December 26, 2016

Four Keys to the Success of My Startup Marketing Business in 2016

Professionally (and personally), 2016 was an excellent year.

I had a number of successful marketing engagements – everything from early-stage B2B startups and forward-thinking consulting businesses to established software companies looking to jump-start growth.

As important, 2016 was a year of learning about how to do business and marketing differently and better. After eight years of running a startup marketing consulting business, it is always surprising to discover the learning curve never ends. Just when you think you have seen and done it all, the market changes directions. Heading into 2017, I’m a better marketer by learning new approaches and techniques.

If I had to summarize 2016, here are four key buckets:

Frameworks and processes: Most of the marketing that I do – messaging, branding positioning and content development – is creative and subjective. It is a combination of art and science, fueled by inspiration, ideas, and concepts. For non-marketers, messaging, brand positioning and content can seem like a strange animal. To make what I do more real, I created two key frameworks: a storytelling canvas and a messaging cycle to provide more insight, structure, and processes.

Storytelling Canvas

It makes my services more tangible because clients see what’s involved and how projects move forward. These frameworks make a big difference in my projects because there is more transparency, a better understanding of timelines, and more cohesion around expectations. The creation of the storytelling canvas and the messaging cycle is, in my mind, a game-changer because clients have more confidence and clarity.

A deeper appreciation for design and visual storytelling: As a wordsmith, words matter…a lot. My entire career has been spent crafting words and writing stories. But storytelling is rapidly changing. Words matter but effectively communicating ideas is now powered by design and visuals such as photos, videos, and graphics. My first project of 2016 set the stage when Statflo decided to use illustrations on its refreshed Website. At first, I was skeptical but my opinion changed upon seeing the work done by Sylvia Carducci. It not only gave Statflo’s Website a unique look and feel but showed how good design makes a difference.


On a personal note, I’m refreshing the look and feel of my marketing collateral and reports for clients. With the help of Kevin Dubrosky, I recently created a new design for my messaging reports that does a great job of showcasing the work that clients see [e.g. value propositions, positioning statement, taglines] and the research behind the scenes [customer and client interviews, competitive audits and content reviews].

Research: As as journalist by training, research has always been important. This year, I realized how in-depth research can make projects sparkle. A good example was a messaging project for Normative, an innovation consulting firm. At first, the development of its messaging had little flow. I was having difficulty seeing how Normative was distinct. Then, I took a deep dive into the world of innovation and disruption. The more articles and research that I read, the more ideas began to galvanize. Armed with this insight, I placed sheets of blank paper on the kitchen table and the messaging began to flow.

Storytelling; Here’s a confession: at one point this year, I wondered whether it was time to get off the storytelling bandwagon. For me, storytelling has been an awesome two-year run, highlighted by the publishing of a book, Storytelling for Startups [currently working on a second edition!], and a growing brand as a startup storyteller. I was concerned, however, that storytelling is over-hyped because every brand seems to be talking about it, and a growing number of marketers have embraced storytelling as the sexy object to serve clients. In the end, however, I decided that I’m a storyteller: it what I do, it is what I like to do, and it what I’m good at. Sure, storytelling is everywhere but I’m riding the wave, even when it crests and people move on to the next thing.

All in all, 2016 was an amazing year on multiple fronts. 2017 looks like another exciting year with many business projects on the go. I’m thankful to family and clients for allowing me to do what I do.

I’ve worked with dozens of startups and fast-growing companies looking to accelerate their marketing. My services are driven by frameworks and processes to create messaging, strategic plans and content. If you want marketing that makes a difference, let’s talk. If you are looking for hand-picked startup content, subscribe to my weekly newsletter.

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