Do Not Build Startup Messages for Your Grandmother

Do Not Build Startup Messages for Your Grandmother

I’ve heard people say that startups should build marketing messages that a grandmother can understand (where “grandmother” is short form for “clueless non-technical person”). There’s some obviously uncool stereotyping going on there (I say that as an engineer old enough to be a granny, albeit only if both I and my fictional offspring had managed to produce kids at a young age, but still) but that’s not the only reason I hate that cliche. I hate it because building messages for a fictional clueless person just doesn’t make any marketing sense, particularly for a startup. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for simplicity and if nothing else, the exercise of “writing for your grandmother” gets you thinking about an audience that might not be as technology-savvy as you are. But at the same time, WHO that audience is matters a lot. Great messaging starts with a deep understanding of the market you are targeting. A market is defined by a common set of needs primarily, but markets also tend to have a common language, a common level of understanding of a technologies/products/services, and sometimes they have a common set of beliefs, experiences or even iconography. Great messages resonate with target markets when they are built with those commonalities in mind. Here’s an example. I met the guys from Wave Accounting a couple weeks ago – they are a startup that provides an online accounting solution for small businesses. On their home page is a picture of a shoe box full of receipts (it’s a video but that’s what you see before you hit play) and the following message: Shoebox...
6 Pitch Lessons from the MIT Media Lab

6 Pitch Lessons from the MIT Media Lab

Research is a foreign concept to many startup folk. In startups we’re very focused on building something that will immediately sell and make a profit. Researchers aren’t necessarily looking to build finished products to be sold today (although occasionally that does happen). They’re exploring what’s possible within a domain in order to stretch our thinking about it. Last week I had the chance to chat with Andy Lippman, Nicholas Negroponte and others at the MIT Media Lab and they and constantly repeating “What if you could do this?” or “What would happen if we had that?” Their projects aren’t constrained by the practical market realities that bind most startup folks. Given that, you wouldn’t imagine these folks could teach a startup anything about selling. You would be dead wrong. These folks pitch sponsors constantly and they are good at it. In fact, I saw more great pitches in an afternoon than I’ve had startup folks give me in the past 6 months. Here’s what made them great: Your pitch should start with the vision – Startups often skip talking about the vision and rush to pitch you the thing you can buy right now. But vision is important for setting the frame of reference for what you are trying to accomplish. Before Rick Borovoy showed us his Junkyard Jumbotron and Electric Price Tags projects he explained that he was exploring how we could make interacting with our mobile devices more social in the real world, something we immediately saw the value of. John Moore’s explanation of his vision for more patient-directed healthcare helped us understand the importance of his I’m...
Your Startup Tagline is Anti-Social

Your Startup Tagline is Anti-Social

Most startup marketing folk seem to love taglines. Practically every web page I see has some version of the classic three-word tagline. As a marketer I appreciate the focus on distilling down the essence of what you do to its most simple form. As a human being however, I hate taglines. I’ve written about why taglines suck on this blog before. Taglines are generic (if you use the word “connect” congratulations, you share 1/3 of a tagline with 99% of startups in the world), forgettable, and often fail to clearly communicate what the company does. However, it finally came to me exactly why taglines are such a waste of time, energy and space: They are inherently anti-social You need to describe what your company does in a succinct way. That’s what people think they are doing when they write a tagline. The problem is the format – generally three verbs smashed together – is not a format that human beings naturally use to communicate. If someone asked me what I did this morning I don’t say “Rise, Consume, Digest!”, I say I got up, drank some coffee and ate a piece of toast. Even on Twitter where barely anyone uses proper english, nobody would ever pick 3 verbs. In fact here’s the tweet that inspired this example: Coffee & toast. Nom, nom. Notice the distinct lack of verbs there (assuming nom isn’t a verb). As humans, we don’t communicate in 3 verb phrases. So why are we using this strange form to talk about what our companies do? Here is the exact reason why taglines suck: Nobody repeats your...
Should Your Messaging Use Your Competitor’s Terminology?

Should Your Messaging Use Your Competitor’s Terminology?

One of the most difficult parts of marketing messaging is describing what your product is in a way that’s both easy to understand and communicates the unique value your product delivers. I’ve seen startup marketers really struggle with how to describe their market and specifically, whether or not they should use the same terms as their competitors. For example, suppose your solution delivers many of the same features of a marketing automation solution but also includes features not typically seen in those types of tools – say built-in support for running campaign on various social media platforms or some types of pipeline analytics more typically seen in  CRM systems.  Should you describe your market as “Marketing Automation”, “CRM” or “Social Media Marketing” or should you avoid those terms and come up with some new terms to define the (clearly different) think that you do? The answer is that it really depends on your company, your market, who else is in the space and the dynamics of what’s happening in the market. Here some things to consider on both sides: Why using the same terms as your competitors might be a bad idea: Whoever “owns” those terms could own your basic positioning – Sometimes terms are heavily associated with a particular company, or have been created by industry analysts. The folks that created the terms may also have the power to shift the meaning and your basic positioning as a result. For example, if Gartner Group uses Marketing Automation as a term but decides tomorrow that it’s merely a sub-category under Customer Relationship Management – will you still be happy...
Startup Messaging: Should You Differentiate Against Your Competitors?

Startup Messaging: Should You Differentiate Against Your Competitors?

Alex Goldfayn had a great post this week called Death by Differentiation that got me thinking about competitive positioning and startup marketing.  Alex, a marketing consultant, laments that many of his clients are too focused on differentiating themselves from their competitors: These companies have focused their marketing on smaller, peripheral features which differentiate them from the competition. So that instead of focusing their message on the 80 percent of the product or service that speaks to mainstream consumer interest, they instead focus on the 10 percent that makes them different from competition, which mostly matters internally. Thinking about how I would apply this thinking to startups, I found myself agreeing and disagreeing with the post.  On the one hand, I agree that vendors often care far more about tiny differentiating features than prospects do.  On the other hand, if all the solutions in a market deliver the same particular point of value, doesn’t that value become expected or assumed?  And (as is the case with many startups) if I’m entering a market with an established competitor, don’t I have to focus on what makes my offering different because my prospects will always be comparing us? In my opinion, how you articulate your value to customers should describe what makes you better, it’s just not always in the way you might think. Your messaging needs to: Take into consideration what the customer already knows about the market Highlight how your solution is better than what prospects perceive to be alternatives Be focused on value (not features) Diving into each of these – here are some things to consider: 1/ Test...

Startup Messaging and Market Frame of Reference

Messaging is one of the hardest things startups do, particularly startups in emerging markets. Your marketing messages need to describe what you do in a way that is both easy to understand and also illustrates the unique value that your solution can deliver. Often the most challenging part for startups is that the market category is not yet well-defined. The messaging therefore, not only needs to describe your product, but the whole reason that product category should exist. Folks in established markets take shortcuts you may not even notice Established products, have the luxury of working from an established frame of reference.  For example, when Salesforce.com can simply describe itself as the leader in CRM.  Their customers understand what CRM is, why you might want a CRM system, the value a CRM system can bring to the table, etc.  All they have to do it state why they are different, hence you get “The world’s most popular CRM software as a service” or more recently “The leader in CRM and cloud computing”.   Simple right? Now imagine how much more difficult it would be to describe what Salesforce does if you didn’t what what CRM was. Other really large companies will simply assume you understand what they do and skip that step entirely.  Accenture for example makes no attempt to tell you what it does beyond “High Performance, Delivered.” (although, they do use the phrase “Global Management Consulting, Technology and Outsourcing service as the title text for their home page).  Oracle states that they are simply “hardware and software, engineered to work together” and IBM is just, well, IBM. Frankly,...
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