When your platform does many things, how do you prioritize your messaging hierarchy?
You nailed why platform products are difficult to message. This is also why I think they are more fun than working on “point solutions.” (Please forgive me for using that heinous jargon.)
In the best-case scenario, you can identify an overarching value proposition for using the platform that resonates with your primary audience and helps them quickly understand the space you’re in. Then you prioritize use cases/solutions based on how frequently customers adopt them or their revenue value to your company. You want to make it easy for each customer group to be able to find the relevant use cases or value propositions for your platform. This can be done through website navigation, collaborating with your growth teams on which campaigns drive to which pages, and helping your sales team identify what problems or customer characteristics would cause them to focus on a particular use case over another.
This will depend on what your product/service/platform does and who the target audience is. For instance, in one of my previous roles, we had one product for one audience. Of course the platform was extensible, had different feature sets, but the value was easy to articulate to one audience. On the other hand, in my current role at Handshake, we have a three-sided talent marketplace with very different products and audiences. We tackle this by having one company value prop and then tailor specific messaging to each side of the business.
Remember that messaging should not be a feature list. From the article I shared in another question, try this exercise to get started on determining your hierarchy:
- Define your target audience(s)
- Articulate their problem statement(s)
- Describe how your product/service/platform helps said audience with said problem
This is, of course, an over-simplified exercise (you’d also want to understand the competitive landscape and what makes your product unique), but it helps get to the value. Once you complete this for one or multiple product areas, try and draw some similarities across to ladder up to a company value prop. Your business should be able to take all of that and distill into 1-2 sentences to describe itself to your buyer (and even to someone outside of the space).
Often times, we say our platform has unlimited possibilities, it's the art of the possible -- because it truly is. But it doesn’t help the customer understand our unique differentiator vs any other option in the market. Starting with themes has been helpful to simplify the messaging hierarchy. We need to simplify the message, so it’s memorable. If we cannot do that, no matter how great the messaging sounds, it will be forgotten the next second.
We developed a messaging and positioning framework to help articulate customer needs and our value proposition across 4 main themes - Connect, Modernize, Transform and Innovate. It was simple to remember and helped anchor our portfolio messaging and positioning to those pillars.
When I was at Stripe, we offered upwards of a dozen products on our platform that go way beyond payments processing—from products for incorporation and billing management to fraud prevention and managing corporate spending. To manage the growing complexity, we introduced the concept of Anchor Tenants at Stripe this year. (This term comes from American malls, where there may be a large store that draws customers and traffic for the smaller stores.)
For us, those are our core products: Payments (payments acceptance), Connect (marketplaces and platforms), and Billing (recurring revenue and invoicing). These products serve the most common use cases that customers and prospects approach Stripe with. The rest of our products serve as add-ons to optional tools to help streamline your business operations. Getting this alignment is critical because we’ll focus our go-to-market efforts accordingly. It also helps reduce the cognitive overhead for customers to start on Stripe.
We still have a ways to go on this, but I’m excited by the directional approach we’ve begun to take. An example of a company that does this “progressive reveal” really well is Hubspot, often described by users as being there to “catch them as they grow”.
In my opinion, the most important thing in prioritizing your messaging is finding the common denominator across your platform. Does it create a new output, or solve a new problem, or enable a new style of working, for example. Then you prioritize that in your messaging hierarchy, and use the various things that your platform does as means to support that new narrative. For example, DocuSign's platform is composed of our ecosystem, our developer tools, our foundational infrastructure and our security and compliance. It allows a customer to control their own roadmap for agreements, because customers can trust that DocuSign is going to work for their needs (availability and security) and that it can support new use cases regardless of the specific path to usage (integrations or custom development).
So the platform does a lot, but the goal is to talk about what commonality comes out of all of those items working in tandem. That's the thing to focus messaging on, which will come to you if you focus on market context, the customer's pain points, and your differentiated point of view. From there, let what your platform does be the secondary part of your messaging.
Great question! You can consider your target buyers and prioritize messaging based on your top personas. This will help your field tremendously too. You can also identify common customer outcomes and make sure you map your buyers to expected outcomes to the general vision of the platform. Aligning all of this will help you really synthesize the top value prop of your platform.
Your platform sits within a hierarchy itself (e.g., working bottom-up, messaging at the feature/function level are subordinate to product, to platform, to suite, to solutions, to corporate, to brand messaging). In other words, messaging cascades downwards from your mission and brand promise. Messaging at every level should map back to the previous level while telling its own story. Follow the MECE principle.
Within your platform itself, prioritize the unique selling point. What about it drives the most value for your customers? List the top 3 buckets. Then for each bucket, note down whether it helps your customer unlock "new" value, "better" value, or "more" of the same value. Prioritize new, better, more -- in that order.
Think about what matters most to your customer, and then what matters most to your company.
Is your base platform something which your customers will natively interact with and drive value from?
Is it something that a new user in your target accounts will benefit from (eg, developers) ?
Or is your platform something that allows you to accelerate development, so the customer sees more value from the platform faster?
Thinking through this will tell you how to build your messaging. While most companies want the platform concept to take center stage, it might not be right for your customer. Or it might appeal to one audience more than another. Or, your platform might really just be like a "feature" that customers only need to know about tangentially.
Thank you for some wonderful frameworks and inputs on messaging and positioning. I have seen a trend especially across many segments - particularly in enterprise - to move from products to solutions to platforms. I had written a blog last year what that means, especially if the goal is to position a "platform" versus point products or point solutions. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/products-solutions-ecosystems-why-what-how-savita-kini/
In order for a "true platform" -- there needs to be an ecosystem approach in the go-to-market where you can allow other companies / startups/ISVs to build on top of your platform via APIs etc. I thought I will share this perspective here as it relates to messaging and positioning.
In addition to the excellent points on the messaging hierarchy -- I also recommend a one slide that summarizes the "executive industry perspective to the platform" and then the how is the solutions and point products. There is also an important nuance and distinction between what is a solution versus a point product.
Will leave it for another discussion.
I generally look at it like this: Use Case -> Business Case -> Story.
Starting with the use cases, I think about what people actually do with this platform (cue the "two Bobs" from "Office Space"). Then I think about how those capabilities translate into solutions to real problems, as different stakeholders experience them (that last part is absolutely critical, by the way). Those are my business cases.
Once I have my business cases, I can do one of two things. Either, I can see that one, more than any other, represents the primary value of the product, both now and likely into the future. But the evidence must be pretty overwhelming for me to feel comfortable with this. More likely, I start looking for common, but not immediately obvious, threads across business cases. When I find some that are compelling, those become the building blocks for the story.
There will be times that each of the three will be used in messaging. Use cases will typically be "supporting evidence" to prove how something will be transformational; business cases will usually be directed at a specific stakeholder; the story will appear to be the "universal truth" from which the use and business cases emanate (even though that is actually backwards).
Does this help?