is a clear sign that the messaging was either incorrectly drafted or in desperate need of a refresh. Whilst there is no set cadence for updating them – in PR we developed new ones for each campaign – product teams should refresh their messaging every six to 12 months depending on how fast they iterate. As this LinkedIn post wisely states;

Your product will grow out of its messaging just like a child grows out of his clothes every year”.

Note to product teams: as your product grows and pivots, so too should your messaging.

So what’s the point of a key message?

Key messages are developed early in the process for product launches (and campaigns) to:

  • Define the key points you want your audience to hear
  • Create consistency for all communications and materials across different touchpoints
  • Drive the audience to take desired actions – think about it…what do you want them to do or say as a result of hearing about your product?

The purpose of key messages is to provide a short summary of what your business or product or service is, the unique value it offers, who it is for (target audience) and how it differentiates from the competition. But wait, isn’t that a value proposition I hear you say? Almost, but not quite.

As Mark Twain once said;

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Consider key messages like writing a short letter since you will need to invest the time to make it relevant and succinct. Personally, I like to use messaging as a guide to write the value proposition since they give you the relative luxury to articulate the most important points of your product over the space of a page, give or take. Value propositions are shorter – and often harder – summarising the key messages even further and nailing it in the space of a few lines.

A simple framework for key messages

Here’s a simple framework for creating key messages (and there are many ways to write them). In this example, a central or core message is flanked by three to five supporting messages. Each supporting message has one to three proof points that validate (and often quantify) the benefits or value of your product.

A framework for Key Messages

Don’t forget to consider the tone of voice when you write. Big corporates usually have brand book that provide guidelines on tone of voice writing styles. Startups rarely have that luxury; although if you are in a startup without key messages it’s worth establishing some minimum guidelines for teams to follow on the brand’s personality (e.g. friendly or formal) and hygiene factors (i.e. words or phrases that you do and don’t say).

Is there is an order for writing key messages or a value proposition?
Again, there is no set rules but I prefer to develop key messages before the value proposition but after the product vision…however that’s a topic for a separate discussion.

Samantha Shuttleworth is the Founder and Head of Consulting for CalibrateM – a Product Strategy and Product Marketing consultancy based in SingaporeCheck out her blog for more tips.