July 7, 2014

Five Reasons Why Your Startup Messaging Changes

In previous posts, I have looked at how messaging plays a critical role in startups articulating what they do and why they matter.

But as much as messaging is an important exercise, it is also dynamic and constantly evolving. In other words, messaging is drawing a line in the sand, not etching it in stone. Even the best messaging has a shelf life before it changes.


A messaging refresh is not a bad thing. In fact, this is the reality of playing in a competitive and fast-moving marketplace. There is no room for complacency or accepting the status quo if startups want message that is powerful and vibrant.

As a result, startups must scrutinize their messaging on a regular basis to ensure it is still relevant and effective. If it doesn’t ring true, it’s time for a change.

Here are five reasons why messaging needs a refresh:

1. Product: For most startups, the product constantly changes. New features emerge, removed or given less of a profile, the user interface gets updated, prices change, and pivots happen. In the process, messaging becomes stale because it no longer reflects the product’s benefits, features or focus. Even if the product/messaging misalignment is minor, it can create a lack of clarity and confusion that causes a startup’s marketing and sales activities to hiccup or stumble. As important, it can give customers reason to reason to pause, reconsider or not make a purchase.

Takeaway: On a weekly or monthly basis, review your messaging to see it still rings true. If there’s any doubt, drill down into what no longer is working as effectively. Even better, solicit advice from key stakeholders who can bring a different perspective. It’s a constant feedback loop that ensures you’re on top of things.

2. Competition: Startups don’t operate in silos, so it is important to track the messaging of their leading rivals. How is their messaging different or better? How does it resonate more effectively? What are the key ideas or themes being thrust into the spotlight? It’s  challenging for startups to objectively compare themselves with rivals, but it is essential to examine interesting or smart things being successfully embraced.

Takeaway: First, create a list of startup rivals to monitor. This can consist of the leading competitors, as well as small players who often approach the market with new ideas. The check-list includes messaging, benefits, features, pricing, design, etc. Then, study the messaging of each rival. Write down the keywords or phrases being used so you can compare them over time. When something jumps out, think about why it’s effective and how it impacts your startup’s messaging.

3. Customers: One of the realities of having customers (a good thing!) is figuring out how your marketing and sales efforts are resonating. Are their value propositions, benefits or features that capture their imagination? Do some marketing campaigns work better than others? Ideally, there is a healthy amount of experimentation happening (A/B tests anyone?) to discover the marketing and sales magic.

In the process, customers will tell you how well you’re connecting with them. If the messaging is well positioned, customers may respond in a certain way. If the messaging is missing the mark, there are other indicators (aka no leads or sales). In an ideal world, startups are constantly talking to customers to get feedback about messaging, product, customer service, etc. It’s always a great opportunity to reload or keep humming along.

Takeaway: Listen to your customers and watch how they behave. If asked, customers will offer valuable insight. A willingness to experiment is a key part of getting the right answers to many issues, including messaging.

4. Marketing: When you boil it down, marketing is storytelling using different campaigns and channels. To connect with customers, a startup crafts stories that trigger curiosity, interest and lead generation. Some stories rock the house, while others fall flat. The most important consideration is keeping close tabs on your storytelling efforts. What stories get customers excited? What stories disappear into the ether? Track successes and failures to get insight into how the overall story needs to change to work better.

Takeaway: Keep close track of all your marketing campaigns to see how customers respond. Create a variety of stories to discover the right formula, and then drive hard on the stories that customers like.

5. Investors: As much as investors look for high-potential startups, they have investment philosophies. They have expectations and biases about how startups should operate and position themselves. If they’re pro-active, investors will have their own ideas about a startup’s messaging. This is good insight because it comes from a different perspective.

Takeaway: Investors have the benefit of seeing how many startups operate. It gives them unique insight about a startup’s messaging works relative to other startups. Investors can also make introductions to people who have different perspectives.

Bottom line: Over time, messaging evolves for startups that operate in a market in which the dynamics are constantly shifting. It means startups are tweaking their messaging to stay aligned with customers and the marketplace. Success with messaging happens when a startup realizes that complacency is trouble. Instead, messaging is a dynamic creatures that evolves with your business.

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