Question Page

What messaging and persona framework do you use and how much of competitive positioning do you cover in Messaging?

17 Answers
Scott Schwarzhoff
Scott Schwarzhoff
Unusual Ventures Operating PartnerFebruary 6

Posted this on another similar question, but on the competitive positioning point specifically, I think there's a 'turn' in the narrative toward the end of the story where existing solutions can't solve the problem completely and it's good to have specifics on how your solution is better. But you never want to lead with the competitive view because that tends to cause a lot of friction between yourself and the customer. The goal is that the customer realizes you're a better approach to where the world is going and through that lens, the discussion narrative is all around jointly figuring out the best way to solve the problem.


As for messaging frameworks, a couple to try out. Here’s a combined messaging source doc that I use every time I start working with one of our portfolio companies. Inherited from Citrix days and then adapted over time. Hope it’s helpful!

The second one is one I've been working on for a year and am sharing with the Sharebird community before publishing for feedback. The core idea is that I've that that a lot of messaging focuses too much on product/benefit and not enough on fitting the narrative into a broader context of how a customer views their world, their priorities, and setting the table for the new world. Interestingly, there are all kinds of tools for salespeople to essentially become a consultative partner to their customer - Command of the Message, Challenger Selling, etc. As marketers, we don’t really have a single framework to help us build a narrative in the way that these sales frameworks do.

The net of the issue is that we don’t stay focused on answering the 3 big ‘why' questions that a rep needs to answer to close a sale: 1) why buy anything, 2) why buy now, and 3) why buy you. The idea is that if your messaging/story can answer these three questions better than your competition, customers will buy from you.

Over the past couple years, I’ve been working with a couple dozen startups here at Unusual Ventures and see the same problem at play with our founders. So, I wrote a new messaging guide that we’re going to be publishing (for free) called “Three Why Storytelling”. It’s a simple storytelling framework that nets out 6 steps to crafting a story that wins customers:

Why Buy Anything
1. Start with an authentic founder insight
2. Align on shared view of impact

Why Buy Now
3. Connect problem to business urgency
4. Show current solutions to be ineffective

Why Buy You
6. Frame new approach to solve the problem
7. Prove unique offering and value

Is this rocket science? No. You’ve probably seen each of these concepts in various forms all over. But this framework strives to simplify and codify the building blocks of a story that, when laid out together, form an airtight, irrefutable narrative that is purpose-built to lead customers to your solution as the best choice.

By the way, if I had to pick one ‘Why’ that is most underrepresented in messaging, it is most definitely Why Buy Now. We are conditioned to think in problem/solution terms. But the reality is that there are two types of problems - big problems (we’re moving from on-premises software to SaaS) and urgent problems (my business units are going around my IT team and signing up for SaaS apps like Dropbox and Concur, cutting us out of our core function!). Big problems are market-focused while urgent problems are customer-focused. Companies that obsess on Why Buy Now typically have a solutions marketing mentality that starts with the customer initiative and works back to product vs. the other way around.

Here’s the draft .pdf of 3 Why Storytelling. Would love any feedback! 

Alissa Lydon
Alissa Lydon
Dovetail Product Marketing LeadApril 26

At its most basic, messaging is about answering 3 key prompts:

  • What is the problem facing the market today?
  • What solution (generally) will help solve this problem?
  • What does your product do to help solve it?

To me, competitive falls squarely underneath that third bullet point. It's one thing to list the entire list of features for your product, but the real exercise in messaging is to find the differentiating features (i.e. what makes your product different from "the other guys"). Therefore, it's important to map your key capabilities with the competition to understand where that white space is, because that is where your messaging focus should live.

Vikas Bhagat
Vikas Bhagat
Webflow Senior Director, Brand & Product MarketingJuly 13

I use a pretty simple framework for messaging - namely, the messaging house. I typically focus on the following sections of the house (top to bottom): Brand prop, product description, customer context (the problem), Needs and wants, 3-5 value props, Benefits & features that address needs and wants(How does it work?)

Competitive positioning is a great foundation for supporting messaging. FInding the intersection of the unfair advantages of your product/service and the items your customers' value (I.e. speed, flexibility, security, etc) is a great way to build lasting messaging. 

Sophia (Fox) Le
Sophia (Fox) Le
Glassdoor Director, Product MarketingJune 3

Once you are clear on the value proposition of a product/feature and/or a positioning statement for the company or product, you are ready to pull together a messaging framework that your cross-functional stakeholders (from marketing to product) can leverage. 

In terms of a messaging framework, I have found that formats vary by company but all fundamentally cover a combo of key elements based on what your teams require for a successful launch (ideally delivered as a 1-sheeter or 1 slide format):

  • Product name/quick descriptor
  • Target audience (your best-fit prospective customer and the more specific, the better!); include primary (and secondary if applicable) business goal - new customer acquisition, or existing customer adoption/renewal/retention? Your persona work, if any, would also fall into this category.
  • Target market/geo (as-needed)
  • Pricing/packaging (as-needed)
  • Value proposition or position statement (internal language); your competitive positioning/greatest advantages should be covered here and “proven” in the reasons-to-believe or key benefits section. What are your actual competitive advantages? Who or what are the actual alternatives to your solutions for your “best-fit” customers and how will you or your product solve the need better?
  • Short and sweet elevator pitch or tagline (external language)
  • Reasons-to-believe and supporting evidence (external language) OR Key features/benefits/value statements and proof points/claims (external language)

Pro tip: Do the pre-work to get approved proof points ready to use! Value claims that directly support your key benefits or reasons-to-believe will amp up the strength of your messaging, and third-party validation claims including star-ratings and/or reviews will often show lifts in trust and conversion

Sarah Din
Sarah Din
Quickbase VP of Product MarketingAugust 12

I honestly customize the framework for each company I work for, but over the year’s I've built my own since I never found anything existing that I really loved. If you want an example, message me and I can share an example.

Competitive positioning is always part of the initial messaging development work, and then I do always have a section in my messaging docs on competitors to talk about competitors at a glance (and unique differentiators), which then links to more detailed competitive intel docs.

Frances Liu
Frances Liu
Instawork Head of MarketingSeptember 1

I borrow from the typical ones mentioned on Sharebird (the box one? mind's failing me here) and modify them based on what I'm messaging. 

Re: competitive positioning, I break it down by 3 segments at a high level and against key value props how we stack up. 

  • Who are incumbents
  • Top direct competitors
  • Adjacents in the space

I try not to get too much in the weeds on features so we focus on benefits. Detailed comparisons are more used as sales enablement.

William Davis
William Davis
Workato Vice President of Product MarketingSeptember 28

There are a few different messaging and persona frameworks I have used for different purposes. Here are a few of my favorites. 

Positioning Statement - this is typically the foundation of any product/GTM positioning. 

  • [Target Customer] For: describe who you're targeting your product at
  • [Statement of need or opportunity] Who: describe the pain or opportunity you're offering the target market
  • [Product name is a product category] List your product name and the product category it belongs to
  • [Statement of key benefit] That: describe the benefits of your product for the target customer
  • [Competiting Alternative] Unlike: describe how your product differentiates from the primary competition (this doesn't necessarily have to only include other vendors but it could be differentiating from the status quo)

First Round had a solid blog on crafting positioning statements a while back-

The other framework we're using is around product/company positioning with a 3rd party consultant which is organized in the following way 

  • Market Category
  • Statement of Differentiation
  • Message Pillars 1, 2, 3, etc. - supports the statement of differentiation and should have mulitple levels of detail depending upon the context...mapping to product/company capabilities
  • Big Idea - "No Software" from Salesforce is the canonical example here 

For personas, it's key to map out the personas that are involved in your deals..typically this will look something like this:

  • Buyer/decision maker
  • User (if not buyer) 
  • Admin (if not user)
  • Technical evaluator
  • Champion (if not buyer) 

Obviously, this is for more of an enterprise sale vs. a PLG model where buyer is user, tech evaluator, champion, etc. I also recently read the Challenger Customer (same authors of the Challenger Sale) and that book has an interesting view of personas. 

Once you define personas, I would map out the following for each:

  • Description of persona 
  • Titles that map to the persona (persona & title should be different) 
  • Role in buying process (listed above) 
  • Skill set mapping as it relates to your product (business & tech acumen, etc.)
  • Goals
  • Pain points
  • Success measures or motivation
  • Real life examples of the persona (can be linkedin profile) 
Marina Ben-Zvi
Marina Ben-Zvi
Atlassian Principal Product Marketing ManagerDecember 14

There are a lot of great frameworks out there and they all have common elements. I recommend reviewing a few and customizing to what’s relevant and actionable for your company. I like to include:

  • our differentiated POV
  • positioning statement (internal-facing)
  • tag-line
  • brand personality
  • value pop
  • 25/50/75 word descriptions
  • 3 messaging pillars with core message, use case, business benefits, and proof points under each
  • high level persona descriptions and messaging by persona

Competitive positioning needs to be at the heart of your messaging. It's the key input that you build your messaging around. Positioning is the strategy and messaging is the execution — the words and narratives that bring your competitive positioning to life and have it land with your personas.

Harsha Kalapala
Harsha Kalapala
AlertMedia Vice President Product MarketingJuly 7

I dont think we should ever mention competitors directly in our messaging. Sure, you can address it directly in response if a prospect brings them up. But proactively naming competitors puts you in a defensive position and gives them undue attention. This usually doesn't work to our advantage. You could position it more generally like:

Unlike (category descriptor) platforms, (our product) helps you solve for x.

There are a handful of good frameworks out there. But I found that none of them perfectly fit your need for a particular company and product portfolio. So I build my own custom one inspired by other frameworks. My own previous custom frameworks at a different company often don't work at a new company entirely. The best frameworks are customized to your need, and the time spent on those is well worth it, in my experience.

Adrienne Joselow
Adrienne Joselow
HubSpot Director of Product MarketingDecember 6

We develop personas in three degrees depending on the need: lightweight, qualitative, and quantitative (statistical). Each of these populate a similar framework: demographic details (job title, geo if applicable, age range, etc), responsibilities/needs/jobs to be done, challenges/pain points, 

Worth mentioning that a companion framework, the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), is often created to establish firmagraphic targeting to complement. 

Competitive insights are typically not included in our persona frameworks (though I hold space for exceptions here in rare cases - i.e. if credentialing on a certain product is part of a job responsibility). Instead, generally, our competitive insights are cultivated and applied in conjunction with the above. From a Challenger model, we aim to reframe the problem, introduce new/improved impavt as a result, and ultimately reveal value. 

Dave Steer
Dave Steer
GitLab Vice President of Product MarketingJanuary 31

My team and I use a Message House framework that covers the following elements:

  • Solution/Product Naming
  • Tagline
  • Positioning Statement
  • Short and Long Descriptions

For the Positioning Strategy, we use a modified version of April Dunford's Obviously Awesome positioning canvas. The canvas, we have found, invites us to be more critical and thorough in our positioning strategy. It includes:

  • Competitive Alternatives
  • Unique Attributes
  • Value
  • Who Cares A Lot

We inform the messaging framework with the positioning canvas, filling in the following elements:

  • Target audience (personas, ICP)
  • Unifying message
  • Pain Points (up to 3)
  • Solutions (up to 3)
  • Key messages (up to 3)
  • Competitive differentiators
  • Proof points/Customer references

It can be quite comprehensive, but when the thinking is crisp, so is the end result -- differentiated positioning and clear, resonant messaging. As you can see, Competitive Positioning is woven through all of this work and strengthens the overall messaging strategy.

Greg Gsell
Greg Gsell
Attentive VP, Product MarketingMarch 23

Competitive positioning and messaging have to be one and the same. When you look at your decks and positioning, you need to do the gut check of "can my competitors say this" and if yes, change your messaging. You need to build competitive differentiation from the first impression through the entire sales cycle and at renewal. 

Katharine Gregorio
Katharine Gregorio
Adobe Sr Director of Product Marketing, Creative CloudNovember 21

The short answer is it depends. I tend to be pretty anti personas as it often ends up being a fancy exercise no one really uses. What I prefer is to have a matrix that can flex to multiple audiences as necessary of what the key messages are that I’m trying to land.  Keeping the audience in mind for this - eg who in the company needs to digest this messaging - execs for approval, an agency turning this into a video, etc - informs how to package this information out.  As far as mentioning the competition, it’s a slippery slope.  I try not to name competition in messaging and use other tools like side by side competition pages (this also often helps for SEO) or assets for sales to help them handle questions.

Rekha Srivatsan
Rekha Srivatsan
Salesforce Vice President Product MarketingFebruary 5

I like the positioning doc to address your audience need, how do you stand out / differentiated, what do you provide and white space. For example, if you have customer need, you can easily come up with the FOR and WHO; if you have white space, you can fill in the UNLIKE; and if you have unique capabilities, you can communicate the PROVIDES and ONLY. It really draws out that CRITICAL THING that defines your company or product.

Jeff Rezabek
Jeff Rezabek
IRONSCALES Director of Product MarketingMarch 22

For me, the messaging and persona framework depend not only on the company but also on whatever framework the sales team uses. Aligning the messaging and personas to these frameworks helps me communicate it to the field and also makes it easier for the field to align and remember the information during the calls.

For example, if the field uses the Force Management's Value Framework, I'll use that. If they use S.P.I.N or S.P.I.C.E, I'll use that. Most of the information will remain the same; it's just how you present it and align it to the framework.

Joe Abbott
Joe Abbott
Brex VP of Product MarketingJune 22

Competitive research is a critical step before you even start your messaging and positioning exercise — I see it as an input rather than an output.

I have a few favorite messaging frameworks and usually combine my favorite elements into one. Geoffrey Moore's classic FOR...WHO...PROVIDES...UNLIKE...ONLY framework (not sure where this originated) is a solid start for messaging. 

For personas, we build cards that cover demographics, sensibilities, responsibilities, pain points, motivations. There's no wrong way to do it but for enablement and internal education, it's best to distill into something easily consumable.

Daniel Palay
Daniel Palay
KPI Sense Chief Executive OfficerMarch 2

My views on competitive positioning are largely stolen from Andy Raskin. Rather than repeat that which I've "adopted" from his writing, I'd suggest looking them up (LinkedIn great place to find a lot of it, and links to the rest).

The persona framework is pretty simple: consider the relevant stakeholders, determine what incentives they are responding to and implicitly discuss your product in the context of those incentives.

Developing Better Messaging
Thursday, April 18 • 12PM PT
Developing Better Messaging
Virtual Event
Helen Ding
Arpita Sharma
Jesse Lopez
Top Product Marketing Mentors
Christy Roach
Christy Roach
AssemblyAI VP of Marketing
Sarah Din
Sarah Din
Quickbase VP of Product Marketing
Jeffrey Vocell
Jeffrey Vocell
Panorama Education Head of Product Marketing
Mary Sheehan
Mary Sheehan
Adobe Head of Lightroom Product Marketing
Jenna Crane
Jenna Crane
Klaviyo Head of Product Marketing
Alex Lobert
Alex Lobert
Meta Product Marketing Lead, Facebook for Business & Commerce
Christine Sotelo-Dag
Christine Sotelo-Dag
ThoughtSpot Senior Director of Product Marketing
Kevin Garcia
Kevin Garcia
Anthropic Product Marketing Leader
Amanda Groves
Amanda Groves
Crossbeam Senior Director Product Marketing
Abdul Rastagar
Abdul Rastagar
GTM Leader | Marketing Author | Career Coach