How To Build Your First Messaging and Positioning Framework
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that a Messaging and Positioning Framework is the most important asset in your marketing toolkit. At Wheels Up, it’s the very first thing we do with every client because it ensures that any work we do is aligned and advancing prospects and clients to higher value engagements. But, it’s also the most challenging thing we do - distilling a whole lot of copy and opinions into concise, inspiring messaging is just plain hard.
We have a client, TrueRoll, that has just gone through a renaming and branding process and we came on board to help them with a new website. It was the perfect time to build their first Messaging and Positioning Framework. The project took a few weeks of discovery, research, copywriting, back-and-forth, and edits. But when we were done, we could hand the framework to our web content strategist and she was able to build out the entire website’s content with relatively few revisions. I’d bet that the work we did on the front end developing the framework saved us hours in the site building process, and we got a tighter final product to boot.
What is a Messaging and Positioning Framework?
A MPF is a single document that describes your product or service’s unique value propositions and differentiations. It organizes this information from the highest level to fairly granular, feature-specific copy. It aligns messaging so any marketing content you build is advancing your key value propositions. It has the sign off of anyone in your organization who needs to approve messaging - streamlining your content development process.
How long does the Messaging and Positioning Framework last?
Most MPFs are medium-term documents. What exactly medium-term means will be different depending on your organization. If you’re a brand new startup that’s still trying to prove out product-market fit, that’s probably 6 months. If you’re an established company that doesn’t have any plans to change offerings, then 18 months is usually about right. MPFs are always something that we have on our to-review list during strategic planning. Even quarterly, it’s worth a quick check in to make sure the messaging is still spot on. It’s much easier to make small tweaks as you go and learn than to wait for it to be totally irrelevant and have to start over from scratch. That said, work hard to make sure that any changes you make are extremely intentional and appropriate.
What makes a MPF such a valuable marketing tool? In short, alignment and focus.
It includes a mosaic of considerations. During your discovery step, consider voices from across your organization - sellers, client services, product, customers, industry partners. They all have different, but valuable perspectives - and it’ll help you build messaging that resonates with everyone interacting with your brand.
It gets leadership aligned. Since you’ll be including leadership in the process of building and approving your framework, you’ll preemptively have buy-in going forward. It can be a great “reminder” tool (wink wink) to help get projects across the finish line with senior team members since you all, very intentionally, agreed on this framework and its shelf life.
It’s a primer you can hand to anyone to get them up to speed, fast. Since it includes a map of the market landscape and how you fit into it, if you did a good job, it’ll be all a freelance copywriter needs to tackle most any marketing project you give him or her.
It helps focus your content strategy. With approved value props and feature messaging, it literally dictates pieces of your content with copy-and-paste ease. And using it this way will ensure that your messaging is consistent across all your marketing. As a bonus, if you’re grappling with some writer’s block, look over your existing content and see what pieces of your MPF you’ve missed or haven’t touched on recently. Then find the story to support that.
Getting started: How to build your first Messaging and Positioning Framework
As Wheels Up's resident MPF lackey, I typically tackle it in this order:
Research the messaging that’s already out there - like an existing website and any available marketing collateral. Product or solution information like data sheets, explainer videos, or even support documentation can help make sure you understand what you’re representing from a technical perspective. Any customer testimonials, case studies, or even support notes will help you see what the client values. Strategic insight from leadership will give you a clear vision of where the company is going. Then external content - your due diligence google search - will ensure that you know what the outside perspective is.
Listen to people talk about it - If you’re really paying attention, in person or video interviews are going to give you clues that aren’t anywhere in print but are likely the key to really codifying what’s special about the brand. Go in armed with a list of questions, but I like to just let people talk - they inevitably bubble up what’s really important.
When you’re doing your discovery work, take lots of notes about what jumps out at you. I end up writing mostly single words that jump out. Inevitably, the same words pop out across many different sources. When that happens, you know you’re onto something.
Get it on paper - Now that you’ve compiled your mosaic of voices, it’s time to start writing. At this point it’s a personal preference. The framework is shaped like your funnel - it goes from high level, aspirational messaging, to the individual features’ interpretations for each persona. Where you start and which order you go is entirely up to you. When I’m building frameworks, it’s rarely linear and never the same. Usually when I’m done discovery, at least one section seems easy so I start there. The key is to just get a draft started.
Put it away and come back later - My personal process usually takes a few days to get to a v1 because I like to work on it, then leave it for a day or two and come back to it with fresh(er) eyes. Don’t worry if you get stuck on some of the sections - you might not need them for your brand. And ultimately you don’t have to build this alone - there’s lots of collaboration coming up in the next step. The important thing is to get a first draft that’s far enough along that when you bring your collaborators together, there’s something to work on.
Gather your squad and review - Select a few important people to help wordsmith the first draft. It’s ideal if you can include cross functional collaborators, senior enough that they’ll ultimately be on the final approval list. Set the stage with your group that this is the first draft. It’s a safe space to give really candid feedback (and set your own expectations if you’re not super comfortable getting constructive feedback). You all have to LOVE the finished product, and it’s going to take work on everyone’s part to get there.
Edit, review, edit review - You don’t need to include every one of your initial review group in every edit pass. But keep pushing until everyone can feel great about the messaging. This is really important! It’s the only way you’ll be able to stick to your guns and enforce the locked approval for the shelf life of your final framework. It's helpful to keep remembering the intended use for this document as you're editing. If you have a growing sales organization, it will be super helpful to be able to hand a new hire this framework to get them up to speed. If you need help building a content calendar, you can use this framework as a basis for your content matrix to figure out where you have gaps in your existing content.
Approval - The approval list will depend on your organization, but you need to make sure that anyone in leadership who cares signs off on this final product. Here’s where you need to work your champions in the C-Suite to get buy-in from groups that you have less experience working with. Be sure to include a pre-read that reestablishes the point of the document, its intended use, the shelf life, and that by signing off on this copy, it’s approved to be copied and pasted and used as written in marketing materials.
The individual components of your own MPF depend on your company stage, competitive landscape, and offerings. Here’s the template that we use to build all our client’s Messaging and Positioning Frameworks. Just make a copy and go to work! You may not need every one of these sections, but it’s a good place to start. Remember, this is likely one of the hardest thing you’ll need to accomplish as a marketer. Crystalizing exceptional messaging is a skill that you need to develop and practice. And aligning stakeholders to buy-in to the endeavor is a skill in influence and alignment that doesn’t come naturally to most people. Find allies, stay positive and relentless, and keep at it until you can say you LOVE the messaging. Good luck!
If you’d like to tackle building a MPF for your company and need a hand, we’d love to help.