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How Competitive Intelligence Can Create Messaging That Resonates

Nailing messaging and positioning is one of the toughest tasks for product marketers. Hours of countless market research, talking with the sales team, big (and sometimes expensive) branding exercises—all in an effort to craft the Most Perfect Messaging Ever. Unfortunately, once you have your Most Perfect Messaging Ever, it often does not resonate with your market in the way you expected. What gives?

Well, you may have fallen victim to The Cup Holder Conundrum.

The Cup Holder Conundrum is when a company highlights new features or upsells their latest product, but completely overlooks what the customer actually cares about. For example, car manufacturers have commercials highlighting all the latest features, but all the buyer really cares about are the cup holders. It’s not just cars—this conundrum can be true for any industry. If you’re selling a CRM/reporting software, your buyer may simply care about emailing dashboards to their sales team every day—not about all the latest bells and whistles.

The Cup Holder Conundrum comes about when you can’t get out of your own head—so look outward! A mix of smart market research and competitive intelligence will help you nail that messaging and avoid the dreaded conundrum altogether.

Get the Guide to Competitive Intelligence for Product Marketers

Here are a couple of ways you can get out of your head and nail that messaging.

Analyze the Current Messaging in Your Market

Staying on top of your competitors’ positioning and messaging is extremely important. Here are two stats to consider:

  1. 50%-90% of the buyer’s journey is complete before a buyer reaches out to sales (protocol80)
  2. By 2020, 80% of the buying process is expected to occur without any direct human-to-human interaction. (Forrester)

What this means is that prospects are doing all of their research up front on both you and your competitors. If your messaging is too similar, it will be tough to differentiate yourself. Conversely, if you’re too different, it might confuse the prospect and give them the impression that you’re not able to solve their problem.

Here are some key signals to monitor on your competitors’ websites to help inform your messaging:

Changes to Their Website Product Pages

Product pages are a key source of intel when researching your competition. Besides the homepage, the product page is normally where the prospect will go right before requesting a demo, or filling out a contact form. Monitoring the changes to your competitors’ product pages will help you understand how they are shifting their positioning and strategy.

New Pages or Sections Added/ Removed

Much like changes to a product page, monitoring any new pages or sections added or removed from a competitors’ website will give you a better idea of where they might be going with their messaging and positioning. Much like the previous example, new pages or sections added to pages can be due to a variety of things like product launches, product updates, or even hiring a new person in the C-suite—all key pieces of intel you’ll want to know about your competitors.

PR Announcements

Keeping track of competitors’ PR announcements is essential because it can clue you in on strategic changes to their business. Product launches being the most important and obvious one—knowing the second a competitor launches a new product (or new product features) will help you hone and differentiate your own messaging. Other announcements like opening a new office location often indicates that a company is breaking into a new geo, which might require you to adjust your messaging for that particular market.

Changes to Company Profiles Across Third-party Platforms

Another signal that will tell you what your competitor is up to is how they are presenting themselves in their profiles across social media and other third-party channels. Any updates made to a competitor’s profile often indicates a significant shift in strategy—something you should always be aware of the moment it happens.

Talk to Your Customers

There’s no better way to understand your market than by learning directly from your customers. Using the words your customers use to describe your product or company is a great way to craft messaging that will resonate. Here are a few key exercises you can execute on with your customers.

Customer Surveys

Conducting a survey helps you identify overall trends happening across your customer base. You can use the survey to identify pain points, get feedback on your product, triage feature requests, and more. Remember that nothing will resonate with your target customers more than their own words.

1:1 Interviews

1:1 interviews with customers are a great way to get a qualitative picture of their pain points, needs, etc. While this tactic won’t give you overall trends like a mass survey, it will help enrich your messaging by giving it a bit more authenticity.

Customer Success and/or Support Calls

Similar to 1:1 interviews, customer support and/or success calls won’t give you a birds-eye-view of your customers’ pain points and needs, but it will give you a more complete picture. Ask one of your colleagues in Support or Customer Success if you can sit in on a call once a month or so—you’ll find it to be worthwhile.

Third-party Reviews

Third-party review sites are a great source of intel because you get an unbiased view of how users feel about your product and your competitors’ product. If your competitor has enough reviews, you can glean insights about their strengths, weaknesses, customer service, and customer happiness. Are any of their weaknesses one of your strengths? Maybe they have a slick product, but their customer service is lacking? Be sure to capitalize on that insight in your messaging via your website, sales calls, and other customer-facing outlets sources.

As the Market Shifts, So Must Your Messaging

Your market is going to shift and evolve no matter your industry. When a competitor’s product changes or the needs of your customers shift, your product must evolve to keep up with the demands of the market. When it comes time for a messaging and positioning change, make sure you listen to what the market is telling you by gathering the right mix of market research and competitive intelligence to hit on what your target audience actually cares about—and avoid the Cup Holder Conundrum at all costs. 

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Lauren Kersanske
Lauren Kersanske was previously the Director of Demand Generation at Crayon. Prior to Crayon, she was the Senior Demand Generation Manager at Cybereason, where she built and led digital strategy across the team including campaigns, lead nurturing, conversion optimization, ABM, and more. Previously, she was the Marketing Director at Hexadite, a cybersecurity startup acquired by Microsoft for $100 million, and HubSpot, as Lead Nurturing Manager for North America. Lauren loves the (good) chaos of startup life, and plans on doing it again and again.