Marketing should be a priority for startups, but it often falls by the wayside. Why? Sometimes it’s because they don’t know where to start, or they feel they don’t have enough resources. Other times, it’s because what seems like more urgent business gets in the way.
Startups can overcome these hurdles by developing a messaging hierarchy that serves as the foundation for consistent, sustainable marketing efforts. A messaging hierarchy forces you to define what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. And from there, it’s just a matter of beating that drum to make your voice heard and grow your brand.
Why Startup Marketing is So Hard
Marketing is crucial for startups, but 43% of startups don’t have dedicated marketing teams and some don’t even have websites.
The to-do list at a startup is endless, and with so many competing priorities, marketing can get lost in the shuffle. Even startups that try to make time for marketing often find that there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
A founder once told my colleague, “marketing is what we can get to on a Friday afternoon.” But you know how Friday afternoons can go. End-of-week deadlines, customer calls and other fire drills invariably pop up, and the tasks you planned on doing just don’t get done.
Marketing is too important to be left for Friday afternoons, and you can’t afford to let it become an afterthought. Marketing should be done with purpose as a regular part of your workday.
A messaging hierarchy makes it easier to do this, because you aren’t starting from scratch with each new press release, blog post, ad or tweet you want to create. You’re operating within guardrails you’ve already established, and you’re building on themes that you’ve already identified to connect with and deliver value to your target audience.
Your messaging hierarchy should answer the following questions:
- What is your company’s vision (i.e., your long-term aspirational goals)?
- What is your company’s mission (i.e., your day-to-day obsession)?
- Who are you?
- What do you do?
- How do you do it?
- Who do you do it for?
The messaging hierarchy should also include this information about your company:
- key differentiators
- brand and tone
- core values
- value proposition for customers
These are all simple answers and basic information that founders should be able to easily rattle off in their heads. But it’s important to commit them to writing. Writing brings them to life, makes them real and — most importantly — makes them accessible to the entire company. And it’s only when they’re accessible to everyone that the entire company can truly scale its marketing efforts.
Founders and leadership teams live and breathe their startups. But if they’re not telling anyone, how will anyone know? Their dedication is more beneficial than not, but one downside is that these executives can be too close to the company, the product and the message.
A messaging hierarchy enables objective, unbiased outsiders to weigh in. This feedback from trusted advisors can be invaluable and save you from making costly go-to-market and marketing mistakes with prospects and customers later on down the line.
Once your messaging hierarchy has been vetted, use it to create a unified company voice. It’s amazing how many different answers you’ll get if you ask executives from the same startup, what does your company do? This can create confusion in the market and make it more difficult to execute your marketing strategy. A unified voice gives your company credibility and makes it easier to amplify your messaging.
Once you know what you want to say, it’s time to start saying it — over and over again. Develop a content plan that amplifies your key messages to your key audiences, utilizing your owned channels first, followed by your earned and then paid channels. We call this approach drumbeat marketing.
The content plan shouldn’t be about creating a certain number of pieces of content per month. It should be about consistently creating a variety of content — from tweets to e-books to videos and everything in between — that continuously weaves a narrative about your startup and the value you provide.
Put your message into multiple forms and find new ways to promote it. Tailor your message to each channel. Think about how you can reuse your content and insert your message into stories about larger trends affecting your customers and your industry.
Don’t be afraid to celebrate your moments. Companies are conditioned to put out press releases about new funding rounds and write blog posts about new features. But smaller moments, such as hiring a new developer or speaking at a local event, are also worth touting. They are opportunities to once again put your name out there, and they’re new lenses through which you can tell your core story.
And don’t let those big moments be one-and-done events, either. Continue to talk about your accomplishments and use them to build and carry momentum.
Your marketing efforts will not pay off overnight. They probably won’t even pay off in a month or two. This is why so many startups give up on marketing or take a stop-and-start approach. Someone gets excited about marketing and writes a blog or LinkedIn post, but it doesn’t get any traffic or likes, and so they end up thinking marketing is a waste of time.
Marketing isn’t a one-and-done activity. If you’re consistently telling your story on your owned channels, and your messaging resonates with your target audience, you will eventually start to be heard. From there, it’s a snowball effect. More traffic. More followers. And when that reporter from that big-name publication calls for a story, you’ll really be able to capitalize, because you will have honed your messaging for so long.
Startup marketing success is all about steady growth, which comes from consistent messaging. And a messaging hierarchy that unifies your company’s voice is the best way to make it happen.