Lousy Marketing Messages: 5 Causes and Solutions

Lousy Marketing Messages: 5 Causes and Solutions

I was chatting with a startup CEO about marketing messages and how important it was to create a great story. His company has an awesome story and even though they only have a junior part-time marketer on staff, their messages are great. “I don’t get it,” he says to me “I see all this lousy messaging out there and yet we manage to do it! What’s wrong with people?” That got me thinking. Why is there so much bad messaging out there? Here’s what I think: 1/ The Team Stinks at Message Creation – The company has a good story but the team stinks at message creation and can’t translate that story into compelling messages. In my example above, the company happens to have naturally great storytellers on staff so they don’t have this problem. Not every startup is so lucky. Solution: Hire or rent some marketing talent. If you go with a consultant make sure they come with super references and make sure you stay heavily involved in the process. The output will be better that way and the team will get a better understanding of how to create messages. Caution: keep reading because this might not actually be the problem. 2/ Marketing Doesn’t Get It – The company has a good story but marketing (or whoever is creating the messaging), although great at message creation, lacks the understanding of either the offering or the market to really understand or believe the story. Messages are then created based on this (incomplete or flawed) understanding, resulting in weak messaging. Solution: Either spend more time with the marketing folk making...
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...
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...
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