by Scott Brown, Executive Director at UpRamp and author of “(C)lean Messaging“
Every aspiring entrepreneur lives in pursuit of that lightbulb moment. The big idea. An unparalleled innovation.
In today’s interconnected world, good ideas are all around us. Ever asked yourself, “What if all the good ideas are taken?”
Consider this: Somewhere in the world right now, Shakespeare’s play Hamlet is being performed on stage. It’s not a new idea. In fact, the play is the same wherever it’s shown. But here’s the thing– even though the words are uniform, no two performances are the same.
How do you invent something new when it’s already been done a million different ways? As a former actor-turned-entrepreneur and eight-time startup founder, I’ve learned it’s all about breaking through the noise.
Fifty percent of startup founders who fold cite market fit as the cause; however, most products are designed to address needs identified through customer discovery like focus groups. Their problem isn’t market fit; it’s framing.
From the start, the founder is responsible for setting the company vision and mission. Often overlooked, though, is communicating these ideas in a way that’s clear to stakeholders, media, press, partners, potential investors, and – most importantly – future customers.
So – what if your message could be as clean as your code?
What is (C)lean Messaging?
Good ideas are only as good as their messaging. The founder of a cookie startup who says, “We sell small cakes made from stiff, sweet dough” is simply discussing the process. The baker who explains, “We sell portable desserts in convenient packs of twelve” is making the message all about themselves.
What this startup lacks is a message that addresses the listener’s needs while explaining the business idea and its value. Effective messaging is the most important element in turning an idea into a narrative that drives sales, press, and buzz.
The (C)lean Messaging framework is the first step. (C)lean Messaging combines something about them (the listener) with something about you (the business), supported by facts, numbers, and human stories, to produce a clean, lean audience-focused message about your business. These are the key elements:
Something about the Listener.
This is what your customer wants: What problem do they face that you can solve? How are you serving this group of customers? Think back to the cookie company. The founder knows that sometimes when you crave dessert, you want something portable and less calorie-laden than a slice of cake.
Example: We started this company to enable people to satisfy their cravings without consuming too many calories.
Something about You.
This is the thing you want people to know about your company – the mission behind it. This is the why. How have you approached the product?
Example: We’ve created a dessert that captures the goodness of a full-size dessert at a fraction of the size.
The (C)lean Message.
This combines the previous two elements to create a SABER sentence – one that addresses your customers’ needs and your value adds at the same time.
Example: At The Cookie Company, we let you satisfy your cravings without risking your health.
The Human Story.
Once you have these messages, create an inspiring origin story. This might include how you developed this idea and the challenges you faced seeing it to fruition, or it might be about how a customer’s life changed after using your product.
Example: Let me tell you the story about Sarah. Sarah had made a New Year’s resolution to eat healthier after a family member fell ill. After a tough week at work, Sarah used to love to treat herself to a nice dessert at a cafe on the weekend, but she was struggling to find a treat that would fit in the constraints of her lifestyle changes. Now, having discovered The Cookie Company, Sarah is able to continue rewarding herself for her hard work without compromising her promise to herself.
We all know that numbers are key – but what you may not realize is that while listeners may not remember the numbers you share, they will remember how they made them feel. You want your numbers to convey an image: instead of saying, “We get 5 million views per week,” describe it: “Every time a person drives across the Golden Gate Bridge, someone views our content.” You should come up with at least two numbers to round out the narrative.
Example: If, when craving a sweet, each person in the U.S. reached for a cookie instead of a full-sized dessert, we could cut adult obesity by 30 percent.
Sound bites are like candy – small, sticky sweet stuff that makes up your key takeaway. These should be simple, clever, fun. Your sound bites might become your next product headline. When tied to a current event, conventional wisdom, or mixed-up idiom, your sound bites will better embed in your listeners’ brains.
Example: Your health and your happiness, all at once.
You’ve done the work, so now what? One of the keys to (C)lean Messaging is knowing how to use the messaging you’ve generated. After this exercise, you might feel like you have TOO much collateral – and you’d be right! There’s almost no instance that would require all of these things all at once.
Rather, by creating your (C)lean Messaging, you’re giving yourself an arsenal of language to use for communicating your brand, your idea, and your vision. It’s up to you to choose how to use all of these pieces in different combinations based on your audience and your goals. Just remember to focus on your audience and their needs, and I have no doubt that you’ll soar.
Scott Brown, bestselling author of “(C)lean Messaging“, has been a long time technologist, entrepreneur, and investor with a strong history of building companies from inception to profitability. As the founder of eight companies over the past 25 years, from topical analgesics to bounced email, Scott currently serves as the Executive Director of UpRamp leading ventures & startup engagement for the global connectivity industry in beautiful Boulder Colorado.