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Jon Evans

Jon Evans is a tech copywriter and content specialist. Based in Barcelona, Spain, he helps startups and agencies to drive traffic and sales with research-driven marketing materials.

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How to test SaaS messaging (even on a budget)

Discover six tests that help you refine your messaging so that it’s clear, relevant, and interesting to target audiences.

When you’re launching a product in a highly competitive space, bad-fit messaging can cost you dearly. If your prospects don’t understand what you do or why they should care, you’ll join the lengthy list of companies they ignore every day. 

Message testing is therefore a vital step in creating successful marketing campaigns. By assessing the factors that make messaging effective—like relevance, clarity, and uniqueness—you can refine your campaigns so they resonate with target audiences.  

What’s more, testing can also help you identify and fix messaging problems on your website, such as low conversion rates. In this article, we’ll explore some affordable (and not-so-affordable) ways to assess your messaging before you go live.

 

A quick summary of the six messaging tests

The messaging tests we’ll look at in this article include:

·        The doppelganger test. This is a simple sense-check to ensure that your messaging stands out from the competition.

·        Heuristic evaluation. This is an internal check to assess your messaging fundamentals before you publish (or invest in paid tests).

·        Wynter message testing. Using the Wynter platform gives you solid quantitative and qualitative data on your messaging (and there’s a free option available).

·        Five-second tests. This is a simple method for testing individual messages to ensure that they’re clear and distinct (again with free options).

·        1-on-1 messaging validation. This is a rigorous and low-cost method for finding out if individual messages are clear, relevant, or interesting to your audiences.

·        A/B testing. This is a way to get quantitative data on your core messages by testing landing page copy, ad copy, and email copy. 

Read on to explore each of these methods in more detail. But first, let’s take a quick look at the different factors your messaging tests could evaluate.

What factors should you assess in your messaging tests?

Ideally, your messaging tests should gather both quantitative and qualitative data about your messaging. This allows you tore fine your messaging based on solid insights, rather than personal opinions or gut feelings.

Some marketers follow the LIFT model, which assesses relevancy, clarity, urgency, distractions, and anxiety. Peep Laja of Wynter suggests that consistency and uniqueness are also factors worth measuring. 

You may want to adapt the questions you a skin your test based on your reasons for testing:

·        If visitors are leaving your website quickly, you might choose to focus on testing for relevance and clarity.

·        If you’re trying to stand out in a competitive market, you might put more focus on uniqueness.

·        If you’re preparing for an important product launch, you’ll probably want to test for all the factors listed above.

 

Six ways to test your messaging before you launch

The doppelganger test

A quick internal process for assessing uniqueness 

If you’re in a competitive market, you want to ensure you’re different from the competition in some way. The core question you want to answer is does our messaging immediately show how we’re different to the competition?

Run the doppelganger test internally by following these steps:

1.     Make a list of your closest 5 competitors

2.     Paste their home page headline, social media description, and product page headlines into a spreadsheet.

3.     Add your own value proposition and core product messages to the spreadsheet.

4.     Compare them back-to-back and ask yourself honestly: does our product sound different to the others? 

If your product sounds indistinguishable from competitors (a ‘messaging doppelganger’), you’ve got some work to do. Try to bring out the uniqueness of your offer so prospects have a reason to choose your solution over competitors.

5.     (Bonus): Ask a handful of friends or peers from outside of your company to review the messaging. Can they tell you how your company is different to the rest? 

Remember, you’re not yet looking to gauge whether the messaging resonates with ideal customers. So you don’t need to spend lots of money recruiting participants—just ask people who are savvy enough to understand what’s on offer. 

 

Heuristic evaluation test (a.k.a. the messaging sense test)

An internal test that checks for basic relevancy, clarity, and uniqueness. 

This test will help you figure out if you’re making basic mistakes that could make your messaging ineffective or problematic. 

Within your own team, go through these questions:

1.     Does your messaging present one clear idea? Even if you have multiple buyer personas, your messaging should tie in with some common ground that they all have.

 2.     Does it present something that’s desirable to your users? Be careful that your messaging presents something that your users want or need—not something that your team cares about.

 3.     Is your messaging specific enough to appeal to target audiences? If your messaging could easily appeal to a different audience in a different industry, it’s likely not finely-tuned to your audiences and their goals.

 

Pitchy’s body copy here suggests that this product is aimed at companies who make corporate videos. However, the vague headline above it does nothing to speak to this audience. 

We can compare this with a similar online video maker, biteable. Its headline makes a clear promise while specifically targeting companies who make corporate videos:

4.     Is your messaging congruent with your current level of brand awareness? Uber can get away with a headline like ‘Go anywhere’ because everyone knows what Uber is. The same wouldn’t work for a young startup that nobody knows.

5.     Are the claims in your messaging true? If you don’t do what you say you can do, that could bite you in the ass later.

6.     Does your messaging give audiences a reason to choose you over competitors? Your messaging should reflect your positioning and promise some kind of value that only your company can deliver.   

 

Wynter message testing (paid + free versions)

Evaluate a specific web page for all of the important factors that make messaging effective. 

If you don’t already know Wynter, it’s a platform that was specifically built to help companies test their messaging. Wynter displays your marketing asset to participants and invites users to answer questions about what they saw. The result is robust qualitative and quantitative data on how participants perceive your messaging. 

The platform lets you tailor the questions to your liking—but its default questions do a great job of assessing clarity, relevance, desirability, anxiety, and differentiation. 

Wynter offers a service whereby they’ll recruit audience members that match your ideal customer profile. It’s arguably the best way to do fast, hassle-free message testing—but it’s also costly. 

However, Wynter also lets you use their platform for free if you invite your own participants.

So, when you’re on a budget, try enticing participants to do your test in return for an incentive. For example, find ideal customers on Linkedin and offer them a free 6-month subscription to your product in return for doing your test (or whatever works). 

If you already have access to a community, or an email list of leads, reach out to users and ask them to do the test.

  

Five-second tests (paid + free versions)

Get simple feedback on the clarity, relevance, and desirability of individual messages such as your home pageheadline. 

When you want to assess your value proposition or homepage headline, 5-seconds tests are the way to go. 

This test shows an image of your choice for just five seconds. The user then answers questions (determined by you) about what they saw.

 

This is a great way to find out if your value proposition is clear, relevant, and memorable to customers. For example, you can ask them:

·        What does our company offer? [This question helps you assess clarity]

·        How interested are you in learning more? [Score from 1-5][JE6] 

·        What do you remember about what you saw? [this helps to determine if the message was simple enough to be memorable] 

There are lots of companies offering tools for five-second tests, but I prefer Lyssna

Lyssna offers done-for-your audience recruitment. But like Wynter, it also gives you the option of using the platform for free when you invite your own participants (for up to 15 tests).  

 

1-on-1 message validation

Test core messages for clarity, relevance, uniqueness, or desirability by talking directly with test participants.

1-on-1 messaging validation is a great way to find whether core messages resonate. All you need is a video conferencing tool and some participants from your target audience. 

This is the process:

1.     Collate core messages and put them into individual slides. Each slide in your deck should show one individual message and nothing else. No brand colours or graphics.

  2.     Start the call by showing participants instructions: ‘You will be shown a series of slides. After you read each slide (aloud or to yourself), state how interesting this product is to you from 1 to 5, with 5 being the most interested’. 

(Adapt this instruction depending on what you want to validate in your messaging. For instance, if you want to assess the clarity of your messaging, you might ask the participant to rank the clarity of the message from 1-5 instead.)

Make sure the participant understands that there are no right or wrong answers.

3.     Show the slides and record the participant’s answers. Repeat some of the slides and randomise the order. This reduces the likelihood that your data will be influenced by the order of the slides.

 4.     Do 10-15 calls for each buyer persona and add up your total scores for each core message. 

By the end of this process, you’ll have a good idea of which core messages resonate with your target audiences the most. 

As with the above methods, the trickiest part here (potentially) is finding the right target audience members. Credit to this test goes to Joanna Wiebe of CopyHackers.

  

A/B test specific messages (with paid or non-paid audiences)

Find out how well your core messages encourages users to take action. 

Many marketers advocate using A/B testing to find out which version of a landing page converts better. To test your messaging on a key page, the process would something like this:

1.      Create A and B variants of the page. Change the copy in key places(like headings and sub-headings) to represent your old and new messaging. 

2.     Direct 50% of your traffic to each page variant using a tool like Omniconvert.

3.     At the end of the test period, analyse key metrics like conversions, bounce rate, or time on page to see which messaging/copy performs better. 

Theoretically, assuming you have good quality traffic, the results would show you which messaging and copy resonates better with your audiences in a real-life setting.

However, the downside is that A/B testing is purely quantitative research. It won’t tell you why users prefer one variant over another.

 

A/B testing can help you fine-tune messaging for different personas 

This kind of test is particularly helpful if you’re targeting multiple personas and want to see which messaging resonates best with each one.

You’d set up A and B variants of a landing page designed for specific personas. So let’s imagine your persona is a graphic designer, and you’re selling a design tool. You might have one landing page with the headline ‘Get approval on designs faster’ and another with the headline ‘Get more repeat business from design clients’.

If headline B results in longer time on page, a lower bounce rate, or more conversions, it’s a good indicator that the message resonates more. 

The drawback? This method depends on you having enough traffic to do get statistically significant results (which many startups don’t have)—or a decent budget for paid ad campaigns.

 

How to A/B test messaging on a budget 

If you can’t afford to run extensive A/B testing campaigns with paid traffic, there are more affordable options:

·        Small-scale Ad copy testing

·        Preference testing with existing audiences

·        Email A/B testing 

Let’s take a quick look at both of these.

1.      Ad copy testing 

In this test, you simply run A and B versions of a paid ad, sending traffic to the same landing page. You’re not testing landing page conversions, just ad clicks. Each ad leads with a different core message—so you only need a couple of hundred clicks to see which ad converts better.

 

However, this is contingent on you being able to target a specific audience via search marketing.   

2.     Preference testing

Preference testing is where you show users two (or more) marketing assets and ask them which they prefer. There are plenty of tools that help you do this, such as Hotjar and Survey Monkey:

 

Use a preference test to ask users to choose between two headlines that represent your A and B messages. 

If you already have a decent audience, this test can cost you very little. For instance, set up preferences tests on your website via pop-up surveys. Or email your mailing list asking them to participate in a quick survey.

As with all tests, the quality of results will depend on how closely your participants resemble your target audience. 

3.     Email A/B testing

You can do some simple A/B testing in the subject lines you use when sending emails to your list.

For example, let’s say you want to alert subscribers about an upcoming new feature. You can use the announcement email to test out your core message about the new feature. Do this by sending the same email to all recipients but use headline A for 50% of the list and headline B for the other 50%.

You can then check your open rates to see which line got more attention. This can give you an idea which message resonates more. As with all A/B testing, just ensure you have a big enough sample size to get statistically significant results.

Investing in better messaging can make all your campaigns more profitable 

With the tests described in this article, you now have a few ways to test your messaging both pre- and post-launch.

Depending on your situation, light testing might be enough. But the more there is riding on your copy, the more it makes sense to invest in testing so that your messaging hits home first time. 

And when you need expert help with testing and refining your messaging, consider contracting an outside consultant. My messaging services can help you achieve a successful product launch without putting extra strain on your team’s resources.

  

Happy testing! 

 

 

FAQ

Q: Are messaging and copy the same thing? 

A: They’re different, but the lines are blurry. I like to think of messaging as a ‘theme’ about the value your product offers to customers. For instance, you might decide that your core message is that your no-code website designer gives customers the fastest way to build a website. But you could phrase this in many different ways in your copy—‘Launchy our 2x faster’ and ‘build a website in half the time’ would be two different ways of conveying the same message. 

Obviously, there’s a lot of crossover here.You can’t have copy without messaging and vice versa.

 

Q: What’s the difference between messaging testing and website copy testing?

A: I’ve previously talked about how you can evaluate the copy on your website. Some of these techniques cross over well to message testing. The key difference is that messaging is present on all of the company’s marketing channels, not just the company’s website.

Obviously, copy and message testing are highly intertwined. Any time you test messaging, you’re testing copy, and vice versa.

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