For any business, these are fundamental questions they must be answered to capture the attention of customers, employees, investors and other stakeholders.
But it’s troubling to see so many startups struggle with their inability to tell a good story, even when they have interesting products.
The reason so many startups fail at storytelling is simple: they don’t take a customer-centric approach to their marketing and sales.
Instead, their focus is themselves and what their products offer. It may not sound like a big difference but talking at your customers rather than meeting their needs or interests is a big, fat fail.
In working with dozens of startups, good storytelling begins with strong core messaging that answers the following key questions:
1. What is your product?
2. What does it do?
3. What are the leading benefits for users? (aka “What’s in it for me?”)
4. How is it unique, different and/or better than the alternatives?
There are other variables involved in the development of core messaging but being able to nail these four questions helps a startup tackle big chunks of the exercise.
So why is core messaging so important, other than letting a startup tell a good story?
In many respects, core messaging establishes a solid foundation upon which a startup can layer on its marketing and sales activities. Core messaging also provides a startup with consistency, coherence and cohesiveness (the three C’s) in it and its employees engage with different stakeholders.
Without a solid foundation, startups not only have trouble effectively telling a customer-centric story but struggle to effectively deliver things such as a Website that drives the sales funnel, social media and content marketing.
So how do startups begin with core messaging? Here are some key steps:
1. It begins with thinking about the customer. What are their needs, interests and points of pain? What products are they using, including those delivered by non-direct rivals – e.g. Excel vs. accounting software? What would make a customer happier, more productive or profitable?
2. Think about how your product can be embraced by potential customers. What are the key benefits and features that should be highlighted? Remember, we’re talking about the needs of customers, not what a startup wants to tell customers. To get into customer-centric mode, a good exercise is a brainstorming session that involves people from different parts of the business who can offer a variety of perspectives.
3. Identify the key themes and topics that can drive the development of core messaging. It could be a single word or a phrase that has the potential to resonate with customers. Then, test these ideas internally and externally to get a better sense of whether you’re headed in the right direction.
Here are some important things to remember in developing core messaging:
1. It’s an iterative process that can unfold in different ways. If you’re lucky, you can hit a home run but core messaging usually takes time, patience and commitment.
2. Core messaging is a fluid, dynamic creature because it can change over time as the market and product evolves. Think of core messaging as drawing a line in the sand rather than etching something in stone.
3. Be prepared to think differently. Many startups are so focused on their products, they lose an important tool: perspective. It means new ideas and concepts can be quickly brushed aside because they don’t align with the current view of the world. This is a mistake that can undermine the creation of better and more effective storytelling.
Bottom line: If your story isn’t connecting with target audiences, your core messaging may need an overhaul. Rather than be intimidated, think about it as a one step back, two steps forward exercise that sets the stage for growth.
The development of core messaging is a key part of my startup marketing business. If you want to learn more, contact me.
More: For some insight on why startups need to focus on telling their story, check out Marco Barros’ post on why building awareness is more important than distribution.