ach month I host mentor office hours at Station Houston, and most of my sessions begin with startup founders coming to me with the same concern: is my messaging right? While some hope they can flash a quick tagline and get a “Yes” or “No”, the true essence of strong messaging goes much deeper than what meets the eye.
Brand messaging starts off the screen, with human-to-human contact.
It starts with people.
Not the ones on your team. But the customers. Who are the people you are trying to change? What do they believe? How do they talk? What do they fear, care about, and desire?
Communication is a two-way street, and when we are so focused on building our vision, we sometimes forget to look both ways — in our hearts and minds AND into the hearts and minds of our customers.
As Alan Alda, actor and founder of the Stony Brook Center for Communicating Science, says:
If you are thinking only about communication as having the perfect message regardless of how it lands on your audience, then you’re likely just to be spraying information at them and not really saying something to them that sticks.
In his book, If I Understood You, Would I have this Look on My Face? Alda dives deep into the art and science of communicating. He applies the improvisational techniques he learned in acting to help scientists communicate their research.
As it turns out, basic communication exercises can help even the most technically minded researchers learn how to share their work in an intuitive way that resonates with people outside their field.
The Key to Communication is Contact
No matter what kind of startup you have, there will be times when you need to stand up, talk about your company and get people on board with your mission.
You need to be comfortable looking people in the eyes and seeing them as fellow humans. The more you notice about them and their body language, the more easily you can see if they are following along or very, very lost.
If you want to avoid spraying information and find what sticks, shift your focus to your audience.
Make Contact and Find the Sparkle
When you are talking to someone about something novel, note their facial expression. Once they understand what you are saying, you will notice. They may say, “Ohhh!” and you will see a sparkle. A glimmer of comprehension. Take note of exactly what you said right before the sparkle.
The key to strong communication is finding the words, examples, and analogies that lead to sparkles. Identify these moments and lead with them. Eliminate everything else. Seriously.
But! I need to give people some context and this information is important…Anything that comes before a sparkle moment is typically confusing and goes in one ear and out the other. That’s why people say, “start with a story” or “start with a hook,” because everything before that moment of connection will be lost on people.
Action Item: Carry a notebook with you always. When you are talking about your startup to someone, take note of a sparkle moment. Write down everything about it— the exact wording you used, how they reacted, what they said next.
(^I learned this technique in The Comedy Bible — to connect with people on stage, you must notice how you connect with people offstage. If you can isolate sparkle moments and then string them together, you will be a star!)
Choose Hats Over Stats, Guys
The other thing that my tech friends love are statistics. Statistics can be powerful, hard hitters when you want to quantify your value. But sometimes, they can fall short and leave people wondering what that value even means for them. Let’s take a look two copy examples I pulled from sites on the Internet:
Option A: On average, custom software projects built using our software are at least 50% less expensive and are done in 50% less time.
Option B: Build enterprise-grade apps fast. How about a native mobile app in 4 weeks?
Which one do you think has stronger messaging? While they both talk about time frames, the first one leaves me wondering what “50% less time” even means. Four weeks on the other hand, I get that. I know I need an app ready next month, and the second company is going to help me meet my deadline.
When talking about your company’s value, you can use a statistic, or you can put on your customer’s hat, see the world through their eyes, and talk like they talk. If you want your messaging to resonate, always choose hats over stats.
Practice the Art of Empathy
Putting on someone’s hat and seeing the world through their eyes is a task that requires an open heart and mind. Take a gander at this video for a breathtaking reel of empathy IRL.
The only way to get better at empathizing with others is through practice. Think about your team, your customers, your partners, and the humans that matter most in your world and business.
The more you can focus on psychographics over demographics — what people are like on the inside versus what they look like on the outside — the more effective your messaging will be.
Analyze Your Customers As Humans
Who are the people your company is setting out to help? Think beyond job titles — what do they believe, who do they trust, what do they fear? What’s their sense of humor like? How do they react when they’re starving and stumble upon free breakfast burritos?
The more in tune you are with your customers, the more in sync your marketing will be. And the best way to get to know these people doesn’t start online.
It starts offline, with casual conversations and human-to-human contact.
How You Can Apply These Strategies Today
Building a successful business is a voyage, and you are Amelia Earhart. You want to do something; build something, see something, sell something...so you do it. After all, “The only way to do it, is to do it,” as Amelia once said.
If you want your idea to take flight, you must pay attention to the elements around you. Like the stars and the wind and the rain. Everything is a clue. Every interaction. Every book. Every business that has come before you.
Your goal, my dear Amelia Bedelia, is to find these clues and figure out how they fit together. What’s the bigger picture, the other side of your world that you cannot yet see?
You can read books on Richard Branson, Sheryl Sandberg, or Tina Fey. They’ll sprinkle fairy dusts of inspiration to help you move along on your way. But the true nuggets of knowledge, the brightest stars in your sky, sit closest to home in a human nearby.
It’s the people in your circle--your family, your customers, and the ones on your team--that are the true co-pilots on your voyage to reaching your dream.
If you can figure out what pains them, moves them, or fills them with glee, it will reveal a small piece of the sky you hadn’t yet seen. The more you listen to people, the more stars you’ll collect. And the real magic happens when you see how they connect.
Are you looking around and mapping your plans in the sky? Or stuck with a keyboard sewn to your hands, and a screen glued to your eyes? Reading blogs, crunching data, and trying to figure out what it all means?
Get up, sweet Amelia.
Swivel out of your chair and hop onto your feet. There are tons of important people you absolutely must meet. Come listen to their stories. Collect every clue. Explore the curiosities, may each one bring something new.
A new star to add to your sky. A friend to take along for the ride. A wind of an insight that changes your direction. A dose of humanity, belonging, and connection.
People are people are humans at heart.
Tune in, Amelia, and I swear you'll go far.
PS, if tuning in is not your forte, or you don't even know where to begin, I can help.
I help startups and companies tune in to their audiences. We call it customer research, but it basically means getting to the heart of your customers, then using that information to guide your business and marketing strategy. It's an intuitive process of connecting the dots.
Learn more about my research, or reach out to me to chat.
Your website is an online version of your pitch. It’s the perfect–and sometimes the only–opportunity to wow potential customers and investors. The catch is that you only have seconds to captivate and inspire them to take action. How do you do that?
You need killer web copy. Clear messaging that draws people in, resonates on a human level, and makes it easy for them to sign up, learn more, or buy. Ready to turn casual website visitors into paying customers, intrigued followers, and dedicated fans? Here are 5 tips to help you write great web copy.
Interested in learning more about the copywriting and the heart of marketing? Join the Humans at Heart mailing list. ❤
As a copywriter, I talk with entrepreneurs, business owners, and marketing managers about their websites, and I’ve noticed a striking pattern: almost everyone feels some level of doubt about their website. One by one, they confess their uncertainties to me…
Inherently, people know their website copy matters. However, they often underestimate how much an effective website could exponentially improve their bottom line and bring in new customers. To figure out if updating your online presence is a wise business decision, let’s start with situations where it’s not a good idea to invest in your website.
When Not to Invest in Your Website
During a recent focus group I was facilitating, an entrepreneur mentioned advice he heard that stuck with him (and me): "Startups are usually at an earlier stage than they think."
Occasionally, an entrepreneur will come to me with an idea and ask if I can build the story around it.
If you are in the idea stage, don’t invest in your website. Focus instead on hashing out your idea. Put your head down, develop a great product or company or at the very least, prototype, then worry about marketing it. You can’t invent a great story and hope it builds the business. Make the idea come alive, and the story will follow suit.
Got a Business You Want to Grow? Invest in Your Website
If you have a revenue-generating business, it’s absolutely worth it to keep your website updated. To help you determine what an "updated website" means, the simplest analogy is a glass elevator.
When you step into a glass elevator, do you look at the doors where you came from, or turn around to face the outside world?
Many companies will write their websites looking at the doors--fixated on what they know best, themselves.
"We've been around for 30 years...we do X, Y, and Z and we're the best in town. Here are some of the clients we've worked with before."
Forward thinking companies turn around to face the outside world--their customers. They recognize the environment as constantly changing, and stay vigilant and proactive. They observe how their customers' needs evolve and are continually focused on re-positioning their company to solve these problems.
"Did you forget your sunglasses on a sunshiny day? Don't let your eyeballs suffer any longer.
Get a spare pair that fits in your wallet→"
What sounds more compelling? A company biography or a novel solution to one of your current problems?
It's Time to Turn Around and Face the World
Connecting with your customers on a human level is essential to achieving your business and revenue goals. To determine if your website is outdated, ask yourself:
If it's been awhile (3-6 months) since you've checked in with your customers, now is the time to look. Only by listening to your customers can you uncover the most efficient way to market your value online, and marketing is integral to success.
As Bob Fifer, author of Double Your Profits in 6 Months or Less (a 90’s classic that still rings true today) says, "Most truly successful companies outspend their competition in marketing, either in absolute dollars or as a percentage of sales ."
When it comes to business expenditures, investing in your marketing is a strategic cost, which Fifer defines as follows:
The money you invest in well-directed marketing will help bring in new clients, improve your bottom line, and best of all — it’s generally tax deductible.
Website Content and Tax Deductions $$
Most people understand how a website can attract customers and grow their business, but many either forget or don't realize the tax incentives from Uncle Sam. Here in the promise land of entrepreneurial dreams, advertising costs for businesses are generally tax deductible.
You can pay money to invest in marketing your brand, or you can pay it to the government in taxes. Though I am not a tax accountant, there are plenty of resources online with more information on this.
Website content that is advertising is generally currently deductible; the treatment of other content costs will vary. Advertising costs are, generally, currently deductible. Thus, the costs of website content that is advertising are, generally, currently deductible -- CPA Services, Riley & Associates
Let's take a moment to count our blessings that it is not our job to write tax laws. To decipher any areas of uncertainty, speak with a tax accountant on your specific advertising expenses.
Don’t Put Off Updating Your Website
If you have a revenue-generating company and want to grow your business, make your online presence a priority. A website with a clear value proposition that speaks to the hearts of your customers is an invaluable marketing tool.
If you need help, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy to chat!