Message-Market Fit Trumps Product-Market Fit?

Product – Market Fit is an important concept in very early stage start-ups.  It is the thing that is perceived by founders and investors alike as THE milestone to signify that customers want the product and it is time to accelerate growth investments.  As Marc Andreessen is quoted as saying, “Product/market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market”. Blogger Sean Ellis (@seanellis) of defines Product Market Fit as the time when 40% of your initial customers say they would be  “very disappointed” without your product.  Netscape’s CEO Jim Barksdale said it in a bit more folksy way, “It’s not dog food if the dogs don’t come off the porch and eat it.”  Product market fit, implies that it is indeed dog food that’s in your dog food can.  So, now, we gotta let the dogs know it’s time to come and get it.

However, as Dan Olsen (@danolsen), author of The Lean Product Playbook, discusses in this slideshare entitled, “How to Achieve Messaging-Market Fit” Message-Market Fit is determined by “How appealing the messaging sounds” to the customer, not by how well the product meets their needs as in Product-Market Fit.  Dan goes on to give a good primer on the basics of good messaging and positioning.

In my book, Launching to Leading, I dive deeply into the market leadership life-cycle and what that leaders must do to breakthrough and lead.  Here, let’s use the lens of Message-Market fit to frame this discussion.  There are three levels of Message Market fit that you must achieve to lead and win your market. Let’s call there Level I Value Fit, Level II- Unique Value Fit and Level III – Viewpoint Fit.  Moving through all 3 of these levels is necessary as you grow from launching to leading your market.  Let’s take a quick look at these three levels.

Message Market Fit Level I – Value Fit –  When we launch and start to invest in growth marketing, many are at a Level 1 Value fit.  Value fit means we have articulated a set of benefits that our initial set of customers are willing to pay for.  And that this value is greater than the cost of acquisition and ongoing use or implementation of the solution, it has a positive ROI.  Unfortunately, at this level of fit, we are only launching into the market, we are not yet moving toward leadership.   To begin to participate in shaping and leading the market, we must move to a Level II message market fit, Unique Value.

Message Market Fit Level II – Unique Value – To achieve this level of Message Market fit, we must move from Value to Unique Value.  Unique Value are the benefits we can deliver to the market that the competitive alternatives, be they other products, services, build you own, or do nothing, can not.  And these Unique Values must matter more to the customer than any Unique Values that our competitors can deliver.  And, this is NOT a feature discussion, it is a benefit one.  Unique Value is the first time we begin to establish our participation in the market as a leader.  This level of fit is how we win competitive deals, but it can be expensive, bloody street fighting.  To really breakthrough and lead, we must move to Level III of Message-Market Fit, Viewpoint Fit, and in doing so we tilt the entire market battle in our favor.

Message Market Fit Level III, Viewpoint Fit – This level of Message Market fit operates at a level above the other two, that of context as opposed to direct benefit.  When we achieve this level of fit, we answer perhaps the most challenging question of all, why should customers listen to us in the first place.  How do we rise above the cacophony of noise in the marketplace to get attention so we can communicate our Level II Unique value to more and more receptive prospects?

Customers live in their context, not ours.  To achieve Level III Message Market First, we must relate our uniqueness to the customer’s world.  We must show them why we matter, and why our mattering aligns to their world and it’s challenges and opportunities.  We should them how our unique approach, our mindset, our innovation aligns with their world and how it can be the magical power that can make their world so so much better. I call this telling your Viewpoint Story, and you can read more about how in the detailed blog series here.

Market are conversations.  These conversations are framed in the customer’s world and in the known approaches to solving their problems.  By starting our conversation with prospects with a Viewpoint anchored in their world, we raise our importance, breakthrough, AND actually can grow our Unique Value.  Leaders with Level III Message-Market fit start and end their stories with the customer and their reality.

Product-Market fit is a necessary first step to growth.  However, without paying close attention to Message-Market fit, and driving through the 3 levels of Message-Market fit, companies will stall and fail to grow despite having a product that fits the market.  And who wants to join the set of companies who solve a problem but fail to matter.

“Filming” Your Blockbuster B2B Go To Market Story

Much is made by many including myself of getting your go to market narrative and value messaging nailed. SO IMPORTANT. Without a great story and value messaging, you can NEVER reach and leverage Message-Market Fit and achieve and grow market leadership. Aligning your value with customer transformation; making your customer the hero and your product/solution the magic in their journey is critical to success. Like a blockbuster movie, your story or script has to be great.

However, while all blockbuster movies have great scripts, many of the best scripts are never great movies because of a failure of creative execution and/or lack of effective promotion and distribution. It takes not just a great writer and great script, but an excellent creative team (director, actors, camera, sound etc…) and targeted and successful distribution/promotion to make a great movie.

Likewise, to build a blockbuster Go To Market success you need not only a great story, but great creative execution across all your go to market assets (Website, collateral, explainer video, sales deck, product experience…) and targeted and high impact promotion and distribution. Well known SaaS business leader Jason Lemkin writes on his site SaaStr, “Your Marketing Site Really Should Be Even Better Than Your Product” and this is all about great creative execution, strong narrative and value messaging. And as every marketer knows, in the crowded market targeting, selecting, and executing high impact demand generation programs is also critical to success.

Sorry no short cuts to success, don’t under-invest in your script (narrative, messaging and positioning), your creative execution, or your targeted promotion and and distribution strategy. It starts with the script, then moves to the creative and “ends” with the promotion. So when thinking about your blockbuster Go to Market, remember this simple equation:

Great story+ Amazing creative+ Targeted and leveraged promotion = Blockbuster

See you in the market – Ken

Instead of a Top 10 List, How about a Marketing Festivus…

or My 3 Top Marketing Grievances for the Year

I’m actually feeling quite optimistic for the year 2020 for B2B Marketers…but I guess I’ve gotten overwhelmed with Top 10 lists and feel like I have to get a few things off of my proverbial chest before settling into my lounge chair for a mid-week break of more football, champagne and chili! So, in no particular order…

Grievance #1 – “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated, ” said Mark Twain the CMO

A mere seven years ago, I blogged in disagreement about a then popular post by Andrew Chen entitled, Growth Hacker is the New VP of Marketing. Well, as Andy Johns of Unusual Ventures points out in his Jan of 2019 post entitled, a post mortem on growth hacking, Growth Hacking is in decline, and fundamentals of product, product market fit, and positioning still matter in B2C and I’d add in B2B organizations.

Now in 2019, the siren call of the Death of the CMO is summarized in this 2018 post by Edwin Abl, entitled Chief Revenue Officers: Why They Are Replacing CMO’s.

I will save a point by point rebuttal on this latter claim for another blog. Suffice it to say, organizations that eliminate CMOs run the risk of not only short term thinking and loss of vision, but also greatly underrate the value of the right CMO as the balancing point between sales, product and strategy.

Grievance #2 – King Me? – Category is Not Always the Winning Marketing Strategy

After the CRO, the next hottest trend is being a Category King, popularized by the book Play Bigger, and now the siren call sung by investors to all B2B CMOs.

I don’t argue with the data presented that “Category Kings” get far better returns and you should strive to be one. But my grievance is in the timing (always now) and the process (pick the category then build around it). Category building is NOT for everyone all the time. Sometimes we are sadly not the first mover, and sometimes the market isn’t ready for a new category.

But my biggest gripe here, is the idea that category is some amazing short cut to success. We have to start with our story, what makes us unique, and the transformational value we have to our customers. Until you understand those, you can’t create message market fit, let alone become a “category king”. As my one client so succinctly said to me, “I thought the strategy should drive the story, but now after our work together I understand the story should drive the strategy.” So just like the CRO is not a silver bullet, neither is the “self-declaration” of Category.

Grievance #3 – “Not All Wine Turns to Vinegar” – Endemic Age Discrimination in The Valley?

Last month, a well know executive recruited made a post on LinkedIn that really got under my skin (It appears it’s now been deleted, so all of this is from memory.) Essentially, the post said, ‘don’t hire an experienced CMO, hire an up and comer’. It went on to imply that experience will stifle innovation and those experienced folks can’t be up to date on the latest in marketing, harkening back to Grievance 1 :). The not so subtle message I saw implied (whether intended or not) was don’t hire anyone over 35 to be your CMO. In my response, I pointed out that some of the most innovative marketers I know are “experienced”, and that there is a LOT to the job beyond knowing the latest and greatest tech.

But beyond this post, I see age discrimination as a significant problem in the valley. With people’s careers stretching well into their sixties, and with older parents the new norm around here, more and more “older” workers are going to be around. And they can add so much to even small start ups. We should hire to the job, NOT to some pre-supposed profile, be it age, sex, race, religion or sexual orientation. In my mentoring and advising of later career folks, I see them struggling with this issue consistently. The valley might be seen as funding young 20-somethings to find the next Zuck hiding in his or her dorm room, but folks in their 40s, 50s and even 60s can be key contributors to every firm at every stage. Find the right person at the right time for the right job, and if it’s a 28 year old from another start up and you are ready to take a chance on them, great, but be open to all!

Well, I had fun airing some of my grievances, join me below in my Festivus celebration by adding a few of yours!

The Four Marketers You Need in Your Start-up

Building your initial go to market team in your start up is hard. You’ve got to balance domain expertise and functional expertise, experience and energy and cultural fit. Add to that, the role of marketing is so complex, you’ve also got to balance within the marketing domain. And it’s kinda a -zero sum game. I recently chatted with Masha Sedova of Co-Founder of Elevate Security on how she’s tackling these challenges, and you can hear her perspective here.

One way to tackle this challenge I have found useful is to think of your needs on two dimensions, Brand v. Demand and Strategic v. Tactical. If you look at this graphically, it leaves these four quadrants, which I’ve labeled at the Promoter, The Storyteller, The Growth Partner and the Demand Generator. Let’s take a look at each of the Archetype marketers.

In the upper right we have the Promoter. The promoter is a master of PR, Events and Social. They get attention and know how to work the very important influence channels that create and shape markets and market perception.

In the bottom right, we have the Storyteller. Often you’ll see them with Product Marketing backgrounds or titles. They know how to shape your message and target it to every audience that matters. Pair them with the promoter, and you’ve got the message and the means to get the word out.

At the bottom left we have the Growth Partner. A skilled negotiator and communicator, they are masters at taking your message and massaging it to get the attention and action of partners, whether suppliers or providers. They understand market dynamics and how to “growth hack” into existing channels and demand flow.

Lastly at the upper left you have the Demand Generator. They are all about leads and about managing the lead flow through the funnel. They speak the language of SEO/SEM, Content Syndication and Programs. When the funnel needs building, look to them.

The challenge of course for nearly all early start-ups is they need all 4 of these people and only have the budget for one or two right now. That’s why sequencing hires and matching hires to business priorities is so critical. But once you understand the 4 types of marketers you need, you have the starting point to getting this right. In my next blog I’ll provide some guidance on sequencing and prioritizing these hires, and how to recognize the elusive 3 or even 4 tool player!

Renaissance Man – The Amazing Skills of Great Go To Market Leaders

Renaissance Man, he can do most anything, Renaissance Man, paint, sculpt, design and sing – @historyteacherz Youtube

Go to Market Leadership is hard because it requires so much of a person.  Especially in today’s fast paced, technology driven market, a true go to market leader must be a Renaissance Man (or Woman). Today’s go to market leader must do most anything, she must paint a picture (messaging and positioning), she must sculpt (a set of programs and automation)  she must design (a coherent offering) and sing it all out to an ever skeptical internal and external marketplace. You must be a Go to Market polymath!

In my last post, I covered the knowledge needed to be a great go to market leader, a true Jedi Master like Yoda.  An in my next post, I will cover the “sing” part, how you need to be a evangelist, like MLK.  But in this post, I will focus on the broad set of doing skills needed to lead a go to market initiative, team and strategy.

Paint a Compelling Picture

It’s critical to get messaging and positioning correct.  Without a compelling message that answers not just tactical ROI questions, but strategic, why should I care ones, the fit and effectiveness of the offering and the programs just won’t succeed.  Great automation may mean my offering can reach a lot of people, but if messaged poorly, then the value will likely go un-tapped.  Great go to market leaders have awesome messaging and positioning skills.

Sculpt Effective Programs and Automation

Today, go to market is as much about method as message.  I need to build a scalable and efficient machine, and feed that machine with creative and effective content, demand generation and enablement programs.  I need to measure and tune both the machine and the programs I run.  Great go to market leaders have excellent skills at building, tuning and perfecting automation and programs.

Design a Coherent Offering

My success in the market also means I must have a coherent offering across my pricing, packaging, product and channel.  Each decision is dependent on the other.  Great go to market leaders not only understand how to design the right offering, but how each piece of the total solution plays together.

To be able to paint, sculpt and design is a high bar of skills needed to run an effective go to market organization, initiative and team.  Great go to market leaders build themselves and their teams to deliver across all three of these disciplines.

So, the bar continues to rise on being a great go to market leader. not only must you have depth and breadth of knowledge of a Jedi Master across the competitors, customers and market, but you must have deep skills of a Renaissance Man around executing go to market initiatives.  And as we will see in the final post of this series, you need to have the influence skills of a true movement leader, to move not only your sales team, but your product team, and the customers. But the rewards are great, and most leaders will say, worth the efforts to get to mastery.


Ken Rutsky is a Marketing Consultant and B2B Market Leadership “Ninja”.  Ken helps  organizations and individuals climb the ladder to market leadership. His upcoming book is entitled; Launching to Leading: How B2B Market Leaders Create Flashmobs, Marshal Parades and Ignite Movements (Morgan James 2016)

I coach and mentor go to market leaders in B2B Organizations.  Let me know if I can help you grow your business and your career.

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