Creating the best messaging
Startup Marketing Executive, Silicon Valley Veteran, Entrepreneur Enthusiast
It is important to know what you are, but it is equally important to know what you are not.
Create a messaging bank. Describe what you do, who you do it for & why it is the best.
Your vision and mission have to be something that people understand right away & get excited about.
Lesson: Marketing Your Startup with Alice Lankester
Step #6 Know Yourself: Creating the best messaging
Part of the goal with providing consolidated consistent messaging about a company is being extremely clear on what you are, but it is equally important to be extremely clear on what you are not. So there's a startup I'm mentoring at the moment who has some really extraordinary technology and they are extraordinary technologists and they have put together, I'm not going to describe what the system is, it doesn't really matter, but also it's private, that does a particular job very, very well. But that job could be applicable to many different people with many different problems in the digital space. It's very hard for them. They were just getting all confused about how they were going to apply this technology, what was it going to be used for.
So we went through five possible big use cases for this technology, like you could use it for this or you could use it for this, which one seems to fit? It was pretty clear that they had a huge preference towards one of the use cases and in talking about they figured it. So I said, "Okay, embrace it. Love what you're not, and you're going to put aside those other things and you believe strongly that you fit this use case very well. And so focus on that and stop getting distracted by all these other opportunities that would come your way."
I find that companies are often, especially startups, extremely opportunistic. Something comes in and you say, "Oh my gosh, this is going to change the business. I've got this call from Pinterest and Pinterest says they're going to help me do this and I'll get early access to their API and it's going to be perfect." You think, "Okay, that's fine. What's that going to do for you? Is that going to help you achieve your goal?" "I don't know, but it's Pinterest and it's really cool." "Well, okay, it may be, but it also may wrap up all your resources forever and you never said you were going to be in the business of working with Pinterest API." So when you know what you're not and you know what you are it helps you make decisions about prioritizing those opportunities that come in, and I think that's hugely important.
It's very hard to say no to those opportunities when they come in, and sometimes they'll come in and this will be absolutely fantastic. There's another startup that I've been working with that got early access to one particular API and it was great, but the company itself wasn't doing that well. They learned a huge amount from integrating with that API and it just so happened that what they built from integrating with that API through that opportunity was a great demo that they could show to an absolutely enormous company in an adjacent space. And because they had done that kind of speculative work based on that opportunity, they turned around the business elsewhere because they had a great demo to show to this bigger company. Sometimes they can have great successes. Every time this happens you just have to go back to figuring out, "I am in that business? Should I say no to that or should I say yes to that? And if say yes what other things do I have to say no to?" I mean every time you do that you're making those decisions. Everybody in the company, to be able to say, "What is it you do?" and to be able to answer what it is you do.
Now, I have worked for companies where it doesn't their tagline, by the way. It is the vision of what is the business they are in, and you'd be surprised how often those visions or missions are confusing and complicated. So test them out and test them out family members and family members are often the ones that say, "What?" So if your family members say to you that I am a visual communications network, you say, "What the hell is a visual communications network?" I made that up. That sounds like gobbledygook, right? That is oftentimes what people think is their vision or their mission or their pitch or whatever. Don't do that. You could even say that there's some value in saying, "I'm building the Airbnb for dogs." That could be something that you use to describe it. I know what Airbnb is and I know what dogs are. Oh, this is the Airbnb for dogs. That's how I describe dog vacay.
You come up with a really consistent messaging bank that people can draw upon, so that anytime somebody has to say, "My company, XYZ, is a blah blah blah that does so and so for this particular audience," and make it clear and make it simple and make sure that anybody can understand it. Don't get caught up in just describing the technology because that may work in some cases, but mostly it doesn't. You describe what you do, who you do it for, and why it's better than anybody else's and let everybody understand what that is.
So build that to start with and then it should be repeated everywhere. You shouldn't have a different one on your Facebook about page, than you have on your home page, than you have on your LinkedIn company page, than you have on your about on your Twitter. Make sure that it's clean and it's all consistent and if it changes change it everywhere and they do change. So to make it understandable make it consistent and make sure everybody in the company knows how to repeat it and they agree to it. It's a horrible process that most people absolutely hate, but it is pretty important to go through.
It is really hard to exclude technology mumbo jumbo and it's really hard to make it something that somebody would be actually pretty interested in finding out, and can you describe it in anything less than 15 or 30 words? No, probably not. When you are working on a vision and mission it's critically important to make sure that everybody in the company understands it and agrees to it, and it may change and that's okay because pivots are what we're all about, right? But make it something that people can get behind on and understand.
I use a great example of company vision. I'm going to give you two company visions and missions and describe them in a way that you can compare how one works and the other doesn't. Company A, they're vision is to become the worldwide leader in retailing. I can understand that. Their mission is to help people save money so they can live better. I can understand that. That's Walmart. Now, Walmart, they're actually incredibly philanthropic. There's so many things to say about Walmart and we're not here to discuss Walmart, but Walmart has done a good job of helping their company, I don't know if every employee can repeat this and probably not, but they're going to become the worldwide leader in retailing and they want to help people save money so they can live better. I can get this.
Company B. Their vision is to design and create in this decade the new global network, processes, and service platforms that maximize automation, allowing for a reallocation of human resources to more complex and productive work. Do you have any idea what that means? So I've been in high tech for 30 years. I have no idea what that means. Their mission is to exploit technical innovations for the benefit of company name and its customers by implementing next-generation technologies and network advancements in company names' services and operations. I can really get behind. So exciting, right? No. That's AT&T. That really compares it.
Here's a company that we'll compare to AT&T in how they've done in their mission and vision. Their vision is to advance technology that touches people's lives. I could go behind that. And their vision is to enable people and businesses to communicate with each other. Would enable people and businesses to communicate with each other. I know what that means. And that's Verizon.
There you have a really good example of two companies in the same space. AT&T who publish a vision and mission which for the life of me, I would just shoot me now, I just would not want to have anything part of it, and Verizon who says, "I want to enable businesses and people to communicate with each other and I want to build technology that touches people's lives." So you may think that that's a worthless exercise to go through or you can think it's a worthwhile exercise to go through. And as your company grows, to know that you can get behind a vision and mission that you can understand and that you can repeat where you go I think is pretty critical. I'm often fond of talking about with teams, to use a World Cup analogy, we're on a football pitch, or a soccer pitch as the Americans call it, and you can kick the ball all over the field, but if you're not kicking the ball towards the goal, what's the point? You can kick it all day long and it would never get a goal.
So let's set the goal and the goal is we all get behind where we're going and part of our vision and mission is where we're going and how we're going to get there and what are the steps to get to it. So earlier you talked about phases. The phases are how are we going to get to that goal post and how we're going to achieve on them.