Question Page

How do you drive alignment across the exec team on messaging

April Rassa
April Rassa
Aventi Group Product Marketing ConsultantSeptember 29

It's key to align around a high-level story that powers success—in sales, marketing, fundraising, product development and recruiting—by getting everyone on the same page about strategy and differentiation.

Alignment is difficult. If you can start with your CEO, that is key. Ultimately, your CEO is yuor ultimate storyteller and if she is bought in, then its easier to get the rest of the executive team aligned.

The story is the strategy and that should be your starting point. What’s driving your story in the market? New features and functionality … or a bigger promise to your customers? Do they align? Clarity in the minds of your customers can only exist if you tell a clear, cohesive and connected story. A corporate story that aligns with your business strategy and product roadmap.

Aliza Edelstein
Aliza Edelstein
Route VP of Product MarketingDecember 3

I see three parts to driving alignment, both with execs and among all other stakeholders:

  1. First, bring them along for the journey. Messaging cannot be done in a silo, and it’s difficult to properly adopt if not everybody feels bought in. Interview your execs and stakeholders to learn their perspective, where they feel the company or product is differentiated, what customer pain it solves, what benefits it delivers. The answers will vary and will be meaningful inputs as you craft and test your messaging.
  2. Second, set regular check-ins and milestones with execs and key stakeholders so they know what to expect and when. Landing messaging correctly can take a while, but it has lots of incremental milestones. Make sure to communicate these expectations, along with what level of input you’d like from them at the various stages.
  3. Third, bring data! While messaging can be creative and subjective, its resonance with your target market and customers can be quantified. Being able to quantify its impact will drive alignment. Here are channels I recommend testing your messaging in to get data to indicate what is resonating:
  • Qualitative interviews. Conduct these with your existing customers or your target market (you may have to pay some incentives). Run these one-on-one, or via focus groups. Listen not only to what they say but also to what words they use (e.g., do they say they want to work “faster” or “more efficiently”). You will detect patterns which will inform your quantitative research. 
  • Quantitative market research (via surveys). I used to work at SurveyMonkey which offers an incredible DIY market research panel called Audience. It lets you reach millions of people based on the targeting attributes you set, and it gets you answers quickly (in days).
  • Test the messaging in real life across channels
    • Website: A/B test messaging on paid landing pages or your company’s website. Just make sure you have enough traffic or can run it for long enough to get statistical significance on the test. Directional changes are not significant and thus due to chance.
    • SEM: Test variations of messaging in your ads. You can measure CTR to know what’s most eye-catching, which will get you very quick results (roughly 2 weeks, depending on your budget). You can measure CPL or another top-of-funnel conversion rate metric (may take a little longer), and you can measure down funnel quality (will take longer, depending on your sales cycle) to understand quality in the middle and bottom of the funnel (AOV, LTV, etc.).
      Email: Test marketing emails to prospects measuring similar metrics outline above in SEM, or test cold sales outreach emails to prospects. What messaging and positioning prompts recipients to engage, reply, convert? You can test subject lines, content, CTAs, length, or anything else.
      In-product: If your company has a logged-in web or app experience, test messaging in there.
      Social: You can test sets of paid social ads, or you can post on your own social media channels for free. Measure which variations get the most engagement and conversion. (Note: the audiences are often quite different for paid and organic social—often your followers are existing customers, and the people you show paid ads to are prospects.)
    • Sales, Account Management, and Support calls: Identify a select few counterparts on these teams and provide them with call scripts or different talk tracks to handle objections or promote new products. Ask them to note how the conversations differ or what messaging resonates most on their calls.
Eric Petitt
Eric Petitt
Glassdoor Senior Vice President MarketingMarch 18

To drive alignment, make something that execs can respond to. Recently, I created an example “future state” pitch deck to articulate a future narrative for Glassdoor. It wasn’t perfect, but it helped drive discussion and alignment on overall company positioning and direction.

But in general, make something for folks to respond to. I think it is so important for product marketing teams to establish credibility and expectations that PMM owns specific artifacts that ultimately help the company make smarter decisions. We have a toolkit of go-to templates that we try to work from for whatever business need we have. If we are talking about overall positioning, make a positioning statement. If it is messaging for a launch, create a messaging framework with clear product descriptions & value props, and show the brief or GTM plan, depending on the stage you are at. We build business canvases, products-on-a-page, research summaries, etc… And we add to the toolkit when new needs arise.

Whatever you make to facilitate the alignment discussion, make sure it is backed by research. Data, even if from a few customers, should help take some subjectivity out of the discussion.

Christiana Rattazzi
Christiana Rattazzi
Okta VP, Industries & Platform Product MarketingNovember 3

Every executive team is different, so I would encourage you to think through the culture (and sometimes - quirks!) of the members of that team as you craft your own approach. That said, I've found a couple things particularly effective in my experience. 

  • Bring along key lieutenants for the ride - once you get to the exec team, a number of important leaders should have been part of the ideation and review process. Individual sales leaders, product owners, customer success leads should all be stops on your journey to craft the right message. That way - one of the first slides in your exec team meeting is the classic "how we got here" where you share who influenced this work product. 
  • Infuse the voice of the customer and market - messaging is both art and science. Surveying analysts, customers, prospects and even competitors ensures you're keeping everything relevant. But if you truly turn it into a science, you'll have some great quotes and stats to convince an exec team that there's validity to what you're recommending. 

Good luck! If all else fails, make sure you remind them that messaging is iterative - always. You do want to get it right, but you also don't want to be so paralyzed that nothing sees the light of day. 

Jeff Hardison
Jeff Hardison
Calendly Head of Product MarketingAugust 11

I feel fortunate that I’ve led positioning/messaging workshops since I graduated college because I worked for an agency that mandated them for every project we worked on for tech clients. 

Getting an exec team to agree on a document outlining positioning and messaging isn't the hard part in my opinion.

The difficult part is to get the messaging to stick once you put it out in the world: on a homepage, in a blog post, an ad, a slide deck for sales, etc.

When positioning and messaging is put to use, execs start to realize what they signed up for. “Wait, we’re going after that job title in that small industry? I thought we were going to be all things to all people.”

So, I generally recommend immediately following the positioning/messaging documents with some type of customer-facing project where you use the messaging. If you have success with it -- customer sales deals, signup conversions, etc. -- people tend to get onboard in a sustained fashion.

Hien Phan
Hien Phan
Pinecone Head of Product Marketing, Partner, and Customer MarketingOctober 6

Ha! this skill is probably the hardest. When it comes to messaging, everyone will have an opinion. Before you drive alignment on the messaging, align on the problem and solution. That is 50% - 60% of the battle. The rest is just wordsmithing. Depending on the level of messaging, I would incorporate them into the messaging development process. 

Leandro Margulis
Leandro Margulis
Prove Head of ProductSeptember 8

This is an iterative process, and always better to over-communicate than under-communicate, so we can get everyone's feedback and input and people feel they have been heard and their input taken into consideration. Even if you do not end up going in a certain way, be able to explain why not and why that input was still helpful.

Leah Brite
Leah Brite
Gusto Head of Product Marketing, EmployersOctober 1

Start with data. Ground your messaging in first and third party data that illuminates what is important to your target customers, key pain points, aspirations, how they like to be messaged to, language they use, etc.

Show your work -- don’t just include the suggested messaging in the doc; add an appendix or reference section that demonstrates a thoughtful approach that is grounded in the data.

Next, see if you can get some quick feedback from target customers on your messaging to further validate the approach before showing it to your exec team. This can be a great use of a CAB (customer advisory board). This can arm you with answers to questions that may come up or resolve differences of opinions that may arise.

Finally, send the doc as a pre-read, ask execs to add in comments at least 1 day before you host a meeting to go through the doc. Also include a RAPID so it is clear who the final decision maker is. Use the meeting to get resolution and alignment live - this is generally much faster than trying to manage async. You might not get alignment on every last detail, but this is where the decision maker comes in.

Priyanka Srinivasan
Priyanka Srinivasan
Verkada Vice President Product MarketingAugust 25

At the end of the day, Product Marketing owns messaging, and there should be general alignment around that. I think that's a really important place to start because literally everyone has an opinion or point of view on messaging, but someone ultimately gets to 'own' it. If in your organization, that's PMM, there should be and understanding across the organization that it's the responsibility of PMM/Marketing to come up with product positioning and messaging. If you're an exec / leader in Marketing, you should be building relationships with other execs to create alignment around that; if you're not an exec, make sure your leadership is advocating for you. 

Now, that's not to say that other teams shouldn't have input or should significantly influence what the positioning ends up like - of course they should! Messaging should never be created in a vacuum. From the start, PMM should be gathering input from Sales, CS, and Product to come up with an initial point of view on positioning. In my experience, if my team is working with these folks closely from the start, it is way more likely that the execs in these orgs will be on board with the final positioning (usually execs just want to make sure you're getting input and feedback from their team). 

We have regular meetings with Sales, Product, CS for all of our products / audiences, and we regularly share ideas on draft positioning/messaging. And when we've reached something we're ready to share in a more formal way, we share that with Sales/Product/CS exec leadership. 

Lauren Craigie
Lauren Craigie
Cortex Head of Product MarketingSeptember 14

I start with personas. I develop a thesis about core personas based on sales and customer success feedback, and then conduct user interviews to validate or invalidate those ideas. That's probably the most important bit–my job isn't to just synthesize learnings from within our business, it's to continually test and validate those learnings externally. I then circulate research + personas with key executive leaders (CEO, Head of Product, Head of Sales), until we agree on the shape of each. Then I create a messaging house for the business, and each product line, according to the primary persona we agree is most worth pursing. From there, launching new features, new content, new playbooks, etc becomes much easier when we take it back to our core persona.

Rahul Chhabria
Rahul Chhabria
Sentry VP of MarketingOctober 7

Here's my process, I

  • Conduct customer and prospect research (exec team will be more likely to be bought in with data - especially from your key personas and customers) 
  • Consolidate findings and prepare a messaging brief using the framework we landed on.  
  • Present those findings to and get feedback from key stakeholders - including marketing leadership, sales, and product team - and (most importantly) customers 
  • Incorporate feedback into the final messaging brief 
  • Present messaging to leadership along with the data and the 'why' behind the messaging. Present rollout plan and get buy-in/alignment with cross-functional leadership and key stakeholders 
  • Assign responsible individuals within the team to help with the rollout. 

Once you have buy-in now the real work starts to get everyone using it. Share the final output with teams, present it at an all-hands, update all of your customer-facing content and sales enablement accordingly, and repeat frequently. It’s like unlearning an old habit and learning a new one at the same time. Repetition is key. And since you got buy-in early from Marketing leadership (your biggest advocate and messaging police) along with members of the product and sales teams the rest of the company will slowly come around because it’ll be part of the culture.

Malli Vangala
Malli Vangala
Circana Chief Strategy OfficerOctober 8

We typically prepare and validate a strong Messaging and Positioning Framework (MPF) document first. Our template typically includes things like the market context, objectives of our messaging (i.e. what we hope to drive/influence), quick single-sentence description of the product etc. Once we have this document, we circulate it among the exec team (typically months in advance of a launch to give everyone enough time to reflect and comment). We also typically have multiple live discussions on the topic (depending on the complexity of the product/launch) and use the MPF document to drive alignment. Competitive context and narratives have helped resolve strong differing exec opinions!

Jeffrey Vocell
Jeffrey Vocell
Panorama Education Head of Product MarketingApril 8

This is so important, and not focused on enough so I'm glad you asked! A few thoughts around this:

  • Get your CEO and CMO involved early. Ideally you can get early drafts to them, and also get them bought into the importance of the process and value of this effort which will make every aspect of this a lot smoother.
  • Have a consistent review process. Depending on your size and stage of company, it's unlikely that your executive team needs to see or review every piece of messaging. If you're working on a minor "enhancement" to your product and some lightweight messaging, that probably doesn't need to be approved. On the other hand, if it's significant launch, or you're working on company/brand-level messaging, it's crucial to have a review process. During my time at HubSpot this process started with the PMM and within the PMM team for feedback, and quickly went up to the CMO as a second-round of review, and then to the founders. 
  • Once the messaging has been decided, get leadership buy-in to help solidify this across every GTM-facing team. This is why having early buy-in from executives is critically important because they will naturally help push this to their respective teams.
  • Lastly, ensure you're equipping executives and teams with the resources to drive that alignment. In my experience, having one central place on your company wiki, and then dedicated enablement resources is clear path towards success.
Claire Drumond
Claire Drumond
Atlassian Sr. Director, Head of Product Marketing, Jira and Jira suiteAugust 17

Customer proof.

The real question you're asking is how do you get consensus around a lot of opinions. Getting messaging approved can feel like being stuck in a wave pool. It's because messaging uniquely forces uncomfortable reflections like what do we stand for and why will anyone care?

You can't know the answers without deeply understanding your customer. And that deep customer empathy is what makes a great PMM.

I always go back to the customer's pain points when trying to drive exec alignment, not just on messaging, but everything. At the end of the day -- no one's opinion matters more than the customers.

Some tips:

  • Bring execs & stakeholders to the table during the outline/ideation phase to uncover what they think are the most important value pillars and angles.

  • Test your main points with customers before writing anything. Use customers' own language when writing.

  • Show your process, supporting customer feedback, and why you are confident this is the right messaging when presenting.

Jon Rooney
Jon Rooney
Unity Vice President Product MarketingApril 24

The best way to drive alignment on messaging across the exec team is to be super clear about the process and milestones without going into too much detail (which a great rule of thumb for all things working with execs). The process needs to build off a set of hypotheses about messaging (basically a reasonable draft as a starting place), then offer opportunities to provide feedback, and solicit ideas at regular intervals leading to a refined version that you and your team is driving. That's key - while it's critical that you solicit feedback from customers, sales, product, industry analysts/influencers, as well as the exec team, PMM has to hold the pen and do the synthesis. Don't be a pass-through, be an expert.

Show your work in terms of capturing the conversations and the ways in which the initial set of hypotheses about messaging were challenged and refined, but be super crisp about what you present in the exec meetings. Messaging briefs are awesome to align the rest of marketing but, in my experience, they've always been confusing in cross-functional messaging reviews. It's much better, once the messaging comes together, to show up in a review with a draft blog post, draft web copy (ideally on staging so it looks real), and draft customer-facing slides that incorporate the new messaging.

Ajit Ghuman
Ajit Ghuman
Twilio Director of Product Management - Pricing & Packaging, CXPSeptember 9

It's hard. Real hard. 

Many PMMs make the mistake of starting with messaging. This is a no-no.

Messaging comes last and just puts words behind what was already decided.

You have to nail this in sequential order. 

  1. First comes strategy
  2. Then comes positioning
  3. And finally comes messaging

Your CEO owns the strategy. Period.

If they don't know where you are going, the positioning will be unclear or may work for a little while until the market or your product evolves.

I recall a meeting in a prior company where I aligned with the positioning of our chatbot/customer service solution with my CMO and Founder, only to be rebuffed by my CEO who said we should be just like Salesforce, i.e. we were to compete with CRM. 

We tried explaining that yes we could one day compete with CRM, but today we were something else, and that is what we needed to decide. This state of limbo around strategy and positioning persisted for well over a year, and the company's business performance also suffered. 

What's the lesson?

Nailing strategy and positioning are critical. 

Your discussion then with your executive team needs to list out assumed strategy and based on that outline options for positioning. Do not bring messaging into this discussion. The best way to approach this discussion is to let them come to the right answer by laying out options and data. 

Unless the CEO/Founders feel they came up with it, they will not buy into it. 

Design thinking brainstorms are helpful. Repeated discussions will definitely be needed. 

This alignment will time to seep in and be internalized but clears the path for messaging and countless other initiatives inside the company.

Chris Glanzman
Chris Glanzman
ESO Director of Product Marketing & Demand GenerationNovember 2

First, start with data-driven positioning. Who are you in the marketplace? Where are you heading or trying to become? How do you think your competitors are moving in the space? If you skip this step, you'll lack differentiation in your messaging, and you'll get a lot of resistance from executives who think in visionary terms.

To build the most effective messaging, you need to start with a deep understanding of how your customers think about your company and why they are buying it in the first place. Draw on insights gleaned from customer blueprints, interviews, surveys, focus groups, lookalikes analysis. The goal is to distill what goes on in each purchase journey or acquisition funnel step…Then map that back into how you want people to feel through that process—ex.: empowered by competitive comparisons; engaged because they understand the value proposition; satisfied by user experience.

Then you get to alignment building. Before you stand up in front of a room of executives and present the final answer, try to meet with about half of the group in 1x1 settings to bounce the idea off of them. This will get knee-jerk reactions out of the way, which can blow up a group meeting. The feedback will also be valuable. Last, the conversations may also prepare you for questions other executive team members may ask.

Lawson Abinanti
Lawson Abinanti
Messages That Matter Co-FounderMarch 17

The final step in the positioning framework I use and teach is to get management approval for the proposed positioning and messaging. There is a standard presentation my clients use to present the evidence that helped them converge on the proposed position. It includes:

-          A list of target audience problems ranked by importance. It is used to show that the positioning statement expresses a benefit that solves the target’s most pressing problem.

-          A competitive map that makes it easy to see how competitors are positioned and that the proposed position is unique.

-          Additional important factors that impacted the proposed positioning and messaging such as challenges in the sales cycle.

I originally came up with the idea to get management approval for proposed positioning strategies when I was director of product marketing for a European ERP company. In less than two years, the team I worked with positioned 12 products and all but one was approved on the first try.

There are several benefits to getting management approval for your positioning and messaging. Most important is that management team members will use them rather than winging it like they so often do.

Molly Chapman
Molly Chapman
Moorepay Head of Product MarketingAugust 30

It goes without saying if your messaging is good then people are going to remember it. So, remember to be:

·        Memorable

·        Simple

·        Concise

·        Unique

·        And always cut the waffle

Once you’ve nailed your messaging you need to get it in front of your people.

Land the importance of messaging: For non-marketers messaging can feel a little fluffy. It’s important to set the scene on why messaging is so important – back this with data and real-life examples.

Take them on the journey: A lot of work goes into messaging, sometimes people underestimate it as just a couple of words on a screen. To really get buy-in from your exec team you need to take them on the journey and give them the why behind your decisions.

Make it visible: Get it everywhere internally, on internal channels, host workshops, on your collateral, embed it on internal and external documents.

Repeat your messaging: At this point you need to be your messaging champion. And while you might feel like you’re repeating yourself, it takes a lot to get messaging to land.

Tracy Montour
Tracy Montour
HiredScore Head of Product MarketingJuly 29

This requires having a strong relationship built on trust with your executive team and, depending on the size of your company, the CEO. Get the executive team involved early and often, and be willing to disagree and commit. Come prepared to conversations with data, market insights, competitive intelligence, and anything else that will help them understand how critical the work you are doing is. Help them buy into "why this messaging" and "why now" by anticipating their questions, bringing a lens of customer-focus, and a broad understanding of the crossfunctional strategic impact. 

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