Fundamental to your Go-to-Market strategy are your positioning and messaging. In an established brand, there should be a precedent for what this looks like. But if you’re working in the startup space there’s a good chance you’ll be the first in your company to think about it, let alone develop a strategy for it.
Positioning and messaging are at the heart of your brand and how you communicate with customers, so getting them right is essential. Easier said than done, as they require significant time, effort and resources.
But not to worry, we’re covering the key challenges you’ll face when it comes to positioning and messaging at a startup. Even better, we’ve got the solutions to your problems locked and loaded.
Key points include:
- Creating a brand identity
- Getting the investment you need
- Validating your strategies
- What sets startups apart?
Let’s start by getting clarity on some key terms.
Positioning is the process of finding your product’s place in the market and is done in relation to your competitors. You must position your product or brand in a way that sets it apart from the herd.
Messaging is, funnily enough, the message your brand or product sends to prospective customers. With this, we’re thinking about the perception of your brand that customers get from the interactions they have with you and the content they see.
Now we have those down, it’s time to think about how to approach positioning and messaging in a startup.
Creating a brand identity
As part of your Go-to-Market strategy, you’ll be designing the positioning and messaging for the products and capabilities you launch. But startups, more so than established companies, also need to consider the positioning and messaging of the brand itself.
Your positioning and messaging determine how customers perceive your brand and products. If you get it wrong, you’re unlikely to see high adoption rates for your services.
Your positioning and messaging should be rolled out across your customer-facing teams, creating a clear and consistent brand message which makes an impact on the market and prospective buyers. This is even more important when you’re a new contender with limited brand recognition.
In an increasingly saturated market, your brand needs to stand out from the crowd. That means building an identity that’s recognizable and can become synonymous with the products you produce. You want to be the Apple of smartphones, the Coke of the soda world, the Beyonce of Destiny’s Child.
When you’re in the startup space a big part of what you’re doing with your positioning and messaging is getting customers to believe in and trust your brand. People view brands like Apple and Coke as reliable, that’s why they keep going back to them.
Let’s break this down a bit more.
Positioning your brand and sending out the right messaging is your route to establishing that same faith in your own company.
In terms of positioning, you need to know the market and your competition as well as you know your own brand. You’re going to be defining yourself against what’s already out there so you can show why you’re different.
Get to know your competitors. Find out how they’re advertising themselves, what they’re offering, where they do well and where they struggle. Establish what’s unique about what your company is offering, find an angle into what you’re doing that sets you apart or a problem in your competitors' services that your products solve. That’s where your positioning should come from.
Once you’ve established the position you’re going to take in the market, you’ll need a positioning statement. This is a short statement, no more than about two sentences, which demonstrates your unique value to customers.
A positioning statement is not public-facing. But it’s important that everyone in your company (especially your GTM stakeholders), know what your position is. It’s essential knowledge when working on marketing campaigns, sales strategies and launch activities.
You’re looking to create a cohesive brand with market credibility, so everyone in your company needs to be enabled by your positioning statement and keep it in mind no matter what they’re working on.
And the thing most guided by your positioning will be your messaging.
A lot of startups put out messaging based on performance or direct response marketing because they’re looking to see that immediate ROI, which makes sense when you’re trying to get a company off the ground.
However, if you want to succeed you need to think long-term. And that’s where value-based and brand marketing come in. You want customers to trust you, to believe in what you’re doing and to keep coming back to your products.
That means establishing brand loyalty, which involves using your messaging to demonstrate your value to your customers.
Your messaging needs to be agile and must keep up with what matters to your customers at any given time. Work out who your target audience is and the value your products offer them. Find out what their problems are and think about how you’re solving them.
Avoid listing off technical jargon with your customers. They’re not really interested in what your product can do so much as they’re interested in what it can do for them. This is why understanding customer needs is essential. Your messaging should always boil down to what you’re doing for the customer (and why you’re doing it better than anyone else).
Don’t make the mistake of trying to appeal to every customer, because you’ll probably end up appealing to no one. Identify your target market and lock them down by creating messaging that resonates with them directly.
Although you might be in the corporate world, your messaging still needs to be human. Your messaging needs to appeal to people, so make it personal rather than mechanical. Make sure you keep that humanity in your strategy.
Rather than listing off features and capabilities, your messaging should always start and end with the customer. Remember that your messaging directs PR strategies and all customer-facing teams in how they interact with externals. So, you need to make sure your brand's value to the customer is at its heart.
Getting the investment you need
And when we say investment, we don’t just mean financial, although that’s important too. 👀💸
At a startup, you aren’t going to have the established marketing team that you’d have at an enterprise level. So, don’t be surprised if you find yourself explaining why marketing matters again and again. And again.
You’ll need to be able to justify marketing’s role in the business and prove how you’re adding value and growing revenue. If you’re a CMO, it’s important to get that buy-in from the CEO and get them onside as soon as possible. This is vital because, as we said above, you’ll need financial investment to get the brand off the ground.
Proving that marketing generates revenue can be hard. But the upside is that as a startup, you’re gonna have much closer working relationships with the people you need to win over. The marketing team at Tesla probably doesn’t get much face time with El*n Musk, but at a startup, you can reach out to the CEO.
It's also easier for smaller teams to be more closely aligned. This allows you to collaborate with other teams, on a particular product, and make sure other teams know why your work is important. A product isn’t going anywhere without good marketing. And, if your engineers see the value you can add, they’ll back investment in what you’re doing.
Use the small size of your company to your advantage and make sure you’re reminding people what you’re doing and why it matters. The role of marketing might not be established yet, but you can establish it. And you’ll need to.
As we mentioned above, when you’re first getting your positioning and messaging off the ground, it usually requires a pretty hefty financial investment. Domain names alone cost thousands of dollars. But in the long run it’ll be worth it because without that brand identity we talked about earlier, your company’s products won’t get noticed.
For a CEO to drop that kind of money though, you do need to show them why marketing is worth it. This may be frustrating, especially as it’ll seem obvious to you, but it's never a bad thing to be able to articulate your value.
Remember that when you’re looking for financial investment from C-suite, your best option is to demonstrate the value you’ll add to the brand and revenue growth. Lead with numbers and make it clear that without the proper messaging and positioning a product will get lost in a sea of near identical offerings.
Validating your strategies
At any size and scale of business, strategies will be reviewed, updated, or even overhauled entirely. But this process is particularly important at a startup level. If you’re just starting out, you likely won’t have a lot of data to go on. But that’s why it’s even more important to get feedback on your positioning and messaging strategies.
You can get feedback through a few different kinds of testing:
As a startup, you may not have a large pool of customers to draw feedback from...yet. That’s ok!
Pull together a panel or focus group and put a few different concepts in front of them. They don’t necessarily need to be existing customers. These panels can be made up of members of your target audience who you want to win over.
You can choose to target specific audiences with the makeup of your panel and present them with visual or written messaging. The input they give will clue you in on how well your messaging is being received and if you’re resonating with your target audience(s).
Test for factors like trust, credibility and how unique your audience perceives you as being. And if you’re not ranking as well as you’d like to for those things, it’s ok, cause messaging is the solution to your problem.
Messaging can be used to manage the expectations of your customers. Be careful not to over promise. If you state your intentions and then deliver on them, you’ll build that trust in your customers who’ve seen you follow through on brand promises.
Messaging is an incredibly powerful tool to build faith in your brand and products and with quantitative research, you can ensure that you’re keeping it on track.
Interview representatives across your range of buyer personas. It's also useful to talk to both existing and prospective customers to see if your messaging is having the impact you want it to.
Qualitative data fleshes out what you’ve learned at the quantitative stage. You can get more in-depth responses and pinpoint exactly where things are going right - or wrong - from a customer perspective.
If you’re not familiar with A/B testing, it refers to a test where you put out two versions of a piece of messaging. One as a ‘control’ and one as a ‘variable’. The feedback you get on these tests, i.e. which one gets the better engagement or lead generation, can help narrow down your messaging style.
There are plenty of channels at your disposal when it comes to putting A/B tests out there, but the easiest are probably emails and social media posts. You can also get your sales team involved since your messaging will be a key ingredient to their success. One idea is to have them try out a few different pitches on sales calls until you hit upon that magic recipe for messaging success.
Validating your messaging is super useful for refining strategy and learning how to engage with your customers. But it also benefits you and your position within your company. This kind of feedback is a great way to demonstrate the value of messaging done right.
With research that demonstrates the impact messaging and positioning can have on market success and lead generation, you’re more likely to get that all-important buy-in from leadership going forward. As you develop and repeat your messaging and feedback loop, you’ll better establish the importance of marketing in the startup space.
What sets startups apart?
We’ve talked a lot about the importance of messaging and positioning. How getting it right can make you soar, but getting it wrong could cause you to sink like a stone. It can feel like a lot of pressure.
But fear not! Startups can be a tough place to be. There’s a constant grind and always another goalpost to work towards. But the startup space is also somewhere that's becoming increasingly appealing to CMOs who have previously operated at an enterprise level.
That’s because there's freedom that comes with not being an established brand. You have room to create, to explore, to take risks, and if they work that’s amazing. And if they don’t, well, to be honest, it’ll probably fly under the radar.
At the enterprise label positioning and messaging are established with a capital E. There’s not much room for deviation with an iconic brand, you just keep churning out the same old formula. At a startup, you have room to make the positioning and messaging your own, which is pretty damn exciting.
So, challenging? Yes. But also exciting, creative and an opportunity to really create something unique in the market and call it your own.