Messaging, Positioning, Branding for Startups: What Happens After Product/Market Fit
Many startups do a poor job explaining crisply what they do, especially during their early stages. They often confuse or ignore messaging, positioning, and branding.
But as soon as product/market fit is achieved, and you enter a phase of predictable, steady growth, the stakes get higher, and you need to up your marketing game. Maybe that happens at about 20 employees, or maybe at 50 employees, and I’ve even seen 100-employee startups who still haven’t given serious attention to their strategic marketing efforts. I’d like to help them change that.
Messaging, Positioning, and Branding are intricately related concepts, and represent 3 important slices of startup marketing. Messaging is the series of orchestrated and planned communications tidbits you want to tell the market about you, in the simplest and clearest possible way. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect, not what you do to your product. And Branding is a promise you make to your market and something you deliver in your product that makes your customers love the experience you give them.
Until your product speaks for itself, you have to do the talking, and you need to follow through with an easy to defend position, crisp messages and a brand promise that you live up to.
Sometimes the narrative takes care of itself by users who define well what you are about. Sometimes it doesn’t. The message is not always embedded in your product unless you are Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook. But these are anomalies.
The bigger your footprint becomes, the more formal you need to be about your messages, and the more you need to keep repeating them, accurately.
So, I’m starting to write this long awaited book that I’ve signed-up for at FG Press, a few months ago.
This book is going to help startups quickly assess and develop unique positioning that transcends the very essence of their brand, and that evolves out of an effective messaging strategy.
A common mistake that startups make is they forget to reach their prospects. Instead, they cozy up to their customers and users, and stay there, because it’s more comfortable. But Positioning is not aimed at your customers. It is aimed at your prospects, i.e. the market you want to reach and the minds you want to penetrate. How you reach them is a concerted effort, because you can’t just rely on virality and referrals.
Done well, a brand will tilt demand towards your products and give you an unfair advantage.
Branding is not about the color of your logo or the font you adopt. That’s called visual identity, and it is part of implementing your branding, but only one element of it.
Branding is not just what the market knows about you, but more importantly, it’s about the experience they are left with, when they use your product or are thinking about it. That doesn’t happen overnight, nor on its own.
In this book, some of the questions that will be answered include:
What is positioning? Does the market define a position for you, or do you play a role in shaping that position? How do you orchestrate the positioning and messaging delivery internally and externally? What role does your product have in your market position, at each phase of your evolution? What is the relationship between positioning, messaging and branding? How do you implement consistent messaging via content marketing, your website, media, influencers, and anything that touches the market? When do you seriously need to think about positioning? How do you link positioning to your go-to-market approach? How can your positioning help place a premium on your value (and valuation)? How do you turn your brand into a competitive advantage?
I will draw upon my life long work experience at large and small companies. I will subtract what’s not relevant anymore, and will add what’s new and applicable today for the world of tech startups.
Hewlett-Packard and Cognizant were the source of my classical schooling in marketing, but those years were augmented by several more recent years of startup experience, and the whole thing is complemented by researching, observing, interacting with, advising or mentoring a couple of hundred startups in the past year and half. The uniqueness I bring is how I’ve combined traditional principles of messaging, positioning and branding by known visionaries such as Jack Trout, Al Ries and Scott Bedbury, and applied it to the world of startups.
Startups don’t have to re-invent everything, but past learnings are here for them. Those that mix it up with their current experiences will get ahead of others.
So, here’s the book structure I have in mind. Your feedback can help to shape this content.
- The Hierarchy of Messages
- Honing Your Value Proposition
- Segmenting your stakeholders
- Developing a Messaging Matrix
- Implementing Messaging
- The Mind is the Battleground
- 8 Principles for Positioning
- Common Mistakes
- Re-visiting Marketing Warfare
- Go-to-Market Linkage
- Easy Brand Building Steps for Startups
- Your Competitive Context
- Your Brand Attributes
- Implementing the Brand
- Living the Brand
William – looks very interesting and I’ll look forward to the content. Perhaps it’s implied in your outline, but for a startup, *iterating* on the messaging is critical – as you test and validate your premise and hone in on the real value.
Yes, great point Scott. That will have to be covered, i.e. your messaging would be evolving as you iterate your value proposition.
Yes, as well as making sure you do *not* lock in your messaging too soon. I know that Steve Blank’s “nail it before you scale it” really is focused on product/market fit and scaling your sales team, but I think it applies equally well to messaging too. It’s important to try different messages and to LISTEN – I find too many folks spend their time talking to people trying to “sell” their vision but not grabbing the valuable insights they need to find something that’s repeatable and scalable.
True ! Agreed.
Much can be done very inexpensively through social media ect… However, some idea as to timing and budget planning to execute the different strategies, initially and over time, could be helpful. Bootstrapped startups are typically very MVP development focused and on “shipping” that marketing/selling almost becomes an afterthought.
…and I am looking forward to reading your book!
Much needed book, William. Glad to see you writing this. In “living the brand” will you be addressing the relationship between brand and culture– i.e., the internal brand?
Yes! That will be part of implementing the brand. Thanks Donna.
yes, social media is a part of it. i think the greater theme is real-time presence and relationships with your users, of which social media is a part of.
Awaiting this! If I had a dime for every time my executive clients or corporate bosses said, “we (do brand, name product) over pizza and beer,” I’d be sailing off on a yacht. Fortunately, I’ve been able to steer them in another direction.
Great potential here! Keep it concise and well formatted, and I’ll put it on my bookshelf 🙂
William nice bumping into you last week. Next time, let’s catch up… been a while. This book looks awesome and will no doubt be a huge help to the many startups out there. Looking forward to the read myself!
Yes, let’s catch-up in person.