Your Message Matters

A clearly articulated message is key tool for an early stage company; your message is as much about getting your team aligned around a common vision as it is about communicating that vision to potential customers: in fact, the effect of your message on your team may be more important.

Retail product messaging (Coca Cola, Apple, Target come to mind) give some sense of the power and subtlety of a well crafted message.  This subtlety and power extend to a company’s brand and even its logo, as this recent article in The Atlantic points out.  Admittedly, the parallel here with an early stage company is limited: consumer brands are supported by hefty marketing budgets that strengthen their brands which you do not have.

Message Characteristics

Your message should be simple, containing a mix of what your product does and its benefits (in its simplest form as a tag line, which I discuss below, it cannot usually be one or the other) and relate to and reflect the verticals that you are selling intro.  You should avoid jargon or cliches (“Sustainable”, “World Class, “Actionable” anything.), and avoid being too precious; both easy traps to fall into.  A hint of industry language can connect you more tightly with your target market.  Being hip will only work if it resonates with your audience: a hipster tone may not play well in Peoria.

A strong message will give you and your team a mindset with which to approach how your web site looks and feels and the tone of the content you generate.  Your message can ground their design process and keep their design aligned with your thinking.

Finally, as your understanding of the market evolves, so will your message.  You should revisit it regularly, tweaking it and tuning it up as needed.

How to Generate Your Message

I encourage my clients to develop their message in one or more brainstorming sessions with their entire team.  Developing a strong message with this way ensures your team is aligned toward what you are selling and what its benefits are and who you are selling it to.

Have your team prep for the brainstorming session by asking them to write down four items that describe your message as best as they can: 1. a simple tag line (no more than one sentence); 2. a two to four sentence elevator pitch; 3. a one paragraph description of your offering; and 4. a one page set of fairly random bullet points that describe your offering’s features and benefits.  As you will likely be wrestling who exactly you will sell your product to, the last document may include bullet points on your target market/verticals.  Check how your competitors, quasi competitors position and message their offering.

Merge your team’s work into four master documents (one for each item detailed above),eliminating duplication, that you can use to guide your brainstorming discussion.  Get the team together – plan on a two to four hour session – and start by working out what your tag line is, grinding on it until you develop something that everyone agrees on.  Use the fourth master document as a way to check everyone’s input is helpful as you work on your tag line.

Developing your tag line is deceptively difficult, both fun to do and frustrating. And getting your team aligned around a single phrase that describes everything your company is about can take a lot of work.  As you work on the tag line, ask yourself: “Is this clear, straightforward?  Does it roll off the tongue nicely?”  This is more like writing poetry than a business email, but poetry with very tight constraints.

Next, work on your elevator pitch in the same way – this should be easier as you have the tag line to work from.  Finally, frame the one paragraph description with your team – again, this should be easier as you now have the tag line and elevator pitch lined up.

Ok, you’re done.  Leave your work for a few days and revisit it.  Do it feel right?  Test them with beta customers and partners, getting their feedback on how they sound, feel.  Tweak as necessary and then use these to guide your content (web site, slide deck, demo script, data sheets).

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