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The Art of Message Mining for SaaS Products: Part One

By Momoko Price, July 31, 2016

If you live in the startup world, you already know the most effective way to grow your business is to talk to your customers.

Steve Blank says to do it.

Eric Ries says to do it.

Peep Laja says to do it.

Joanna Wiebe says to do it.

Look up the blog posts of virtually any lean-startup or conversion optimization expert on the web, and "talk to your customers" pops up as a recurring theme. Whether you want to optimize your product design, your marketing messages, or your sales copy, 9 out of 10 dentists entrepreneurs agree: Reaching out to your customers is pretty much the smartest way to go about it.

... But what if your startup is so damn new you don't have any customers yet?

... Or what if calling up and pestering strangers is your personal version of Hell?

... Or what if you're just too damn tired/hungover/busy to get on the phone today?

Enter the stealth art of "message mining." Or as I like to think of it ...

Customer Research for Pre-Launch Startups, The Chronically Lazy & The Painfully Shy

If you've never heard of it, "message-mining" is a powerful tactic savvy copywriters use to punch up their headlines, subheads & hooks. Rather than try to devise your own unique description of the customer's experience, you snatch raw statements straight from real-life customer reviews & online comments and pepper them into your page copy, systematically increasing the specificity and authenticity of your message.

It can work incredibly well, as demonstrated here.

But message-mining isn't just for copywriters. Especially when it comes to SaaS products.

Message-mining user reviews of competitor products can an insanely effective way to gather detailed customer feedback on what features your (future) customers love, hate, and need most from a product like yours without ever actually getting on the phone with a human being (although don't get me wrong: you should still eventually get on the phone with users eventually).

What with the sheer number of rich, detailed, organized and even quantified user reviews available on the web for SaaS products these days, you'd be a fool not to embrace the art of message mining as a product designer & developer.

For instance, here's a review I found & used myself while doing messaging research for Respondly back in 2015 (Respondly was snapped up by Buffer shortly after we launched our messaging & copy overhaul. You might recognize it now as Buffer's new "Respond" feature:

User review of Respondly

(For the record, I also got on the phone with Tony later for an in-depth interview of his experience with Respondly.)

Note that while there are plenty of great snippets of colorful copy in this review that I of course swiped and incorporated into my overhaul at the time, this review also specifically calls out feature-related wants & needs that would be hugely valuable to any startup planning on entering the social media management space.

Gather and analyze a few dozen reviews like this one, and before long you'll see a few bias-busting, assumption-annilating themes taking shape right in front of your eyes. A small handful of specific features & benefits will be mentioned again and again, while others that you thought would be critical will go completely unmentioned.

Thinking of giving message mining a try yourself? Here are just a few amazing product review sites worth mining for deep insights into your future, real-life customer's needs, priorities & pain points:

  1. FinancesOnline (for SaaS, B2B and finance products)
  2. G2crowd (SaaS product reviews, a go-to personal fave of mine)
  3. GetApp (a reliable B2B product review hub)
  4. Capterra (more than 300 categories!)
  5. Merchant Maverick (great resource for research POS and ecommerce solutions)
  6. TrustRadius (more than 44,000 software reviews)
  7. SoftwareAdvice

If you need even more, you can always just Google "Software Reviews" and — blammo! — you'll have reviews to read & analyze for days.

Still not sure how to actually analyze & prioritize all this feedback in a conclusive way?

Stay tuned. In my next post, I'll break down the exact workflow I use to get a clear, bird's eye view of what features matter mos to my clients' target customers.

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