Introducing the Value Story Framework

by Michael Bernstein on October 14, 2020

When we started Reify, the idea was pretty simple – let’s take the experience we’ve gained as marketers at developer facing companies, and apply that knowledge to as many software companies as we can. Let’s raise the tide for everyone, and help everyone become better marketers. After more than 4 years and 75 clients, we’re extremely happy with the results, and it felt like the right time to take a step back, consider what we’ve accomplished and learned (and, glaringly, what mistakes we made), and try to do what every great marketer and consultant loves to do: define a framework.

Our first few clients, bless their souls, were very patient with us as we slowly but surely codified our methods. What started as a somewhat amorphous (but very enthusiastic, and usually quite successful somehow) “process” turned into a repeatable set of working sessions, asynchronous assignments for our clients, and research and synthesis on our parts. We figured out just the right way to start with the stakeholders, document their story, do the hard work, and then end up with a messaging framework that succinctly and successfully communicated the value of the product.

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Once we settled on the basic outline of the process, we did it again. And again. And again. We’ve done this essential, foundational marketing engagement with more than 75 companies, from solo bootstrapped founders to public companies, and everything in-between. We expanded our initial notion of working with developer facing companies to working with a wide range of companies from award-winning software consultancies to TV tech plays, and even blockchain tech (a category that barely existed when we started the company). We partnered with fabulous designers, top content producers and community builders, VC firms and event producers, and we even started a little online conference with our friends.

Throughout all of this work, one thing remained very clear:

Nothing is more important than the story.

And so it was a few months back when Brian and I tried to finally put a name to this process we’ve developed that we settled on a name: The Value Story Framework (VSF). This post will focus on what the VSF is, and it will be followed by another post outlining how the VSF can be put to use in nearly any company to start with solid foundations, set reasonable goals, and execute marketing like a pro.

The Value Story Framework

The VSF has three concrete outputs:

  • The value story, which sums up the Why of the product
  • The refined persona, which describes the Who, based on the essentials uncovered in the value story
  • The messaging framework, which contains the words used to describe What, Why, and How to the refined persona

One of the keys to the VSF is that these outputs are entirely driven by inputs from the company’s key stakeholders. We often tell our clients that they will have all of the good ideas during this process, and our job is to massage words, curate ideas, and present a complete, consistent package of ideas – something that can be difficult to do if you’ve never done it before.

The value story’s inputs come in the form of answering a series of questions about the origins of the company, focused initially on understanding why the people responsible for forming it came together. Beyond that, a timeline is established, and we also ask questions about other key factors: we get to know the competitive landscape a bit, we discuss important customers, and we discuss companies our clients admire and learn why.

Once we’ve established your value story, we move on to the refined persona. This persona document, which we’ve written about a few times over the years, is designed to allow you to focus in on what really matters when deciding what kind of marketing to do, when to do it, and what kind of content you need to produce. We ask stakeholders to list the key challenges of skills of the target persona, to consider what other tools they use and love, to tell us everything they know about what key roles and responsibilities that individual has at work. Once we’ve honed in on the one initial persona we’re going to use, we give it a memorable nickname and then move on to the part that most people actually think about when they think about marketing: messaging and positioning.

Our messaging framework itself is nothing unique – in fact we cribbed the structure of it by combining two different frameworks we found on the internet back when we were both marketing practitioners 5+ years ago. What does differentiate our process, however, is the process itself. While marketing is often done by thinking of cool sounding phrases and interesting angles first, and then matching the product’s marketing to it, we take the opposite approach.

Use your story, focus on your persona, deliver your message

We ask our clients to, while considering the persona very closely, produce lists of examples that support the basic argument that your product is a great fit for this persona. The messaging framework is assembled by combining existing facts about the product, aimed directly at the persona, in a way that leads us and the clients naturally to the great sounding slogans that companies often come to us in search of.

Prove it!

We’ve been around a while, and worked with a decent number of clients you may have heard of, but the proof is in the pudding, right? How do you know that this stuff works at all? Beyond the fact that clients of ours who have used our frameworks directly have gone on to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital, added at least that much in revenue, come to dominate their own market niches, etc., nothing communicates out impact as effectively as their own words. To that end, here are some of our favorite client quotes:

“Reify’s marketing framework helped us discover and communicate the value of FireHydrant in a way that has really resonated with our core audience.” – Robert Ross, CEO, FireHydrant

“Determined AI is a technically complicated product, and communicating our value proposition early on was always a challenge. Reify’s frameworks helped us calibrate, and we went to market with messaging that helped us communicate clearly and effectively.” – Evan Sparks, Founder and CEO, Determined AI

“Reify helped us develop a messaging framework that not only enabled us to level up how we communicate with our customers, but was also instrumental in telling the story that resulted in our recent Series A financing. We have a confidence and focus now that we didn’t before.” - Caleb Hailey, CEO, Sensu

And just because we love them so much, here are some of the great brand promises we’ve helped our clients come up with, in the context of any software company’s core marketing asset, the website homepage:

And there are tons more.

So … How Do I Use It?

We’re working on a few different ways to share the VSF with the world. The first step will be a followup to this post, which will contextualize the Value Story, Refined Persona, and Messaging Framework in day to day marketing operations. After that, we’re planning on opening up a software platform version of our framework that will allow anyone to leverage these tools to become the awesome marketers we know they’re capable of. Yes, after all this time teaching people how to fish, we’re going to be fishing ourselves a bit – and making a small software product to sell to early marketing teams. Sound cool? Book a 30-min Session with Reify Right Now to learn more!