Successful positioning and messaging are the ingredients for writing and telling your business’s story, so it engages customers, evokes emotions, and drives action. A successful story demands more than creative flair—it requires rigorous research, customer-centricity, and validation. We can take a lesson from the book of skilled authors, who frequently rely on feedback to refine their story. Business too can harness the power of validation research, a form of feedback and testing, to ensure key messages resonate with the intended customers and prospects. In this episode of What’s Your Edge?, we’ll review the role of customer and prospect validation, outline the steps for conducting and using it, and provide some examples along the way.

A Sure Fire Narrative Needs Customer and Prospect Validation

The positioning and messaging process is similar to the writing process. Prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and finally publishing are common steps in both. In the prewriting phase, authors conduct research and develop storyboards and outlines to support their plot and characters and guide their writing. Conducting research is applicable for most writers whether the storyline is fiction or non-fiction; it lays the groundwork for developing the plot and characters to captivate readers from the first to the last page.

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Companies too should use solid research to create a narrative, i.e., messages, comprised of a storyline that captures customers’ and prospects’ attention and compels them to act.

This research is used to construct customer-centric positioning and message  maps that resonate with targets’ aspirations and challenges. Armed with this insight, you can develop a narrative that positions your solution as the hero in the story.

Assumptions can lead to costly missteps. Most authors revise their drafts—many, many times. As part of the revision process, they often gather feedback from potential readers and trusted advisors. In business, this type of feedback or testing occurs during the validation process. Validation is used to learn the extent to which the storyline represents what customers and prospects need, want, expect, and prefer. Writers use the feedback to revise and edit their drafts to help ensure the final work will be market-worthy. Feedback from the validation process facilitates editing and revising the messaging to minimize the risk of failed initiatives and avoid investing resources to bring positioning and messaging to life that will fall flat with your customers.

Focus Your Validation Research on Three Customer-Centric Story Elements

Before a work can be reviewed and revised, it must be drafted. During drafting, writers form their ideas into complete thoughts, represented in sentences and paragraphs. They organize these ideas in a way that allows the reader to understand the message, i.e., they are customer-centric. To ensure your positioning and messaging are customer-centric, you will want to address and then validate at least the following three areas:

1. Aligns with Customer Expectations: Just as writers study reader preferences and trends, your positioning and messaging benefits from delving into customer insights. Conduct customer and prospect surveys and interviews and analyze market trends to gain invaluable insights into the desires, pain points, and aspirations of your target customers.

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Example: A cosmetics brand seeking to launch a new skincare line conducts validation research among its target demographic. It discovers its audience values natural ingredients and cruelty-free products. By aligning its messaging with these values, the brand can position its skincare line as a sustainable and ethical choice, resonating with environmentally conscious consumers.

Example: A software company aiming to launch a new project management tool conducts surveys and interviews with target customers. It discovers its audience values ease of use and seamless integration with existing workflows. Armed with this insight, the company tailors its messaging to highlight simplified project management and enhanced productivity.

2. Mitigates Customer Risks and Pitfalls: Conflict drives the narrative in a story plot. Setting clear outcomes and understanding the obstacles your customers face is akin to defining the central conflict in a plot. Identifying the conflicts and pain points your customers and prospects experience is crucial for effective messaging.

Message claims and associated evidence should articulate the goals your customers want to achieve, the challenges they encounter along the way, and how your solution helps overcome them. Whether it’s conquering inefficiencies, addressing frustrations, or solving challenges, your messaging should offer a resolution that alleviates conflicts and fulfills your customers’ needs. By addressing these obstacles head-on and positioning your product or service as the solution, you can create a compelling narrative that motivates action.

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Example: A technology startup plans to introduce a new mobile app targeting young professionals. Through research, it uncovers a preference for intuitive user interfaces and seamless user experiences among its target audience. By addressing these preferences in its messaging, the company mitigates the risks of user dissatisfaction and low adoption rates.

Example: A clothing brand plans to launch a new line of athleisure wear targeting young professionals. Through research, it uncovers a preference for sustainable and eco-friendly materials among its target audience. Armed with this insight, the brand develops its messaging to highlight the environmentally conscious aspects of its products, mitigating the risk of alienating environmentally conscious consumers.

3. Enhances Brand Preference: Edelman’s Trust Barometer revealed that 81% of customers need to be able to trust the brand to buy from it. Your message map and positioning need to convey that your brand is authentic, relevant, and trustworthy, thereby strengthening brand preference and fostering long-term customer loyalty.

Example: A financial services firm conducts focus groups with existing customers to gain insight into potential messaging strategies for its retirement planning services. It discover its audience values personalized advice and transparent communication. By incorporating these elements into its messaging, the firm enhances its brand preference as a trusted advisor in financial matters.

Captivate Customers With Your Excellent Message Map 

A good story requires a plot, characters, and a theme. Such is the case with a message map.

Structure your message map to keep your customers engaged and guide them through a journey of contact, connections, conversation, consideration, and consumption. Unexpected plot twists add excitement to the story just as incorporating

unexpected elements into your messaging will capture your customers’ attention and pique their curiosity. Whether it’s unveiling a new product feature, announcing a limited-time offer, or sharing a surprising customer success story, these twists and turns add intrigue and keep your audience engaged.

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Developing compelling characters is fundamental to a captivating plot. Similarly, in business defining personas is crucial for effective messaging and positioning. Each persona represents a distinct character in your narrative, with their own needs, desires, and pain points. By understanding your customer personas, you can create messaging that resonates with them on a personal level, making them feel understood and valued.

Themes give depth to a plot. Define key themes for your messaging that convey your brand’s values and resonate with your customers and prospects. Whether it’s emphasizing trust, innovation, sustainability, responsiveness, or something else, themes infuse your messaging with meaning and relevance.

6 Steps for Conducting Customer and Prospect Validation Research 

With the story written, it’s time to roll out the validation tests. Rewrites and edits are part of life for writers. Validation is about embracing feedback. By using the following six steps to validate messaging and positioning, you can refine your approach based on real-world customer-centric feedback, maximizing the impact of your efforts.

1. Define Objectives and Criteria: Start by clearly defining the objectives of the validation process and the criteria for success. Determine what specific aspects of messaging and positioning you aim to validate, such as clarity, relevance, differentiation, or emotional resonance.

Example: An electronics manufacturer aims to validate messaging for its new line of smart home devices. Its objectives include assessing customers’ understanding of the solution’s key features and perceived value versus that of a primary competitor and identifying keywords and data triggers that drive purchase decisions.

2. Identify Target Audience: Identify the target customer segments most relevant to the messaging and positioning being validated. Consider factors such as demographics, psychographics, and buyer personas to ensure representative feedback.

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Example: A beauty brand targeting millennials and Gen Z consumers conducts validation research specifically among this demographic group. It segments its audience based on factors such as age, gender, income level, and beauty preferences to ensure feedback is relevant and actionable.

3. Craft Validation Materials: Develop materials such as messaging frameworks, value propositions, and positioning statements. Ensure the materials are concise, coherent, and aligned with the brand’s values and objectives.

Example: A software-as-a-service (SaaS) startup creates a messaging framework outlining the key benefits of its product. The framework includes value propositions, elevator pitches, and customer testimonials as evidence to provide a comprehensive overview of the product’s value proposition.

4. Select Validation Methods: Choose appropriate validation methods based on the objectives and target audience. Common methods include surveys, focus groups, one-on-one interviews, A/B testing, or usability testing. Consider using a combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches for comprehensive insights.

Example: A product marketing team may create two versions of a product description—one emphasizing cost savings and the other focusing on productivity gains. By testing these variations with different segments of the company’s target audience, they can identify which resonates more strongly and adjust their messaging accordingly.

Example: A healthcare provider conducts one-on-one interviews with patients to validate messaging for its new telemedicine service. It asks open-ended questions to understand patients’ perceptions, preferences, and concerns regarding virtual healthcare visits, allowing for in-depth qualitative insights.

5. Collect and Analyze Feedback: Gather feedback from customers and prospects using the chosen validation methods. Analyze the data collected to identify recurring themes, insights, and areas for improvement. Look for patterns in the feedback to inform adjustments to messaging and positioning.

Example: A hospitality brand collects feedback from guests through post-stay surveys and online reviews to validate messaging for its loyalty program. It analyzes feedback related to program benefits, ease of redemption, and overall satisfaction to identify areas where messaging can be clarified or enhanced.

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6. Edit and Refine: As the feedback pours in, it’s time to make appropriate edits.  Based on the insights gained from validation, iterate your messaging and positioning to address any identified gaps or opportunities. This may involve tweaking language, adjusting tone, or revising key value propositions based on customer preferences. Test the revised messaging with additional validation rounds to ensure continuous improvement and alignment with customer needs.

Example: A consumer packaged goods company revises messaging for its new product based on feedback from validation surveys. It emphasizes specific product features highlighted by customers and adjusts language to better resonate with target audience segments. After implementing changes, it conducts follow-up validation to confirm effectiveness.

If customers express confusion about a particular feature highlighted in the messaging, this final step in the validation phase helps clarify the benefits or explore alternative ways to communicate its value. By iterating on messaging based on customer feedback, you can ensure it resonates more effectively with the target audience.

Confidently Launch Your Positioning and Messaging to The World 

By conducting thorough research, deploying effective validation tests, and iterating based on customer feedback, you can produce messaging and positioning that resonate like a bestseller. Just as authors launch their works, businesses unveil their refined messaging and positioning strategies to the world. Confidently bring your positioning and messaging to fruition, knowing they’ve been thoroughly validated by your target customers and prospects. Start your positioning and messaging process with our affordable, easy-to-use, and time-tested workbook, “Employ the Power of Positioning and Messaging.positioning and messaging workbook

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