Five DIY Messaging Mistakes Start-ups Make

Messaging, after product and funding, is arguably the third key thing to get right for early stage B2B start-up success. Yet just the other day, a friend of mine who is a well respected Venture Capitalist said to me, “You know Ken, most of our early stage company think they can do messaging as a DIY project, but the truth is, they are just not good at it”.

This got me thinking watching all of the DIY home improvement shows, especially the ones where the pros come in and rescue the homeowners. Then I realized just how bad I am at even the simplest home improvement project, but that I am pretty good at B2B Messaging, so maybe I could share some common mistakes I’ve had to come in and “rescue” founders from. So here, in no particular order, and my top 5…

  1. They focus too much on how, and not enough on what and why
  2. They focus too much on themselves, and just how awesome they are
  3. The don’t have a well articulated problem statement they are working from
  4. They think a website is a messaging framework
  5. Their value is not well articulated, unique or meaningful

Let’s do a quick peek into the messiness of these mistakes:

#1 Too much how – We mistakenly think that all of our uniqueness comes from our amazing how. The innovation in our code, our science or our other “special sauce”. But without the what and the why, the how is meaningless. Instead, ask yourself what is my unique approach, why did I build it in the first place. Why should anyone care. Thinking different and taking a different approach is often the uniqueness that matters MUCH more than the how. No one really cares how things work near as much as what it does for me and what the value of that is.

#2 Too much me – I had one client when I went to their homepage it was literally all about them. We have amazing customers, we’ve won all these awards, we’ve been featured on this show, our team is the smartest in the world. Many early stage customers are super proud of themselves. They are literally BRILLIANT. They have track records of success. They have PHDs from amazing places. They ran top secret projects for governments. AND, investors LOVE to invest in super smart people. Customers on the other hand, sadly don’t give a crap. They care about your insight, not your degree, they care about this product, not the one you built and sold for $1B dollars, they care about what you can do for them, not what you did yourself. So, put your ego aside, and focus on them, not you. Besides, if the battle always goes to the smartest, which it doesn’t, I’ve got bad news for you there is probably a competitor with better credentials than you have, let her brag, not you!

#3 – The Problem with Problems – I’ve ranted about this one before and it hasn’t gotten any better. C- is still the best grade I see from DIY messaging teams. And if you can’t build your message around a big, relevant and meaningful problem you are lost! Obsess about two things, who are you helping and what are you helping them fix. Once you know that, everything else is (relatively) easy. Problem is the foundation of your messaging and if you’ve ever seen a home on a bad foundation…well enough said.

#4 – Your Website Does Not a Messaging Framework Make – The best analogy I can come up with a trailer does not make a movie script. Your website is the OUTPUT of a great messaging framework. As is your sales presentation, your PR boilerplate, your product brochure. Making a website without a messaging framework will result in, well, crap. Don’t do it. Find a framework and use it. I am quite partial to mine, which is the topic of much of my book Launching to Leading, and can be downloaded here (but you’ll want to read the book to make sense of it).

#5 – Where’s the Value – DIY messaging doesn’t focus near enough if at all on value. Marketing and sales is all about a conversation with buyers about the exchange of value. You want their time, attention and dollars, and they want what in exchange? Something they need that solves a problem (see #3) and the benefits they get from doing so. After you’re done obsessing on problem, obsess on value. What value can I deliver that my competitors can’t that customers CARE to trade time and money for, not just think it’s cool. A messaging framework should help here too. And if you’d like more of my thoughts on both problem and value, you can check out my LinkedIn Learning Course here.

So to put a wrap on this DIY project, if you do DIY Messaging; remember lower the heat on the how and you, obsess about problem and value, and don’t confuse your website for a messaging framework…now back to all those pesky home improvement projects for me, nah, I’ll just hire a pro!!!

Creepy Customer Care, Thanks But No Thanks?

Get Out and Engage! – Why You Need Both Customer Empathy AND Intimacy to Drive Aligned Engagement

Do you know what keeps your customers up at night? What gets them excited in the morning? Have you walked in their shoes? Do you seek to understand before being understood?

All timeless cliches, right? But many marketers forget to take them to heart. Many sit in their cubicles (or home offices these days) and fail to engage in discovery conversations. They are “too busy” to keep up with news of the industries they serve, the functions they support, and the businesses they are trying to help. Worse yet, they seem more focused campaign metrics and business results than on customer problems and transformation.

Is this unfair? Probably a bit. But achieving what I call Aligned Engagement, where your narrative and messaging, and the content and programs based on them, breakthrough and have maximum impact and results requires both customer intimacy, a clear understanding of the business and personal goals and challenges of your buyers and users, as well as customer empathy, understanding how they think, feel and act to meet and exceed these goals. Without intimacy, your programs will lack meaning, and while customers may appreciate the empathy, they will probably just say, “Thanks for caring, but no thanks, I’m not buying”. And with high levels of intimacy, and low empathy, you’ll feel creepy, because you seem to understand them at a business level but don’t relate to them as humans.

Aligned Engagement, where the magic happens, is at the intersection of high levels of customer intimacy and empathy. So get out of that email inbox and spreadsheet and go engage. Talk, zoom, survey, watch user testing, sit with customer success, the options are endless. Don’t be a marketing wallflower, get out there and learn and care. The rewards are many and the opportunity is yours! – Ken

I’ll be talking about the role of customer empathy and intimacy in building your breakthrough narrative in my March 18th Webinar, I hope you can join me.

Five Bad Messaging Habits Every B2B Brand Should Break

In my post of November 4th, I outlined the Five Messaging Habits of Highly Successful B2B Brands, in this post I’ll take on 5 Bad Habits to Break. If you’d like to learn more, watch my free recorded Webinar on this topic.

We all have bad habits, both in our personal and professional lives. Over the years, I’ve noticed 5 Messaging Habits that get in the way of B2B Brand Success. Let’s take a quick look at these 5 bad habits to break

  • Bad Habit 1: Overvaluing Value
    • Value is critical to success. However, it is a necessary but not sufficient condition for great messaging. Put another way, value is a great justifier of purchase, but it is rarely a motivator. In today’s crowded marketplace of ideas, if you ONLY focus on value, at the cost of story and experience, you will NOT breakthrough and your value will be wasted. Overvaluing value is a habit you must break to lead.
  • Bad Habit 2: Confusing Strategy with Story
    • My business strategy is about ME, not my customer. My market story or narrative should center around the customer, with my brand as “best supporting actor” but not the lead. Keep your strategy tight and save it for investors, but make your customer the hero your go market story. Brands that talk too much about their business strategy instead of the transformative customer story simply don’t get noticed by overwhelmed buyers.
  • Bad Habit 3: Being Impatient
    • It takes the 3-5 repetitions for a new idea or “meme” to implant itself in a meaningful and impactful way in the human brain. Yet many expect a new message to move the needle in weeks if not days. Because of this, we tweak, throw out and revise messaging so much, we lose the impact of repetition, dramatically lowering our effectiveness. Be patient, we are fighting a war against competition that is measured in months, quarters and years, not days, weeks or campaigns. If you aren’t tired of saying it I guarantee you haven’t said it enough
  • Bad Habit 4: Getting Stuck in the Weeds
    • We LOVE our product and we love to talk about their amazing features. And even if your baby has the most beautiful eyes in the world, how many pictures of them do your customer’s really want to see. Getting stuck in feature/function land is a habit we need to break. We need functional, motivational and transformative value. But most founders and product folks get stuck in the functional weeds, giving lip-service to the layers of messaging above that.
  • Habit 5: Talking Too Much
    • Tell, tell, tell and tell some more. Whitepapers, product data sheets, feature comparisons, etc, etc, etc. Take a lesson from (Pre-covid) Costco. Show, sample and buy. Telling is boring, telling is too demanding on the audience and telling is simply lazy marketing.

Want to improve your results, start breaking the bad habits and living the good ones.

To learn more, watch my recorded webinar on this topic.

The 5 Messaging “Habits” of Highly Effective B2B Brands

View the recording of my 5 Habits Webinar here

Market Leaders do it better! When you are a follower, it feels like you are pushing a boulder uphill while your rival leader is like a snowball rolling down. So what are some of the messaging habits that Market Leaders consistently show? Here they are and why they are so dang important

  • Habit 1: Transformative Narrative
    • Their “story” is aligned with the customer’s reality yet challenges it and transforms their outcomes, making their offerings the magic in the customer’s Hero’s Journey. When brands tell a transformative aligned story they breakthrough and get attention and put the best prospects into the top of the funnel and creates more engaged and motivated customers.
  • Habit 2: Message Depth
    • Leaders layer their message from and include all 4 of the key value layers communicating aspirational, transformational, motivational and foundational value and do so for both the business and the individual user/buyer. Depth of messaging accelerates pipeline velocity from the top to the bottom
  • Habit 3: Experience Rules
    • We now live in the “show-me” era. Leaders demonstrate their value from the first click to the purchase and beyond. Whether a product led Go To Market or a traditional one, you need to demonstrate and deliver value in compelling, innovative ways. Demonstrating value early and often drives acceleration into your pipeline
  • Habit 4: Category Leadership
    • Leaders define, (re-)create and lead their categories. By connecting their solution to important customer problems, they re-frame the market and tilt the playing field to their advantage, changing evaluation context and criteria in their favor and building “unfair” market momentum.
  • Habit 5: Shared Purpose
    • Their brand purpose is a shared aspiration with their customers. How they team together to make the business world or society at large better. Shared purpose creates customer commitment and loyalty

Commitment, Breakthrough, Momentum, Velocity and Acceleration, who doesn’t want these? What other habits do you see from market leaders?

Want to learn more, view the recording of my 5 Habits Webinar here.

“Filming” Your Blockbuster B2B Go To Market Story

Much is made by many including myself of getting your go to market narrative and value messaging nailed. SO IMPORTANT. Without a great story and value messaging, you can NEVER reach and leverage Message-Market Fit and achieve and grow market leadership. Aligning your value with customer transformation; making your customer the hero and your product/solution the magic in their journey is critical to success. Like a blockbuster movie, your story or script has to be great.

However, while all blockbuster movies have great scripts, many of the best scripts are never great movies because of a failure of creative execution and/or lack of effective promotion and distribution. It takes not just a great writer and great script, but an excellent creative team (director, actors, camera, sound etc…) and targeted and successful distribution/promotion to make a great movie.

Likewise, to build a blockbuster Go To Market success you need not only a great story, but great creative execution across all your go to market assets (Website, collateral, explainer video, sales deck, product experience…) and targeted and high impact promotion and distribution. Well known SaaS business leader Jason Lemkin writes on his site SaaStr, “Your Marketing Site Really Should Be Even Better Than Your Product” and this is all about great creative execution, strong narrative and value messaging. And as every marketer knows, in the crowded market targeting, selecting, and executing high impact demand generation programs is also critical to success.

Sorry no short cuts to success, don’t under-invest in your script (narrative, messaging and positioning), your creative execution, or your targeted promotion and and distribution strategy. It starts with the script, then moves to the creative and “ends” with the promotion. So when thinking about your blockbuster Go to Market, remember this simple equation:

Great story+ Amazing creative+ Targeted and leveraged promotion = Blockbuster

See you in the market – Ken