Why Messaging Matters for Startups & How to Nail It Every Time

If the ability to clearly state what your startup does is crucial to your success, why do so many startups fail to truly refine and test their messaging? According to Troy Moore, Chief Scientific Officer at startup Kailos Genetics, “if you’re afraid to test your message — meaning you’re afraid to spend a little money on it and be exposed to someone who will challenge and question you — I would say your messaging isn’t right, and you don’t believe in it.”

This is something we see time and again at Dodge Communications in our communications strategy work. Founders want to skip right to the good stuff — a feature in the Wall Street Journal or an interview with TechCrunch, no big deal, right? — without laying the groundwork. We sympathize. Messaging and branding exercises can be grueling, bloody and anxiety-inducing. After all, you’re paying experienced consultants (who barely know you) to poke holes in your story and question your business model. In some cases, it’s the first time founders or key stakeholders really sit down together to discuss and agree on their mission, vision and differentiators.

Sometimes agreeing on core messaging components isn’t the problem. It’s understanding how to take that message to your target audience. It’s a challenge that Karen Zaderej, President, CEO and board member of AxoGen (NASDAQ: AXGN) knows well. “We found we had too much science in our messaging. The science isn’t where the magic is. The magic is in the benefits,” said Zaderej. For AxoGen, messaging helped fine tune the messages the company delivered to their audiences — surgeons, investors and partners — and ultimately helped the company make a bigger impact in its communications.

“We had to go through many iterations to get it right.”

Investing in a messaging project allows you to test your message before putting too much budget behind the wrong path. Or, sometimes decision-makers think they know their message, but haven’t looked at it from the right angles. It’s something McLean Collins, team lead for product management at biotech startup Conversant Biologics has overcome.

“Sometimes it’s easy to get stuck on our own products but the messaging that we think will be effective doesn’t always resonate with the market.”

Collins cites the importance of developing personas as a part of messaging, stating that Conversant has “been developing personas to define our customers and determine what really matters to them.”

If there’s one point we can get across about messaging, it’s that going through an exercise often keeps startups from adopting one terrible and resource-draining strategy: something we call “boiling the ocean.” You can’t be something to everyone. That, however, is one of the reasons messaging engagements can be so painful. Undoubtedly, we sometimes end up recommending against the approach a member of the leadership team feels passionately about, and for a while, it stings. Moore of Kailos Genetics agrees, saying “it’s easy to say ‘we want to reach everyone and see who comes’, but when we decided to pick and choose audiences, we had to make hard decisions when we chose not to focus on certain groups. In the end, though, you’ll miss a lot more if you make a diluted message that tries to apply to everybody.”

You can learn more about the messaging and marketing strategies adopted by AxoGen, Conversant Biologics and Kailos Genetics by downloading this recorded webinar.

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Kat McDavitt
Kat McDavitt
Director, Strategic Services

Kat McDavitt is Director, Strategic Services at Dodge Communications, an integrated communications agency serving healthcare technology innovators. Dodge is part of Myelin Communications, a family of companies serving the healthcare and financial services sectors.
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