First things first: I’m not Tamsen. I’m Alex Denniston. I’m a senior strategist who often works with Tamsen to design messages for our founder and thought leader clients.
I’ve spent my career working in product development and innovation, helping the people and teams who are quite literally creating the future. Almost all of them (at least the ones I like to work with) are those that have seen or experienced a problem in the world and taken it upon themselves to solve it. And solving it is haaard work! It’s blood, sweat, tears, long nights, and tough decisions.
But then you make it! The promised land! That vision you’ve dreamed of is just about done and it’s time to make sure the world knows about it! Time to start thinking about how to message and market this great idea to start magnifying the change you want to see in the world. Right? Obviously, you can’t build messaging around something that isn’t finalized…right? How do you know what to talk about if it doesn’t exist?
Well, consider this: how do you know what should exist if you haven’t talked about it yet? In fact, defining the foundation on which your idea exists and the core argument for why you’re going to solve the problem the way you do should precede not just the branding, positioning, and marketing work, but also the product development, fundraising, or even team-building work.
So while I might not recommend building your message as the absolute first thing you do, you should definitely be doing it earlier than you might think.
Let’s talk about it.
The quick version
- GOAL: Build effective messaging to support their new product/idea.
- PROBLEM: Especially in the early days of a company or product, we tend to focus more on explaining the value of an idea to the market than on aligning on it within the organization.
- PROBLEM PRINCIPLE: That’s a problem because teams make decisions based on what they believe is important. When you lack internal alignment about where the value of the product or initiative lives, different teams will have different priorities.
- TRUTH: Not only that, we can agree that alignment requires articulation. Before we can create alignment in our decisions and actions, we have to articulate what it is we’re aligning on.
- CHANGE: That’s why to achieve the goal, you need to start building the messaging foundation even before the product/idea is finalized.
- ACTION: Define your company’s core idea and core case to build a strong foundation that aligns your customer’s values with your team’s decision-making.
- GOAL REVISITED:
- Make your elevator pitches easier
- Get a starting point for salespeople to build copy/language
- Inform website landing page copy
- Inform critical product development decisions
- Provide clarity to product/company naming considerations
- Ensure team member alignment on mission (absent of product specific)
- Allow product pivots to happen without upsetting the bedrock of the company
If you want to go deeper, read on…
Value propositions aren’t enough
Value propositions, jobs-to-be-done, product-market fit, user-centric design—these are all critical elements of designing a solution that actually meets a need. Thankfully the worlds of innovation and entrepreneurship have finally convinced us that we can’t think of ourselves as all-knowing Solution Wizards, we need to actually position our ideas through the lenses of the users we aim to help, or the customers we hope to sell.
So when we start thinking about messaging or marketing our new idea or business, we often start by explaining the value of the idea. Explaining to the world why they might think our idea is great. What does it do for you? Why should you care? Which is great! But. Explaining that value isn’t enough. We also need to explain why we believe solving it the way we do is the best–or perhaps only–way to solve it.
And before we can explain that, we actually need to understand it ourselves. More than that, we need to be able to articulate perhaps the unspoken beliefs or principles on which the organization operates or was founded. Even if the team is aligned on a value proposition, if they aren’t aligned on the ‘why’ behind it, if they don’t all share the same underlying foundation of why we solve the problem the way that we do, we run the risk of making decisions on what we think is important rather than what we’ve agreed is our goal.
Alignment requires articulation
Messaging is often presented as a summary of what has already happened. It’s retrospective. It explains the answer. But those of us here in Tamsen’s “Labyrinth” think of messaging as foundational. It’s not the tip of the pyramid, it’s the very base. A “Core Message” isn’t just the shortest synopsis, but rather the simplest articulation of the fundamental principles that connect how you do what you do with what your audience truly cares about.
With that definition, now think about all the people on your team. All the decisions big and small a start-up has to make every single day. How impactful these decisions could be to the life or death of the idea or the company. By articulating those fundamental principles it ensures alignment in all the decisions and actions across the organization. Without a shared understanding and a shared definition, there is nothing to align with. And make no mistake, a lack of alignment doesn’t just reduce efficiency or limit speed, it can do worse: it can increase speed in a multitude of competing directions.
Imagine some of the problems that can arise:
- Engineering builds the strongest product imaginable, incapable of being used by all but expert users.
- Marketing creates an adrenaline-filled campaign, for a solution that’s built for stability.
- Leaders hire hard-charging new talent, in a company that requires humility and teamwork.
Don’t wait to finish your idea to define it
Well great. Now you say to yourself, “I already had enough reasons to wake up in a cold sweat about my start-up, now you’re giving me even more! I’m not sure about this Alex guy, Tamsen…”
Well here’s the good news:
By starting to build your Core Message (plus your Core Idea, and Core Case) now, not only do you start building the foundation for your marketing, elevator pitches, investor conversations, you actually give a directional backbone to your entire company and ensure that alignment that helps all the members of a team move not just quickly, but in service of a shared goal.
“Messaging” as a category of efforts might in fact take place after the designs are finalized and the sales teams assembled, but defining those shared principles for you and your organization can begin from the moment after that light bulb above your head flashes on for that next great idea. Creating that strong foundation for not just what you’re doing, but why you do it the way you do, will provide stable footing in the inevitable, undulating world that is creating the future.
Please note that many of the links are affiliate links, which means if you buy a thing I link to, I get a percentage of the cost, and then donate it to charity.
Like this content? Be the first to get it delivered directly to your inbox every week (along with a lot of other great content, including my #swipefiles). Yes, please send me the Red Thread newsletter, exclusive information, and updates.