As a strategic marketer, I’ve worked with companies of varying sizes and stages. I particularly enjoy working with startups, as I’m given the opportunity to shape their messaging, positioning and marketing strategy.  Along the way, I’ve encountered what I’m going to call the “Founder as Marketer Fallacy.” Let’s face it, if you’re a startup that’s gotten to or through your Angel or Series A funding round, your investors have bought into your vision. They believe in your product and/or service and now it’s time for you to enact your pitch.

Here’s where the Founder as Marketer Fallacy comes into play: they also believe that you understand the intricacies of building a marketing strategy, or at the very least the importance of putting a formidable one into place. You convinced them to invest in your company, so it’s logical you know how to build an effective marketing strategy, right? Not necessarily. While successful founders are really good at selling their company vision, there’s a lot more to a startup marketing strategy than an investor pitch.

I’m going to focus on the bedrock of a successful marketing strategy, which is your company messaging and positioning. It’s imperative that you start with the foundational elements of your brand position. So let’s look at five essential factors for founders to keep in mind to build a successful marketing strategy.

The Mission In Your Messaging
Your company’s mission is very much intertwined with your overarching vision. It is meant to be visionary, in that it is the main motivation behind why you exist as an organization. Add in your unique selling proposition (USP) and this should effectively differentiate and separate your company from competitors while highlighting the value you bring to your sector. These are the basic components used to formulate your overarching messaging.

Keep It Simple
Have you ever been on the customer end of a sales pitch and started wondering, ‘what on earth is (s)he talking about? Am I missing something?” Chances are, the salesperson is using industry jargon that makes total sense speaking to colleagues in his specific market sector, but is so ‘inside’ it’s falling on deaf ears among clients like you.  One of the most glaring examples exists in adtech where so many acronyms are used, a column was invented to explain them to marketers. Here’s an example.

Your positioning should be simple to understand and follow this template:

Your Company is [what you are] that [what you do] and briefly [why you’re unique/what problem you solve].

Anything and everything you do as an organization and as individuals on the team needs to harken back to this basic positioning. Avoid salesy language filled with fluff and beware the echo chamber of messaging that was created and implemented in a vacuum.

Make it Transferable
While good storytelling is crucial to startup success, the underlying messaging needs to be transferable to every single member of your company. In the beginning, it might just be you and 2 other people, after funding, maybe a team of 10. If each person is communicating their own version of the pitch deck, your story is getting diluted no matter whether to their family or a vendor. And as the company scales, so does your problem.

Make sure that your messaging and positioning can easily be shared with all employees. And more importantly, that they understand it and use it.

Consistency as Mantra (See What I Did There)
In addition to language, your brand identity needs to be consistent as well. Wherever you go in the world, a Coca Cola is exactly the same visually. This helps to convey of both tangible and intangible brand attributes, as your mind adds to what it has already gleaned from previous encounters.

As I’m sure you know, repetition is a basic marketing tactic used to influence audience. Anyone witnessing the 2016 Presidential election can attest to this. So this is an easy one: Keep everything consistent and repeat. And repeat.

Nix the Negatives: Words Matter
When I present new messaging to a company, I always use this simple, yet very effective exercise.  I tell everyone:

“Whatever you do, don’t think about a pink elephant!”

I then ask them:

What are you thinking about?

Take a guess what they’re thinking about…a pink elephant of course.

The words we use have a powerful conscious and subconscious effect. Our brains are wired to ignore negatives. From a psychological perspective, you’re much better off saying what you want instead of the opposite. Take an example from real life; when you tell a child, “Don’t bother your sister,” you’ve just reinforced their desire to do it. So what do they end up continuing to do? Try using a positive statement such as, “Leave your sister alone,” and see what happens.

Now apply this information to your company materials, the way you talk to customers and prospects. You could be stepping on your own foot without being aware of it. Tell your customers what you want them to do or to know, instead of subconsciously reinforcing the opposite. Avoiding negatives in framing your messaging, marketing materials and conversations is fundamental to your marketing strategy.

Steer clear of the Founder as Marketer Fallacy by making sure you put in place strong company messaging and positioning as the bedrock of your overall marketing strategy. Get this right and you’ll be putting your best foot forward towards success in both marketing strategy and meeting your business objectives.

Need help with your messaging and positioning? Send an email and let’s discuss!


Recommended reading:

Words That Change Minds
Shelle Rose Charvet

Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril
Margaret Heffernan