Your Messaging Sucks. Here’s How to Fix It

High-growth startup teams hear it all the time: Move fast. Fail fast. Rinse and repeat. While that is good advice — particularly for early-stage software companies that are trying to upend and outmaneuver much larger, slower-moving incumbents — it can also cause some founding teams to operate extremely off-the-cuff when it comes to marketing.
As a result, experimentation trumps strategy, little time is spent building a solid marketing foundation, and messaging becomes an afterthought.
That kind of approach can actually work for a while, and may even help startups gain some initial early traction, but as soon as it’s time to step on the gas and build out repeatable, scalable sales and marketing processes, that’s typically when founders realize how light their toolbox really is.
While many entrepreneurs assume home-run messaging will come naturally once they achieve product/market fit, entrepreneur and marketing consultant Cezary Pietrzak acknowledges that rarely happens.
“The presumption that it’s easy to knock messaging out of the park with some simple testing just isn’t true,” says Pietrzak, who founded travel startup Wanderfly in 2009 and sold it to TripAdvisor in 2012.

“Growing companies often come to me saying they need a better message, but that’s typically just a symptom of the real problem, which is they don’t have a solid foundation of understanding and hypotheses that they’re building that messaging on.”

Cezary Pietrzak, marketing and mobile consultant

Getting Crystal Clear with the Marketing Fundamentals Canvas

Unfortunately, Pietrzak points out, the majority of entrepreneurs have not been exposed to the full potential of marketing. Their perception of the discipline is often limited to PR, community management, online ads, or spammy growth tactics. Worse yet, they often treat marketing an afterthought, reinforced by years of the “build it and they will come” engineering-centric mentality.
The truth is that establishing great messaging isn’t a singular step along the go-to-market journey. Instead, it’s the byproduct of several foundational components that formulate a great sales and marketing strategy:

  • mission, vision, and brand statements
  • target audience
  • market niche

Those components make up what Pietrzak refers to as the “Marketing Fundamentals Canvas” — a simple, one-page framework that’s designed to help businesses articulate the most important principles of their marketing.
marketing-fundamentals-canvas
“You can create and experiment with all kinds of messaging, but the more you can ground it in the context of those core fundamentals, the more compelling and effective it will be,” Pietrzak explains. “For example, you can have the best messaging in the world, but if it’s not directed to the right audience or it’s not aligned with what you actually do, then what good is it?”

3 Key Benefits of the Marketing Fundamentals Canvas

Outside of the obvious, Pietrzak says there are three key benefits to using his Marketing Fundamental Canvas to craft messaging:

  1. It forces founders to formalize their mission, vision, brand, target audience, and market niche. The process of actually writing those things down will not only surface any confusion or disagreements, it also makes them more tangible (Pietrzak recommends going one step further by printing them out and posting them on a wall).
  1. It helps break down big, abstract concepts piece-by-piece, making them easier to tackle and clearly define. One of the biggest outputs for marketers going through the canvas process is developing the habit of asking really smart questions, developing strong hypothesis, then testing and iterating.
  1. It keeps companies (and marketers) focused. By defining your target audience and creating a visible, tangible checklist, you’ll find it much easier to stay on message and be more disciplined. If a new opportunity comes up, for example, before chasing after it you can look to determine whether it is in fact aligned with your mission/vision/brand/target/market niche.

With a solid marketing foundation in place, you will be more effectively armed to go back and question your current marketing activities. Are you focusing on the right marketing channels? Are there stages of your conversion funnel that need addressing?
The key point here is that while it might be tempting (and easy) to dive right in with messaging, high-growth companies must balance the need to move fast/fail fast with the need for strategic thinking.
“The best organizations — both tech and non-tech — use this process to organize their marketing thinking,” Pietrzak says. “If you care about growth, then this is your starting point.”
For more on the Marketing Fundamentals Canvas, including breakdowns of each section and examples of how to fill it out, visit Pietrak’s blog.
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Photo by: floeschie

Cezary Pietrzak
Cezary Pietrzak
Founder

Cezary Pietrzak is a tech entrepreneur, creative marketer, and growth strategist currently consulting startups on marketing and mobile, using a mix of qualitative insights and quantitative rigor. Previously, he was the founder of Wanderfly, which was acquired by TripAdvisor in 2012. He is currently the Founder of Cezary & Co
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