How to write key messages for a startup


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  1. Introduction
  2. What are the components of key messages for a startup?
  3. What role do key messages play in a marketing strategy?
  4. Why key messages are important for startups
  5. How to write key messages for a startup
    1. Understand the core of your startup
    2. Research your audience
    3. Analyse competitors
    4. Set clear objectives
    5. Drafting the messages
    6. Test and get feedback
    7. Refine and finalise
    8. Create a messaging guide

Key messages are clear, concise statements that communicate the core aspects of a business to its target audience. About 20% of new US businesses fail during the first two years of operation. Effective key messaging can help your startup communicate how it meets market needs, both during its early stage of growth and beyond.

Here's a guide to writing key messages for your startup.

What's in this article?

  • What are the components of key messages for a startup?
  • What role do key messages play in a marketing strategy?
  • Why key messages are important for startups
  • How to write key messages for a startup

What are the components of key messages for a startup?

Key messages convey the startup's value proposition, mission, vision and unique offerings in a way that resonates with potential customers, investors and other stakeholders. They often include:

  • Value proposition: What the startup offers, how it solves a problem or how it meets a specific need in a way that differs from its competitors.

  • Mission statement: The startup's core purpose and overarching goal.

  • Vision statement: The future state or long-term impact that the startup aims to achieve.

  • Brand promise: What the startup is committed to delivering to its customers, in terms of experience, quality or service.

  • Target audience: Whom the startup wants to serve, including specific demographics or market segments.

  • Product or service descriptions: A brief explanation of what the startup sells or offers, focusing on features and benefits.

  • Founding story: The story of how and why the startup was created, often including the founder's motivations and journey.

  • Goals and objectives: Short-term and long-term goals that the startup plans to achieve.

  • Company culture and values: The values and principles that guide the startup's operations and behaviour.

  • Social responsibility and ethics: How the startup contributes to society or adheres to ethical standards.

What role do key messages play in a marketing strategy?

A startup's key messages may be one of the most frequently referenced components of a marketing strategy. Here's a look at what they can influence:

  • Brand identity and consistency: Key messages establish a clear and consistent brand identity. Consistency across all marketing channels and materials, including website content and social media posts, ensures that every interaction with the brand reinforces the same core values and propositions.

  • Differentiation in the market: In a crowded market, key messages highlight a startup's unique selling propositions (USPs) and distinguish the business from its competitors. They articulate what sets the startup apart, whether that's innovative technology, superior customer service or a novel approach to a common problem.

  • Customer engagement and retention: Effective key messages resonate with the target audience, fostering a connection that goes beyond transactions. They appeal to the customers' needs and desires, creating a sense of belonging and loyalty.

  • Focus and direction: Startups often have limited resources. Key messages help to prioritise marketing activities, aligning campaigns with the business's core goals and values.

  • Perception reputation: Startups rely heavily on perception. Key messages shape how investors, customers and industry peers view a startup. They help to build a reputation of reliability, innovation or whatever values the startup wishes to be associated with.

  • Crisis management: In times of crisis, key messages are a foundation for response strategies. They ensure that communication remains true to the business's core values and mission, helping to maintain trust and credibility.

  • Adaptability and market responsiveness: As markets evolve, key messages provide a framework for adapting marketing strategies. They can be refined to reflect changing market dynamics, new customer insights or shifts in the business's direction.

Why key messages are important for startups

Although key messages are central to a startup's marketing plan, that's not the only place where they have an important job to do. A 2022 report found that poor communication costs US businesses an estimated US$1.2 trillion every year, and key messages can help avoid some of those losses. Here are other business activities in which key messages can be implemented:

  • Internal communication and culture: Key messages foster a shared understanding and culture within the startup. They keep the team aligned with the business's goals and values, ensuring that everyone is moving in the same direction.

  • Investor relations: For startups seeking investment, key messages communicate the business's potential and vision to investors. They succinctly convey what the startup is about and its market potential.

  • Partnerships and networking: When a startup engages with potential partners, suppliers or industry peers, key messages help to articulate the startup's position and goals. This clarity assists in forming alliances and collaborations.

  • Public relations and media engagement: Key messages ensure that the startup communicates a consistent and clear narrative to the media. This consistency builds a strong public image and brand reputation.

  • Customer support and service: Key messages guide customer support team members in their interactions with customers. They help them to address enquiries and concerns in a manner that's consistent with the startup's values and brand promise.

  • Sales strategies: Key messages help the sales team craft persuasive pitches. They let the team effectively communicate the value of the startup's product or service to potential customers.

  • Recruitment and talent acquisition: During the recruitment process, key messages communicate the startup's vision and culture to potential employees. They attract talent that aligns with the startup's values and objectives.

  • Crisis management: During crises, key messages provide a script for maintaining consistent, transparent and responsible communication. They help to manage the narrative and maintain trust with stakeholders.

  • Product development and innovation: When a startup develops new products or services, key messages ensure that innovations align with the startup's core mission and value proposition.

  • Community engagement: Startups often engage with local communities or specific interest groups. Key messages communicate the startup's role and contributions to these communities effectively.

How to write key messages for a startup

Before you start writing your key messages, you'll need to do some preparatory work. Here's a step-by-step guide to craft your key messages using a methodical approach:

Understand the core of your startup

  • Breaking down your product or service: Look closely at what you're offering. What are its features and, more importantly, the benefits of those features? Understand how your product or service fits into your customers' lives. What problems does it solve for them? How does it make things better or easier?

  • Clarifying your mission and vision: Think about why your startup exists in the first place. Your mission defines your purpose. Then there's your vision, which is the big dream that you're chasing. Make sure that these are clear in your mind because they're the foundation of all your messages.

  • Identifying your core values: What are the values that drive your startup? These could be innovation, customer focus or sustainability. These values are like your startup's personality traits. They should shine through in everything you do and say.

  • Understanding your USP: Your USP is what sets you apart. Maybe it's a unique feature of your product, exceptional customer service or a problem that only you are able to solve. Discover what this is because it's a big part of what makes your startup special.

  • Gathering and using feedback: Don't work in isolation. Get feedback from your customers and team. What do they think makes your startup stand out? Sometimes, the best insights come from outside the founder's office.

Research your audience

  • Understanding who you're talking to: Analyse who the members of your audience really are. Look at their age, gender, location and lifestyle. What do they care about? What keeps them up at night? This isn't just about numbers and demographics – it's about understanding their day-to-day lives.

  • Determining their challenges: What problems do your potential customers face that your startup can solve? You can find out through surveys and direct conversations, or by monitoring social media and online forums.

  • Mapping their journey: Think about the journey that your customers take, from discovering your product to buying it. What steps do they go through? Where do they get stuck? Understanding this journey will help you to craft messages that guide them along the way.

  • Segmenting and targeting: Not all customers are the same. Break your audience into smaller groups with similar characteristics or needs. This way, you can customise your messages to each group's specific concerns and desires.

  • Listening to feedback: Always be listening. Use focus groups, feedback forms and online interactions to see how your audience responds to your product and messages. It's about having a conversation, not just broadcasting your message.

  • Being culturally aware and ethical: Be mindful of cultural nuances and ethical considerations. Your messages should resonate with your audience's values and cultural context.

  • Using data smartly: Use analytics tools to understand how members of your audience behave online and what kind of content catches their attention. But remember, digital data only tells part of the story – combine it with other customer insights.

Analyse competitors

Look at how your competitors position themselves. Identify what they're saying and how they're saying it. Then, look for gaps in their messaging that you can capitalise on to differentiate your startup.

  • Competitive positioning: Assess how competitors position themselves in the market. Identify their key messages. Conduct a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis for your startup and key competitors. This will help you understand the competitive landscape and identify where you can excel and where you need to improve.

  • Differentiation opportunities: Identify gaps in competitors' offerings or messaging. Look for unique aspects of your startup that you can emphasise to stand out in the market, such as innovative features, superior customer service or a novel approach to solving problems.

  • Target audience: Look at who's engaging with your competitors. What do they like about those other products or services? Understanding this can help you to find your niche in the market.

  • Market trends and shifts: Stay up to date with market trends and shifts. Understand how any changes affect competitors and your startup, and adjust your strategy and messages accordingly.

  • Customer feedback: Gather customer feedback on competitors' products or services. Use this information to refine your value proposition and key messages.

Set clear objectives

Defining specific objectives: Start by asking, "What do I want these key messages to accomplish?" This could be boosting brand awareness, increasing sales or attracting investors. Clear objectives will direct the tone and focus of your messages.

  • Aligning with business strategy: Make sure that your messaging objectives align with your overarching business goals. If you want to enter new markets, your messages should address that.

  • Focusing on your audience: Customise your objectives for different audience segments. What resonates with new customers may not work with existing customers. Listen to feedback and adjust your objectives to stay aligned with your audience's evolving needs.

  • Setting competitive objectives: Look at your position compared with that of your competitors. Are there any gaps in their approach that you can capitalise on? Your objectives should be agile and you should be ready to adapt as the market and your competitors shift.

  • Crafting brand-image objectives: Decide how you want people to see your brand. Are you the innovative maverick or reliable stalwart? Include objectives for managing your brand's image, especially in tricky situations.

  • Keeping an eye on the future: Your messaging should reflect where you are now and where you're going. As your startup grows, your message objectives should evolve, too, always pointing towards the future that you're building.

  • Considering resources: Be realistic about what you can achieve with the available resources. Focus on where you can make the biggest impact without stretching yourself too thinly.

Drafting the messages

  • Simplicity and clarity: Your messages should be easy to understand and remember. Avoid jargon or complex language that may confuse your audience.

  • Making an emotional connection: Connect with your audience on an emotional level. Use storytelling or relatable examples to make your messages resonate more deeply. It's not just about what you do, but how you make your customers feel.

  • Highlighting your unique value: What makes your startup special? Whether it's an innovative feature, unmatched customer service or a unique approach to solving problems, make sure that this shines through in your messages.

  • Consistency is key: Your messages need to be consistent in tone, style and content across all platforms – whether it's your website, social media or print materials.

  • Customising for different channels: The way in which you phrase your messages may change depending on where they'll appear. A post on X, formerly Twitter, needs to be snappy and direct, while a website landing page may allow for more detail and explanation.

  • Including a call to action: What do you want the audience to do after reading your message? Make it clear. Whether the next step is signing up for a newsletter, visiting your website or trying a product, your messages should guide the audience there.

Test and get feedback

  • Trying out your messages: Once you've drafted your messages, test them. You could do this through a focus group, in a limited ad campaign, or by sharing them with trusted friends and professional connections for initial reactions.

  • Gathering diverse perspectives: Get feedback from a mix of people, not just those who think like you. This could include customers, team members, and even friends or family. Different viewpoints can highlight aspects that you may not have considered.

  • Listening to your audience: Pay close attention to how members of your target audience react. Are they engaged? Confused? Inspired? Their responses will provide you with valuable information. Use social media, surveys or direct conversations to gather these insights.

  • Analysing performance data: If you're testing messages online, analyse the data to assess performance. Which messages are getting clicks, likes or shares? Which messages have lower levels of engagement? This data can tell you a lot about what's working and what isn't.

  • Being open to change: Don't get too attached to any one message. Be prepared to adjust or discard messages based on feedback and real-world performance. What sounds good in a boardroom may not resonate with your target customers.

Refine and finalise

  • Making adjustments based on feedback: Now that you've collected feedback, it's time to act on it. Adjust your messages based on what you've learnt. This may mean simplifying complex language, adding more emotion or making your call to action clearer.

  • Ensuring consistency across platforms: Double-check that your revised messages align across all of your communication platforms. Whether it's your website, social media or print materials, your messages should feel as though they're coming from the same voice.

  • Testing for clarity and impact: After making adjustments, test again. Ensure that your messages are clear and have the impact that you're aiming for. Sometimes, what seems like a small change can make a big difference in how your message is received.

  • Getting final approval: Before you finish writing your messages, get a final round of approval from key stakeholders of your startup. This may include co-founders, heads of marketing or even major investors.

  • Preparing for launch: Plan how you'll introduce these messages to the world, whether it's through a marketing campaign or a website overhaul.

  • Staying flexible for changes: Although you've finalised your messages, remember that flexibility is key. Be open to revising them as your startup grows and evolves.

Create a messaging guide

  • Compiling your key messages: Start by compiling all of your key messages into a guide. Include your overarching value proposition and specific messages about your products, services and company culture. This guide will align everyone on your team and ensure consistency in communications.

  • Outlining style and tone: Your guide should also detail the style and tone of your communication. Is your brand voice friendly and conversational or more formal and professional? Make sure that this is clearly defined to maintain consistency.

  • Including examples and templates: It's helpful to include examples of how your key messages should be used. Add templates for common communications, such as press releases, social media posts and customer emails. This makes it easier for everyone to stay on brand.

  • Guidelines for different channels: Different platforms require different approaches. Provide guidelines on how to adapt your key messages to various channels, such as your website, social media, print ads or face-to-face interactions.

  • Instructions for customisation: Although consistency is key, there's always room for customisation. Include instructions on how team members can customise messages for specific situations or audiences, without straying from the core message.

  • Updating procedures: The messaging guide should be reviewed and updated periodically. Outline how and when this should happen. As your startup grows and evolves, so will your key messages.

  • Training your team: Once your guide is ready, don't just share it and hope for the best. Plan training sessions to introduce it to your team. Discuss the key messages, the reasoning behind them and how they should be used in practice.

  • Feedback mechanism: Encourage feedback on the guide. Is it clear? Are there areas that need more detail? A good messaging guide should be user-friendly and practical.

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The content in this article is for general information and education purposes only and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Stripe does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy, completeness, adequacy or currency of the information in the article. You should seek the advice of a competent lawyer or accountant who is licenced to practice in your jurisdiction for advice on your particular situation.

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