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...

5 Considerations when Marketing to Early Adopters

I had a conversation with a reporter last week who was writing a story on how to market to early adopters.  It got me thinking about how much marketing and product come together to improve adoption of a new product or service.  Research shows that there are a set of factors that effect the rate of adoption of a new innovation.  Clearly product characteristics are a critical factor each of these but there isn’t a single one where marketing can’t have at least some impact. 1/ Complexity – The difficulty in understanding the offering will impact how quickly it gets adopted.  Leaving the obvious product implications aside, marketing has a big job here to clearly describe the offering, what it does and when it would be appropriate to adopt it.  Product descriptions need to be short and use simple language – no matter how complex the product (and this is often really hard to do).  You need to answer the question “What do you do?” in no more than a couple of sentences and still be specific enough that customers get it. 2/ Compatibility – Compatibility refers to the degree to which the offering aligns with the market’s current philosophy, culture, and values.  In short, how easy is it for customers to integrate the new offering into their life?  Customer case studies, use cases and scenarios can all help illustrate how the offering can fit into a broader context for customers. 3/ Relative advantage – This is how much of an improvement the new offering is over existing alternatives (and this includes doing nothing).  Clearly communication has a big...

Product/Market fit and Market/Product fit

In many start-ups the difference between success and failure is gaining a critical mass of early adopters that love your product.  A lot of this has to do with getting the right product for the market you are going after (Sean Ellis and others refer to this as product/market fit) but I’ll argue that it’s also important to think about this in the reverse and make sure you are going after early adopters that makes sense for your product.   What I mean by this is that before you’ve written a line of code, some thought has gone into defining, to a fairly fine level of granularity, who is in your target market and how you are going to reach them.  The way you construct your value propositions, your call to action, how you attract early customers and possibly the look and feel of your early product will be influenced by what you define those early segments to be. Some thoughts on what a great early adopter segment looks like: They place a big value your key differentiators – Your product will have benefits that only it can deliver along with benefits that customers can get elsewhere.  For example you are offering a product where the key benefits are related to simplicity, scale and cost reduction. Your customer research has validated that all three of these are important to customers in the space.   You think you beat the other products in your market when it comes to simplicity and cost reduction but nobody else offers scale.  The easiest segment you could go after is one where scale really matters because...

Finding First Customers

The topic of what sort of marketing a startup should do to land the first few customers has come up a few times lately so I decided it was worth a short, simple post. Question: What sort of marketing should my startup do to secure our first couple of customers? Answer: None. Simple, huh?  The truth is that your first couple of customers aren’t customers at all, at least not in the regular sense of the word.  They’re believers.  They are going to be a crucial part of defining what your startup does and sells.  They are going to take an astonishing risk by being the first customer for a completely unproven solution in what is probably a nascent market delivered by a team that has likely never run a company before.  Even if they get the product for free, they’re investing time and energy getting users on the system, integrating it into their environment, and providing feedback to you.  They are going to have to be patient while you work out your bugs and deliver iterations and finish the darn thing.  And they’re going to have to do this while other people in the company (the ones that would prefer that they didn’t participate in your little startup experiment at all) complain and hope the project will fail so they can laugh like hyenas a scream, “I told you those guys didn’t know what they were doing!!” I’m a big believer in the power of marketing but no marketing will deliver this kind of a risk-taking life saver.  Nope, these customers are going to do it because they...