Conversation Marketing: The Conversation is the Thing

Christine Fife

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The ABCs of Startup Marketing Communications

ABCStartups are like superheros. You could have the greatest product idea ever, abound with superpowers, but if you don’t have a killer superhero name, a kick ass cape and a tagline your fans can yell when you arrive on the seen you’ll never get anywhere.

I grew up on the Monterey Peninsula in CA. It’s a beautiful place and it has more than it’s fair share of restaurants. I once heard a restaurant owner friend of my grandfather’s telling him he wasn’t worried about 2 new restaurants that were opening in town. “I don’t need to worry. We put great food out to our customers and everyone at the restaurant treat customers like family. Of course, we’re Italian, so here in Monterey most of our customers are family! But those other two restaurants will not only need to make great food, one of which I’m sure will, but they also have to be able to sell themselves. They need an inviting decor, a well run kitchen, good business management and so much more. If they can get all that, then I’ll worry, but it’s a long road ahead.”

Recently I engaged with a new client to develop a sales presentation and some landing pages. I was very intrigued by this client’s product and really wanted to work with them to help get their company off the ground. The original proposal was for a comprehensive branding, positioning, messaging, marketing strategy, tactical plan and collateral creation. Unfortunately, the company was a bit nervous to use up their small budget on such a large project, so they requested just a couple of sales pieces. This is something I’ve done before, so I simply asked them to give me all the messaging, positioning and market research they did have, as well as the copy they’d already written for the website, product and a datasheet, so I would have something to work on for the presentation.

Unfortunately, what I received was an overwhelming amount of disparate market data, pages of brainstorming lists and notes, copied text from different pitch emails they had already used (in which they spoke about the product in inconsistent ways) and much more of the same. What they didn’t have were the basics without which it is almost impossible to write coherently or consistently. And certainly, you can’t write sales presentations, website copy and marketing pieces without having made some initial decisions on messaging and positioning.

Here is a list of items that all startups should invest the time and money to do before you start pitching out to potential customers, VCs, press, analysts and other influencers. With these done, you’ll find it is much easier to write web copy, develop collateral and pitch prospects. It can also be a big help in getting funding, hiring quality employees and much more.

  1. Vision Statement: This defines the desired or intended future state of an organization or enterprise in terms of its fundamental objective and/or strategic direction. A long-term view, sometimes describing how the organization would like the world to be in which it operates.
  2. Mission Statement: A mission statement defines the fundamental purpose of an organization or an enterprise, succinctly describing why it exists and what it does to achieve its Vision.
  3. Product Type: A “what is it” title. It’s purpose is to quickly convey what type of product you offer.
  4. Product/Service Category: A list of potential budget/product/service headings your company’s product could fit into from the point of view of a potential customer. It’s also an great idea to list adjacent market spaces—market spaces that could compliment your product to use in choosing marketing opportunities, campaign locations, market conversation locations, influencers, etc.
  5. Positioning Statement: A succinct description of the core target audience to whom a brand is directed, and a compelling picture of how the marketer wants them to view the brand. A well-constructed positioning statement is an invaluable means of bringing focus and clarity to the development of a marketing strategy and tactics. Every decision that is made regarding the brand is judged by how well it supports the positioning statement.
  6. Value Proposition: A business or marketing statement that summarizes why a consumer should buy a product/service. This should convince a potential consumer that one particular product/service will add more value or better solve a problem than other similar offerings.
  7. Business Pain Points: Specific understanding of problems/issues businesses currently have that they want/need a solution for. These are real-world problems that companies have that cost them a lot of time, money and other resources, thus affecting their bottom line.
  8. Product Benefits: A list of quantitative and qualitative benefits your company’s product will bring to a customer. This is used to create site content, sales collateral and marketing campaigns, as well as to assist in choosing influencers to approach and countering sales objections.
  9. Key Product Messages: At least 5 specific statements that are key in conveying what you offer, what the product does and what the benefits are. These statements may be used as is, but more importantly, they will be used for developing all other content and collateral.
  10. Differentiators: Knowing clearly what is unique to your product versus competitors in the market space.
  11. What it is statement.: A short paragraph that clearly describes what the product is.
  12. What it does.: A short paragraph that clearly describes what the product does.
  13. Elevator Pitch: A short couple of paragraphs that can quickly grab the attention of a potential customer and encourage them to want more information.

Trying to move forward with getting funding, selling to customers, speaking to the press and engaging in industry activities without this initial work, could be detrimental. This work is very important to ensure that you’re giving your audience clear, conscience, consistent information that they can relate to and want to find out more about. If you talk to people about your product and they have too ask too many questions just to understand what you offer, that’s not a good sign.

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As I drove off to college I never would have guessed I would end up here! But it’s been a fantastic journey. My career has been richly diverse giving me an advantage over marketers who are siloed into niche positions. I strive to be a true Renaissance person—I love to learn about everything and trying new things comes naturally. My career has been no different; I’ve successfully launched enterprise software and medical device development startups, improved communications processes for the regulatory department of a major financial exchange, increased client business and product development for several international exchange program companies and founded an international educational non-profit organization. My master’s degree in Integrated Marketing from Golden Gate University gave me a broad understanding of traditional marketing best-practices, but my BA in theater gave me the skills to understand how people communicate with one another and the importance of promoting a brand in a voice that is right for the audience.